Key to the Highway

An indelicate whiff of oil ooze onto the exhaust manifold must have reached the valet-parking desk of the distinguished New Orleans hotel even as I killed the ignition.

At least the leaky radiator hadn’t puked, and the attendant remained oh-so-professionally composed as we skirted the Caddy’s well-seasoned flanks to collect my luggage. Then he noticed the license plate, and with the faintest undertone of wonderment asked, “You drove this car down here from Tennessee?”

“Yeah, man,” I say, “and I’m going up Highway 61 through Mississippi like the old bluesmen did, one club at a time, and then on to Chicago, and I’m gonna write a story about it.” I give the trunk lid a little pat and hold out the keys. “Put my baby someplace nice, will you?”

There is the slightest undecided pause and he smiles the reassuring smile of the impromptu coconspirator. “Don’t worry, sir,” he says, “I’ll do

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