On the Road: Looking at America Through a Layer of Filth, Grime and Bug Guts

Lorraine Motel
The Lorraine Motel

We left Sun and went on to see more of Memphis. We drove down famous Beale Street and saw the tourist district. Then we turned the car toward the exit of the city. But before we got back on the interstate we made one more stop. Whereas Sun is a birthplace of sorts, the Lorraine Motel is the opposite. Have you ever heard of the Lorraine motel? Do you have any idea why they put a museum there? I can't say I knew the name of the motel before the day I visited it. I did, however, know they built a museum there to salute the life and the cause of a preacher from Alabama. The preacher's cause was equality and he had dedicated his life to the peaceful pursuit of it. His name was Martin Luther King, Jr. and on the balcony of this hotel he was shot and killed. If you're ever in Memphis check it out, pay your respects, visit the museum if you care to, or at least talk to the folks across the street, protesting the museum and calling it a "9 million dollar tourist trap scam" and also calling on passers-by to "fulfill the dream" and help others who are in need.

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I stood in the parking lot of the hotel looking up at the place where King had fell, then looking around behind me to see where the gunman might have hid. Flashes of the famous photograph with King laying on the balcony with his friends and colleagues surrounding him and one of them pointing to what I always imagined to be the direction of the shooter. Although I was very young when he was killed, and I know of him only the things that books, speeches, and documentaries can reveal, I felt a loss as I witnessed this site. It seems sometimes the only famous people I care to meet are already dead. I guess it's because you really want to meet their legacy, not the person. In death they can't disappoint. Sure somebody will come along with a tell-all book or interview designed to slander the dearly departed. Those people might even succeed in bruising the legacy for a while, but ultimately that all falls away and the legacy stands. It's easier to discard the failures of a person, after they're gone. It's easier to look past their imperfections when they aren't standing in front of you. That's a shame.

We didn't go in the museum, mostly because it was getting late and we needed to hit the road. But I also didn't feel compelled to take it in. Undoubtedly I could have learned something from walking through the exhibits, but I couldn't imagine the tour adding anything more to my experience at the Lorraine Motel. The words of Abe Lincoln came to my head, and I think I finally understood the Gettysburg address. Lincoln said: "...we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."

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