By Tuesday morning I was ready to be home. I'd been gone a dozen nights and had seen some wonderful things. I'd spent Monday in the museums and art galleries of Santa Fe and had gotten another chance to play guitar (at the Tin Star Saloon). I'd been writing a letter a day to Lynn and had managed to read three books over the course of the journey. Except for the fact that the weather made camping impossible, my hopes for the trip had been more than surpassed. If I could have checked out of the St. Francis hotel, walked down the street and into my own house on Lakeridge, I would've done it in a heartbeat.
But Lakeridge is 1,400 miles from Santa Fe, so there were a few adventures yet to be had. After breakfast at the Cafe Paris, I headed east. The terrain in eastern New Mexico gets very dramatic again, with a long stretch of winding road taking you down another couple of thousand feet toward sea level. Again, I stuck to the little state roads as much as I could, only very occasionally seeing another car, until I picked up the interstate in Tucumcari.
Initially, I thought I'd try to get home in two long days of driving, but by late evening I was only as far as Wichita Falls, Texas -- still nearly 800 miles from home. By early afternoon on the following day, it was finally clear to me that while I could, theoretically, still get to Birmingham that day, it wouldn't be until 10:00 or so in the evening, and I'd be driving that last ugly stretch from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham in a road daze, exhausted and jittery from too many hours of driving. That seemed kind of foolish, so I worked up an alternate plan. Vicksburg seemed more achieveable.
I'd stayed at the Remington Inn and Conference Center in Wichita Falls, a nice enough, but thoroughly conventional, little hotel, the only such I'd stayed in on the entire trip. So I was hoping for something special on that last night. I flipped through the Mississippi tourism guide I had with me, looking at lodging options in Vicksburg. The hotel section had nothing interesting. I looked at the Bed & Breakfast pages with some trepidation -- I'm really not a bed & breakfast kind of a guy (although the place in San Marcos had been perfectly fine) -- and saw a listing for the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn. Built in the 1840s, the listing said, with 34 rooms. With 34 rooms, it couldn't be the typical B&B, so I called and made a reservation -- the guy I talked with on the phone (Matthew) seemed nice, and offered me a very cheap room rate, so how bad could it be?
By early evening it was gray and drizzly, the kind of swampy humid day that is deep south weather at its worst. After a week in the southwestern dryness, I felt like I was dripping. I crossed the Mississippi, pulled off the interstate and drove along Washington Street, following the directions that Matthew had given me. I may have been affected by the weather, but Vicksburg looked particularly grimy and impoverished -- the kind of setting I've seen over and over in the little southern towns that are trying to make a go of it with the gambling business. As I turned down one more narrow street I was wondering what I might have gotten myself into.
Thirty minutes later, after introducing myself in the main house, getting my key, and getting pointed in the right direction to the building I was staying in, I hauled my guitar and duffel bag up two narrow flights of wrought-iron stairs and stepped into the Centennial Suite. I put my stuff down and walked through, surely with my mouth gaping open. I called Lynn -- "The parlor is larger than the typical Hilton hotel room. So is the bedroom..." My very favorite touch was having the televisions hidden behind paintings over the fireplace mantles. I took the house tour the next morning, and assured Matthew that I'd be back -- very definitely with Lynn.
And so the roadtrip ends, with Cedar Grove providing a nice bracket to the Robert Clay shack in Clarksdale. I wouldn't venture to say which one I preferred. I drove some 3,500 miles, got to play guitar out in two different cities, had numerous very interesting conversations with interesting people, wrote a bunch of letters, saw much marvelous scenery, listened to great music, and saw lots of amazing artwork. I learned a few things.
The last few days I've spent getting mentally prepared to be back at the library. I've been catching up on email, getting my lists of things organized. The trip was everything I'd hoped for, but now there's lots to do, and I'm eager to get at it.