This chapter marks the third time I’ve written on this night. I’ve used it for a personal narrative and a heavily fictionalized short story. At this point, 12 years on, it feels like a movie I witnessed, a surreal moment in the fog of life. It’s a favorite story. So once more I’ll tell it.
It starts on a normal afternoon in late February of my senior year of high school. A number of my friends (1) were headed to Memphis that night to see Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz play the Memphis Grizzlies. I laughed at them for going then trying to make it back to class the next day. I laughed until a ticket came open and I was invited. I initially said no, but my mom talked sense into me with three words “Live a Little.”
The night started with dinner at a McDonalds on Oak where the caravans assembled. This was a big deal! I was going across state lines without adults for the first time. I remember noticing how gray the day was. There had been some sun earlier but the weather was now that sickly gray that connoted neither rain nor sun. We fueled and left.
Of those who went, I concede the names leave me now of many. But I can confirm Ryan Pearcy, Matt Heath, Caleb Janski, and Brandon Sherwood were there. Brandon added Taylor Crockett and Craig Smith’s names to the list when I recent asked for recollections. Is this complete? Perhaps not. But I’ve never had a head for other people. It’ll work.
The drive to Memphis is the single most boring one you will take in Arkansas. The rest of the state has varied terrain or cities. The delta is flat and farmland. I’m not knocking it mind you. Agriculture is huge in AR and vital to our economy. I’m just saying don’t forget a good audiobook to keep you awake. (2)
The thing I remember most was the atmosphere of the drive in. These were people I truly liked, many of whom I’m still in contact with. Shooting the breeze, cracking jokes, hanging out with awesome people. Minor details but they set the tone. Just like the gray that followed us and quietly grew darker.
We arrived in Memphis and parked a pretty fair distance from The Pyramid. Kind of amazing how safe it was. We made our way in and enjoyed the first bit of the game. I’m not a sports fan but even I can enjoy a good experience. Athletic events are usually comfy, loud but not too annoying. If the game is good, I can get involved.
Let’s pause. Say the night goes as expected from here. We leave. We go home. It’s late. I’m tired but oh well. I still reference this as a great, fun time I had. But it joins the myriad trips around the state we took. That wasn’t to be.
Early in the game, the calls started. Reports of a blizzard. I’m not overstating it. Arkansas was getting battered. I’ve read that in true crises, our bodies go into a state that calms us and keeps us sane so we can act rationally. That was proven that night because that was how I acted. I had to laugh.
We left the game when it ended. Memphis hit a certain amount of goals so there were several promotional fast food items we could grab for free. We took advantage of a few of these as we stopped off in West Memphis to fuel. No snow yet. Our mood was the mood of cavalier young men who knew we were heading to apocalyptic weather.
We made it about 30 miles to Forrest City. We got reports the blizzard was there. Sure enough the snow started falling as soon as we landed. So we decided not to be stupid for a moment. A hotel was arranged for the two carloads of people. This was of course, not my idea of a good time. I sure as hell wasn’t sleeping this night.
However, it wasn’t Pearcy’s either. Ryan Harvey Pearcy is known among the students of Conway High School for being one of the boldest, goofiest people ever to have attended the school. His reaction was to go to Wal-Mart. A few of us, myself included, went. It was genuinely eerie being in an all but vacant store. Sign Out
After obtaining our free chalupa from Taco Bell, the purpose of leaving the hotel became clear: Pearcy wasn’t staying. He was going to fight it out and go home. I decided to throw in immediately. I didn’t want to be there after all. A few others, I’m reasonably certain Matt Heath was in that group, decided that yes, driving 90 miles through a blizzard WAS a good idea
Pearcy drove, a good call in theory. At first things were fine. Then he decided that to call the hotel room and fake a spinout. This was his idea of a joke. A few moments later, we were kinda in a ditch. The truth was we spun a bit and the car did end up a bit off road. A helpful cop stopped to guide us out and back on the road.
What happened next became boring as hell. I’ve never gotten this story to work as fiction all that well. (3) That stems from the fact that unless you’re in a really exciting set of circumstances, you’re just driving along at 45 mph down I-40. We trucked along very slowly. Jokes aside. Pearcy killed it on the drive.
There was one moment of zen. We stopped at Burns Park and got out t walk on the interstate. I will NEVER walk on I-40 again, especially there. But to stand there at 3 AM in the falling snow was amazing. All of it was worth it for that alone. The world had stopped and I was alive in it.
We trekked back through Mayflower, the interstate closed about that area. We saw lines of trucks all lighting up the area. It truly was an eerie night. As we drove, we saw several others like us. They were travelers just trying to get home on a night fate was not on their side.
Finally, about 4:30, I was dropped at home. It had been less than 12 hour but even now it feels like more. I naturally fired my mom’s words at her. My parents had waited up for me. Then I promptly went to bed. The school day I’d expected to see wouldn’t come. In fact I wouldn’t return until Friday of that week.
I devote a full entry to this story because it deserves it. Also because it captures something great about “crazy” times. They test us, yes. The beauty is when we pass. I passed that night. If I had to do it again, I’d always do it.
(1) I had a strong social base at this moment. That’s all the relevant info you need. More to come on them tomorrow.
(2) I’ve used Snakes on a Plane the radio drama and Stephen King stories to survive.
(3) I actually created a second, rather interesting plotline for the fiction one. It dealt with a moral question. I’m proud of iit