Family, friends and acquaintances alike frequently ask me, “So, what do you do?” (or some variation of the question). My answer time and time again is “tourism,” which just as often draws looks of confusion or the always-popular blank stare. Well, hopefully this post will clear up some of the cloudiness surrounding complete understanding of my non-traditional job while providing a bit of laughter at my most recent gaffe. Have a chuckle at my expense – compliments of yours truly.
Mississippi recently hosted a small group of journalists from Europe – Tom and Dave from England, Alastair from Scotland and Valerie from Ireland. Along with UK escorts Jennie and Heather, we embarked on a culinary journey like no other. Think of it as eating your way across the state or Feasting on Asphalt: Mississippi Edition, only minus Alton Brown. Our mission: to show the group what the Magnolia State is all about through music, culture and (last and most certainly not least) food. Our vehicle: an 11-passenger Dodge Van – a favorite of prisons and kidnappers across the world. Which, compared to my Honda Accord, might as well have been a Greyhound bus. And yes, I was driving.
Traveling with members of the media is an experience like no other. They are more well-traveled than I could ever hope to be, have impeccable grammar and no matter how much you think you know, they can weave an intricate question that will stump you any day of the week and twice on Sundays. So, needless to say, my personal goal was to make the best impression possible and just not screw up.
Our tour started out perfectly. So perfectly in fact, that I began to convince myself that I was quite possibly the best tour guide the state of Mississippi has ever had. We ate like kings and queens and learned something new at every stop. Our schedule was a little off, but an escort of my caliber had no need to fear. Everyone is getting along great, and we're really having a good time together. I’m whipping in and out of parking places and teeny spaces, all while reading directions and navigating the Dodge like a pro. We make a stop at Dockery Plantation, located on a gravel road between Ruleville and Cleveland – a historic cotton farm in essentially the middle of nowhere. The weather is great. I’ve got my A game. I am unstoppable. Until I put the van in reverse.
I don’t remember what I was talking about or if I was even talking. I do remember making a mental note of the nearby church parking lot – the perfect spot for a 3-point turnabout. What I clearly did not take note of was the ditch that separated the beaten path from said parking lot. I’m trying desperately to come up with a way to write the sound the van made when it plummeted to the bottom of the ditch, but nothing comes to mind. Just trust me; it was horrific. I try putting the van in drive, and the only result I get is the sight of airborne gravel and the smell of burned rubber. We all hop out of the van to survey the situation. Oh, and by the way, another thing about traveling with journalists: they take pictures of EVERYTHING.
Thoughts of my touring expertise disappear along with any hope of driving out of the ditch, and I keep a prayer for a miracle in my mind on repeat. We try to push the van from the front. We try to push the van from the back, trying to keep ourselves from being pummeled by the tiny rocks. We try putting sticks in front of the wheel; we try putting sticks behind the wheel. Absolutely nothing works, and I begin to think I’ll be staying behind, mortified, while the rest of my group enjoys their afternoon in Cleveland. Car after car drives by us. I resign to the idea of hanging out alone…in the heat…in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve heard people say, “God works in mysterious ways.” I’ve even said it myself many times about many situations. But, I have to say, I can’t recall a personal incident that illustrated this truth more than what happened that afternoon.
I never even saw the truck that saved the day pull into the parking lot. A gentleman rolled down the driver’s side window and politely informed me that he would pull the van out from the back. Without a word spoken, they removed a huge chain from their tool box, hooked it to the front of their truck and to the back of the van, threw the truck in reverse and pulled the van out in a matter of seconds. I stood there, in complete shock but completely cognizant that these men were angels unaware. And the tag on the front of their truck read, “We believe in miracles.”
After the infamous van incident, I figured I could handle anything on this journey. Not that I “handled” the incident at all, but I understood that things could only go up. Even when Heather’s rental van was totaled by a Clarksdale local, we survived. I dropped my new friends off at the Memphis airport and breathed a sigh of relief. Not because they were on their way home, but because anything embarrassing that happened to me from that point on would just happen to me.
So, that’s my job in a nutshell. Any questions?