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Atlanta
I grew up in a family of Southern storytellers. Back in 2004, I started Whole Bean to continue the tradition in a new medium. Over the years, I've written about families and friends, peculiar situations, extended road trips, recalcitrant home appliances, and many things for which I'm truly grateful. I hope you enjoy your time here.
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Sometimes, dreams are so odd that you have to write them down. Witness last night, when I drifted into a peaceful sleep, a sleep accompanied by the sound of a sustained, late winter rain that fell outside the bedroom window. But the dream had nothing to do with rain.

A friend and I (and I cannot recall who the friend was, whether male or female or any details at all) were driving around West Los Angeles. It seems that this friend had never visited there and wanted me to take him/her/it on a tour of the entire West L.A. area. I headed for Hollywood, although as I recall, the scenery in the dream, punctuated by clear blues skies and the occasional cypress tree, looked very little like Hollywood and more like Monterey. Nevertheless, after a few minutes of wandering around, we took a wrong turn on a small gravel road and ended up at the door of a 1960's style ranch house.

Not knowing exactly what to do, but most likely not being of sound mind either, we got out of the car and headed into the house. The garage was open, and it led to a door into the back of the house. Once inside, we were surrounded by 1960's decor, except for one wall, which had been painted teal and pink in ostensible homage to the 1980's. The owner, a balding man in his sixties, came out and introduced himself as "Cato", and even though we had never seen him before, he seemed glad to see us.

Cato showed us his collection of rare 1960's jazz albums, each of which had been purchased from a record club for $9.95. In the collection were such greats as Skitch Henderson, Dave Brubeck, and Stan Getz. The collection itself was arranged in the form of a wallpaper sample book, and we spent some time thumbing through the vast selection.

We had refreshments, and then after a time, we decided to leave, and Cato bid us farewell. We got back in the car, and then I heard a noise -- it was the morning alarm clock, sounding 6:51 AM. Whatever the adventure had been, or wherever it was going, it was at an end, and I awoke to another gray, drizzly Atlanta morning.

What does it mean? Well, what does any dream mean, other than an amalgamation of random thoughts which coalesce at some precise moment to show you some jazz greats, purchased on the installment plan...


The decision has been made to visit The King. Elvis, that is. Several days ago, I came to the realization that I had not visited my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, in 15 years. So after careful consideration (and more than one Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi with dark rum), I decided to make a go of it. And I won't be traveling alone -- Hannah is joining me in this adventure.

I believe there is something to be said for going home. As all the pundits say, you "can't really go home" and live there without some adjustments, but it certainly should be fun just to drop in from a different perspective. Atlanta, my current place of residence, and Memphis are quite different cities, even though they belong to the same geographical region. There are parallels, I'm sure...an Alpharetta here is probably a Germantown there, complete with the requisite boutiques, pack-and-ship stores, and nail salons. But I'm certain (through long-term dietary experimentation) that barbecue, for example, is not the same animal there that it is here. It is this kind of drive for advanced knowledge that leads me onward.

And then there is The King. When I left Memphis in 1978, Graceland either was not open to the public or had been open only a short time; but regardless, I have never visited the mansion. I cannot with a clear conscience raise a child who has not witnessed the sheer beauty, grace, and splendor of The Jungle Room, and it is partly for this reason that both Hannah and I are embarking a pilgrimage of this magnitude.

Barbecue is a big factor, and there is perhaps nowhere better on Earth to sample good 'cue than in Memphis. The proper place to eat barbecue is in an establishment which has been open for at least 40 years, boasts gray formica tables with aluminum edges, and smells like a smoky, cleaned-once-in-a-blue-moon pit. If you do not emerge from the restaurant smelling like a pork shoulder yourself, something is wrong. In the days I lived in Memphis, our favorites were Tops Bar-B-Q or the more refined Leonard's. Anyway, if a place looks too clean, we probably won't stop there.

Lastly, there is the river. I remember biking down to the bluff of the Mississippi as the summer days drew to a close, watching old men fishing as the sun went down, and wondering where all those barges and tugs were headed. Even though the Mississippi River is the color of mud, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in America.

So the planning is underway. When we return, we'll post pictures of some of the places we've seen on the Whole Bean web site. It should be fun, to say the least.


It all started this morning when I saw a sprinkler system watering a vast field of dead, brown weeds on Medlock Bridge Road. The ambient temperature, according to my car thermometer, was 41°, and the sky was overcast. The day progressed downhill from there -- in short, it has been a series of unanswered questions, with one exception -- our trip to The Clay Oven.

The Clay Oven is a little Indian restaurant in the north Atlanta suburb of Duluth. We decided to head there for lunch, then drop over to the Indian market next door, where we were to help our friend Geeta select spices for her next culinary creation. While Geeta was making her final decisions, Keith, David and I headed over to the video rental section, where we perused such titles as "Freaky Chakra". At the checkout counter, we purchased a pan leaf, also known as Piper betle, for twenty cents from a small tray which was sitting there. According to Geeta, her grandfather had often chewed pan leaves to achieve a nice feeling of calm nirvana. She said that it also left a reddish color in his mouth. Given the day and week we'd all been having, it sounded like a good idea. The cashier told us that the pan leaf was often used in prayers or mixed with rose petals and fennel seeds.

When we got back to the car, Geeta said that she might be thinking of something else, and it wasn't the pan leaf after all, but rather a type of nut from the plant that her grandfather had chewed. Unfortunately, by this point Keith and I had already chewed up small sections of the leaf, leaving us with bad tastes in our mouths, no red discoloration, and a strong essence within Geeta's vehicle -- there was no recognizable feeling of calm nirvana.

After returning to the office, we did a little research on the Internet and found that the Piper betle plant is actually quite popular in parts of Asia, and is widely believed to have medicinal value. The list of afflictions which old Piper addresses is staggering: throat ailments, boils, bronchitis, elephantiasis...some even say it's an aphrodisiac and a laxative. Go figure.

But what is life if not a series of discoveries? We found on this trip that there are certain things best left on the shelf or on the tree. Namaste.