by bj max
My neck is as stiff as a board and sounds like an old rusty gate hinge when I move my head. It’s very painful and forces me to twist at the waist to look right or left and I feel like the human equivalent of C-3P0. According to my doctor it’s an occupational hazard and affects people who sit in the same position for long hours at a time. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s immobilizing and as a result, I’m off from work sick.
It started a couple of nights ago as I wrestled forty tons of ill handling tractor-trailer up and down the skinny roads of Mississippi. The stiffness came on gradually and I didn’t think much about it at the time chalking it up to tension that’s usually cured by a hot shower. But yesterday morning I awoke and found myself almost paralyzed and in great pain. I called my boss and took the day off, something I don’t like to do. Mainly ’cause I don’t get paid. Truckers are paid by the mile and if you ain’t racking up miles then you ain’t stacking up coin.
After a day of recuperation I was feeling a little better. Most of the stiffness was gone and my regular day off followed my sick day so I looked forward to another day of rest. I figured I would be in great shape by my next scheduled workday. Would have been too if I weren’t so magnificently stupid.
I’m an early bird. To me, sleep is a complete waste of time and something I do only because my body demands it. Even on my days off when I could sleep in if I wanted, I’m up at four AM. While the coffee is brewing I shower and shave then pour me a cup and in the quite before dawn I piddle around answering e-mail, surfing the net and when the urge hits me, I whack out a story.
On this particular day, I’m typing away on what I think is going to launch me into a career of journalistic stardom when the phone rings. It’s David Elston (CB Handle: Hillbilly) motorcycle riding pardner and fellow employee. He invites me to ride over to Arkansas with him for a catfish dinner. I beg off citing my stiff neck and take a rain check.
After hanging up I get back to my “magnumopus” but as hard as I try, I can’t concentrate. Like a kid imprisoned in a schoolroom, I keep looking out the window at the gorgeous summer morning. A cold front moved through during the night and swept away the stifling heat and humidity and it’s a perfect day to ride.
I finally throw up my hands in disgust. It’s no use. I can’t think of anything but motorcycles and hushpuppies. I rotate my head around a time or two. Hey, you know my neck feels pretty good and it ain’t that far to the CashRiver, only a couple hundred miles. And my helmet ain’t that heavy and I am getting’ kinda’ hungry. Besides, it’ll probably do me good to get out of the house for awhile. After rationalizing away all the reasons why I should stay home and rest, I ring up Hillbilly and we agree to meet at the Petro Truck Stop in West Memphis, Arkansas.
The Cash River is a muddy little river that begins near the Missouri border and winds its way through the Natural State then dumps into the White River near Claredon. It’s not a particularly important river as rivers go but it does have a goodly supply of catfish and to the folks who live along its banks, that’s as good a reason as any for it’s existence.
Louisiana has crawfish, Florida has shrimp, Maine has Lobster and we have catfish. Yankee’s and other ignorant people sometimes associate catfish with the feline family and the thought of eating one makes ’em a little green around the gills. I met some folks from California once who almost got sick when I suggested catfish for dinner then turned right around and ordered Lobster. Did you ever take a good look at a lobster? The first guy to eat one must have been starving to death. But my friends from out west loved ’em. They went after it like predatory animals, cracking and smacking, licking and sucking and splashing butter all over the place. Our table looked like a lion kill when they were finished. But they wouldn’t eat catfish.
Hillbilly and I had coffee at the petro then saddled up and like a couple of ants in an elephant parade, we fell in line with a dozen trucks and worked our way out to Interstate 40. After clearing the congestion of West Memphis, we pulled the trigger and did the seventy miles in fifty-five minutes. We got off the Interstate at Brinkley and picked up U.S. 70 west.
U.S. 70 out of Brinkly slices an almost straight line through the rice paddies of central Arkansas and we quickly cover the next twenty miles and cross the Cash River Bridge. On the other side we make a sharp left and crunch nervously down the gravel road that runs alongside the river. We park in the shade of a grove of sycamore trees and dismount. After removing my helmet I notice a slight stiffening in my neck and slowly rotate my head, loosening up a bit. A little residual pain is all. I’ll scarf down a headache powder before we leave and I’ll be fine.
The Cash River Café ain’t much to look at but that’s usually where you find the best eating. The cookhouse is separate from the dining room and is housed in an old yellow cinder block building that sits on the bluff overlooking the river. At the entrance you will find a screen door with a faded “Colonial Bread” sign for a handle. Go inside and place your order then mosey on down to the river bank where you’ll find some wooden steps that will lead you to the dining room floating on the river below. Once inside the dining room help yourself to the ice tea and coffee near the door, take a seat and as you listen to the gentle lapping of the water against the floats you can enjoy a few minutes of true peace and serenity. Now and then, as a momentary diversion, a mallard will come streaking up the river to entertain you with a sixty-MPH fly-by.
Pretty soon the waitress will come strolling down the riverbank balancing several foam containers. She will serve you with a smile and a dash of southern charm. A good tip is in order ’cause it’s a long way from the cookhouse and her return trip is up hill. Her accent alone is worth the tip.
Open the foam container and you’ll find four or five pieces of golden brown catfish, a huge helping of steak fries and cole slaw, a big slice of onion and several hushpuppies. There’s a plastic fork but you really don’t need it. Catfish and hushpuppies are better enjoyed with your fingers. Sprinkle on a little salt and slop on lots of catsup and dive in. Re-fill your tea glass or coffee cup as often as you like, there’s no extra charge.
Are you hungry yet? Me too. But here’s the best part. This little outing cost Hillbilly and I only twelve bucks each and that includes gas for the bikes. Not bad huh? And you won’t find a tastier meal this side of Paris…Tennessee that is.
Other than getting a little sleepy, our ride home was uneventful and we parted company as we entered Memphis. As I pulled into my drive twenty minutes late I noticed the pain returning to my neck but I shrugged it off as normal fatigue that comes with a two hundred-mile motorcycle ride. But I was wrong. As I slept that night my neck stiffened up and come morning I was once again immobilized and had to take another day off. It was a stupid thing to do, riding that motorcycle two hundred miles. It takes a lot of concentration to ride a bike safely and there is a great deal of strain on your upper body even though you don’t notice it at the time. The ride irritated neck muscles that weren’t completely healed and was probably one of the worst things I could have done.
And just to prove how stupid I am, I’ve been sitting here at this stupid computer all morning typing this stupid story. And this is probably even more stupid than the stupid thing I did to get the idea for this stupid story in the first place. To quote that celebrated and distinguished philosopher, Forrest Gump;
“Stupid is as stupid does”.