The nice manager allowed us to move, a hassle with all our dog beds and puppy paraphernalia, but soon enough we felt at home. The nearby diner was teeming with a lot of well-fed regulars, always a good sign. I ate fried chicken livers, almost good as Norma Vandiver's at home.
It takes me only a few hours to get in the groove for a long road trip. I always leave home with reluctance, thinking maybe I'll never again see my Mississippi hollow. I make mental snapshots of the physical things that are important to me, a strange assortment of items that defy taxonomy: Grannie's quilt, Mabel's portrait, Don's old hats.
About 200 miles out, I forget about fires, thieves and tornadoes and remember why I used to love life on the road.
The most interesting things are never marked in green on the map or all shined-up in ubiquitous tourist brochures. They sneak in between the lines and miles.
In Oklahoma, my dog Hank barked his head off at a psychedelic concrete buffalo, ignoring the two live ones in a pen. In Shamrock, Texas, a human huddle around a homemade grill outside of the restaurant alerted us the brisket might be good. It was.
Just west of Capulin, N.M., I caught my first sight of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, snow-capped and daunting, just as dramatic the fifth time as it was the first.
In Colorado, the sky seemed bluer, the wind stronger. By the time we got to home base in Colorado Springs, the weather was balmy and we were down to shirtsleeves.
Long road trips have been greatly improved by technology. As a virtual Luddite, I don't say that kind of thing often. But an iPod allows you to summon music to suit mood, which changes every few miles.
In Arkansas I needed Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. Oklahoma made me think of Hank Snow. Willie and Bob Wills naturally sang us into Texas. Webb Pierce chimed in around New Mexico. The excitement and volume grew when we crossed into Colorado, where in a misguided and jubilant moment I tried to harmonize with Iris DeMent.
For years while working for various newspapers I traveled alone. Music kept me trucking, and from talking to myself and going batty. All I had then was a radio, and not the satellite kind that gives you electives. I was at the mercy of commercial radio.
That didn't stop me from singing my way across the Southeast hundreds of times. Willie's version of "Good Morning, America" was my favorite traveling song, and I could wing it by myself whenever I left Memphis headed South through the Delta.
Kristofferson sang that freedom means nothing left to lose. Another definition for freedom might be traveling alone with nobody to hear when you belt out a song flat-out and off-key.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.