TUPELO, Miss. - Let's pull off of Route 6 near the shack where Elvis was born - it was 23 years last Wednesday that we lost him in Memphis - and sit on the porch a spell.
I want to rock on the swing as the sun goes down and talk to you about driving.
By the time you read this, depending on when you got to the paper today, I will have passed some 8,600 miles with a good 1,500 to go.
In the past four weeks, I have driven more than I have stopped to look at things.(Exceptions made for Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, and the midnight lamp burning at the Goodrich Avenue house in St. Paul, Minn., where Fitzgerald wrote "The Beautiful and the Damned.")
I have driven more than I have stuffed my face.(Topping the lick-smacking list are a beef barbecue sandwich in Durant, Miss.; an al fresco lunch of fresh fruit and summer sausage at the adolescent Wisconsin home of Baltimore's crab-selling poet Ingrid Ankerson; and shrimp broiled and buttered in Houma, La.)
More than anything else, what I have done for the past month is drive.
Drive, he said.
There is nothing especially Hercules an about the effort, although I did pass by a city named for the Greek god of strength outside of San Francisco.
But it is no small thing either.
In his new book of essays called "Roads," Larry McMurtry writes of driving 800 to 1,000 miles a day to meditate upon his life from the mighty interstates of America.
I stopped into his warehouse of 500,000 used and rare books in Archer City, Texas, a week ago to talk about literature and the highway. As I rattled off my itinerary the way Danny Aiello calls out station stops from his past life as a rail conductor, McMurtry alighted on the Black Hills of Dakota.
"Crazy Horse Mountain is one of the most amazing things in America," he said. "But I don't really like that part of the country. Pine Ridge - scary country. A rough, violent place."
I don't know what spooked Lonesome Larry about the Badlands besides the bloody history of the place - he says he reads history for five hours each night before bed - but I sure liked it.
There's nothing like seeing two dozen bikers take a wide mountain turn on their hogs with a town called Deadwood behind them.
Where I felt uncomfortable was west of Houston in the Sealy, Texas, public library, where a middle-aged woman and the desk clerk spoke in stage whispers about a book that proves how the Vatican rules the world.
And all this time I thought it was Hollywood. On days when I manage to nap in the car on a Wal-Mart parking lot - great places to sleep, plenty of cars for camouflage and people too busy looking for sales to notice anything - I manage about 500 miles.
While rain has soaked Baltimore for weeks, the rest of the country has been hotter than usual, with daily temperatures well above 100 in numerous states and heavy smoke from western wildfires wafting as far east as Tennessee.
Speeding through the summer, I have learned a neat little trick. When the air-conditioner vent is tilted a certain way, if I cup my right hand just right, I can direct air to the back of my neck between shifting gears.
Not as cool as being able to turn your eyelids inside out, but cool.
And while my 1999 Beetle has been a champ (if you want smiles from kids from 1 to 92, buy a Bug), I have a question for Valley Motors on York Road, which serviced the car before I left Maryland.
When I pulled into a Jiffy Lube in Gallup, N.M., for an oil change, the grease monkeys said I was more than two quarts low with no sign of leaks.
What's up with that?
And here's Ralphie's recipe for squeezing the last hundred miles out of a long day when all the motels in Nowheresville are full - Lord help you if there's a church convention or an interstate softball tournament - and you don't think you can take another step:
Pull into an all-night gas station attached to a good convenience store.
You'll know its the right place because the clerk will either be a very heavy woman or a very skinny man. Except when the clerk is a very skinny woman or a very heavy man.
Order animal fat on a bun that's been sitting under a heat lamp for 14 hours. Cheese helps. Wash this down with a Mountain Dew. Quickly. Eat two or three Tums. Pour a cup of coffee that looks like the oil struck by Jed Clampett and grab an ice cream on the way out.
Back behind the wheel, scream, "I'm comin', Mama!" into the silent night and throw "Gimme Shelter," in the tape player.
Jet fuel, baby - strong enough to rocket you from just north of Idaho Falls to just south of Pocatello. It only works once a day, however.
When it's gone, you're done.
And your next purchase may be a bottle of Pepto Bismol and a vial of Excedrin, as it was for me in San Pedro, Calif., after eating day-old anchovies and capers on toast after a party on Greenwich Street in San Francisco.
But as my son Jake said when I hobbled into a 7-Eleven willing to pay any price to be healed: "You can't go wrong with Pepto and Excedrin. They're the kings in their fields."
I washed them down with coffee.