Joining the parade 

The Observer and family made it up to Memphis over the weekend, that fair, sunlit city to our Northeast. We've always admired that town; could probably live there if our roots weren't so coiled around Le Petit Roche.

The Observer's Old Man worked in Memphis for two or three years back before we were born, and told us stories about the city that made it sound like a blue miracle. He had a big-block Chevrolet back then and used to drive home on weekends — swore years later to his wide-eyed, car-obsessed boy that he could make the trip, city to city, in an hour and 15 flat, flying low through the Friday night dark, eyes out for Smokies. Felt like he was going to outrun his headlights at times, he said, the dashes in the middle of the freeway gone to white dots.

We are not so crazy-brave as him. It takes us three hours, with pit stops and road construction, to meander our way there. Still, we get up that way at least a few times a year just to hang out on Beale Street, stroll through their lovely zoo, and toy with the idea of finally visiting Graceland (so far, our imagination's version of Tha Kang's palace has been too sweet to ruin with what is sure to be a comparatively disappointing reality).

We arrived in Memphis on Saturday morning, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day. We hadn't planned on going to Beale Street — had, in fact, planned to avoid the crowds for the parade there — but being downtown, the energy radiating from that direction was just too much to resist. Soon, we found ourselves among the thousands, in a sea of green and beer.

They threw green beads and candy from the floats, Mardi Gras-style. Standing there against a police barricade, smack in the middle of Third Street where it crosses Beale, we can't remember when we've had such a good time, hands up and yelling for swag. We even caught several strands, draping them over Spouse's head until she sparkled.

All good things must end eventually, and several blocks down we saw the tail-end of the parade snake around the corner. Not wanting to be trapped with the throngs trying to flee the city center, we broke off from the crowd, then headed for our nearby parking deck and found The Mobile Observatory.

When we got to street level, we realized we'd made a miscalculation. The parade, having looped around, was snaking past the open door of the deck. A Memphis PD cruiser sat blocking the exit, cop with a strand of green beads around his neck standing by the car and smoking as the parade passed. Our escape plan in shambles, we rolled down the windows, put it in park, and resolved to wait it out.

Now, you're not going to believe this last part, but we swear it's true. To our surprise, the officer saw a lull between floats, then turned and motioned us out past his car and into the street. Not one to disobey a lawful order, we dropped her down in gear and pulled out.

And then, for a glorious block — until the floats jogged left and we went straight — The Observer and Co. crashed the City of Memphis' St. Patrick's Day parade.

It was, in a word, amazing. As we inched along behind a cut-down, Kelly-green school bus, the people on the sidewalks cheered us, hands up and waving. Our Lovely Bride — still that funny, beautiful, amazing girl we married years ago — leaned out the window of our road-dirty Honda and waved back. Remembering the minor hoard of caught beads she had draped around her neck, she shed them, and then tossed the strands one by one into the crowd, grown people and kids swooping at the pavement. As we said, though, all good things must end. Our beads recycled, we hit the end of the block and left the parade behind. We didn't stop laughing for a good 10 minutes.

For The Observer, going places is only half about being there. The other half is what you bring home. And no, we're not talking about that Elvis bobblehead or Tennessee-shaped refrigerator magnet. With that in mind, here's how we wish all the stories from our travels could end: with a smile, and "I'll never forget that as long as I live." We definitely got our wish this go-round.

Thanks, Memphis. You are the sweet ol' gal our Daddy knew.



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