Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Memphis...My turn to Chime in

OK, my good friends Danielle and Chris have already sung poetically of our trip to Memphis this year. As much as I could write about that experience, I’d not offer any new perspective or contribute to the discussion in a forward manner. So instead of talking about all the places and people we shared that experience with, I instead would like to focus on one person…Daryl.

Who is Daryl? He's the gentleman pictured above sitting in the front, left wearing the black stocking cap. (Thanks Chris for the picture) We bumped into Daryl exiting one of the places we visited on Beale Street, which one, it doesn’t really matter. He was a friendly guy, wearing a University of Iowa stocking hat complete with the embossed tiger hawk sitting on his forehead. His coat was weathered, but underneath it, he was an engaging conversationalist. We asked him how to get to Gus’ Fried Chicken.

Daryl gave us directions of how to get to Gus’, but there was something about the doubt in his voice in which he gave those directions that gave us pause. As he was about to go the other direction, Woody and I showed our Hawkeye pride by belting out “In Heaven there is No Beer.” Daryl couldn’t resist and had to show us up by doing his rendition of “Walking in Memphis.” We all laughed…Daryl commented how much Dave Raymond walked with purpose … ”he know where he go…y’all follow him…where he going now…’dat ain’t the way”!!!

Then Woody said it…almost as it was coming off my lips… “Just come join us for some chicken.”

“I couldn’t do that…’day ain’t gonna let me in down der…I homeless.”

“Maybe so, but you’re with us, come on”.

For the next hour or so Daryl led me on a journey to a place I don’t go very often. A walk on the path of trepidations those less fortunate than us stroll along everyday. Daryl's obvious experiences with feigned kindness forced him to move with caution, but for whatever reason he stayed with us. Maybe it was the lure of having a good meal, maybe the optimism of getting a couple bucks from this fun loving crowd, but I want to believe for that moment in time, Daryl just felt comfortable with a bunch of strangers. Two hundred feet from the door of Gus’, his level of anxiety had risen enough that I was convinced he wasn’t coming in. Woody, myself, Chris…everyone in our gang, gave reassuring glances…not looks that begged him to come with us, but looks that said, hey, its OK, your with us, you’ll be fine. No one elevated his stature in our group. Nobody diminished it, he just became another one of us.

We entered but Daryl couldn't bring himself to remove his coat. The server took our drink orders and finally got to Daryl. Daryl froze, barely able to speak, challenged to breathe. ”I’ll just have tea thank you”. As the server went to fetch drinks, Daryl’s face lit up and relaxed. That look is etched into my mind as the symbol of this BBQ sojurn. Relief, delight, disbelief, gratitude, wonderment all jumbled up into a sense of pride, that he’d sat down at a restaurant and ordered a drink. He shed his coat and shared a meal with 11 other people from all across north America. Not a meal begged for or stumbled upon, but a meal he had been invited to.

We gave him the largest piece of chicken. We gave him all the fries he wanted. We shared our fried pickles with him (which also induced peculiar look on his face). But what he relished most was being included, if only for an hour. Telling his his story and listening to others. We joked with him, he joked with us. But he gave us the gift, that twinkle in his eye, if only for short time on this cool and rainy day in Memphis.

Yes we shared. Not because we had to or felt obliged, but because we offered, and Daryl had the courage to accept. So, in Memphis, my best BBQ experience was at a fried chicken place with New Orleans man who had been blown to Memphis by Katrina.

Do I need more evidence that BBQ IS sharing? NO.

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