The Broad Street Hotel
Leland, Mississippi 38756
For a map to the Broad Street Hotel's location, see the map in my link to Boss Hall's in Leland, Mississippi. The Broad Street Hotel is right around the corner from Boss Hall's. I call it "Heartbreak Hotel" because Elvis lives there. Elvis has been reincarnated as a broken-down black man. He's skinny now.
P.S.: In case you read this and think about heading to Leland with $100 and a truck, before I left I informed Rose that her stove and butcher block was worth at least $3,000.
Behind those brick walls lies a Ph.D. dissertation for some sociologist or cultural anthropologist. An elderly couple named Lockie Staple and Rose Garrett own the Broad Street Hotel. Within those walls they provide care for at least a dozen debilitated societal relics with no place else to go. They provide that care, room and board, for $200 per month per person, paid from the Social Security and Disability Social Security checks received by those boarders.
For those boarders, the alternative to the Broad Street Hotel is a nursing home--at a cost to society of about $3,000 per month per person. The Broad Street Hotel certainly isn't the Ritz, but the rooms are decent, and the boarders are well cared for and well fed. And they are free.
Notice two things in the picture: 1) the little brick retaining wall between the two doors, and 2), the recliner sitting between the curb and the sidewalk. My first visit to the Broad Street Hotel, I knew nothing about it except that it belonged to an old black man named Lockie Staple and that James Earl "Blue" Franklin's band was supposed to practice in it that night. Late that Sunday afternoon, I came strolling down the sidewalk, from the left and headed toward the door on the right.
On that little brick retaining wall sat a very skinny black man wearing a blue sweatshirt. He had an aluminum three-footed walking cane in his right hand and a white towel wrapped around his neck. In that recliner reclined an old and very drunk-looking black man with rheumy eyes and wearing clean and neatly-pressed khaki pants and shirt. I approached them and said, "Howdy."
The old drunk in the neat khakis mumbled something incoherent. The skinny man expertly flipped the aluminum cane from his right hand to his left hand, then held out his right hand. I shook it, then said, "I'm Junior Doughty."
"Glad to meet you," he replied. "I'm Elvis."
"Well, Elvis," I replied, "I'm sure glad to meet you. Looks like your skin's a little darker than it was the last time I saw you."
"Gimme a dollar, and I'll sing you a song."
I handed him a dollar. He flipped the white towel down his back and loudly sang Welllllll, since myyyy baaaaaby left me, I found a new place to dwell. . . .
Elvis's voice had much deteriorated, so I soon went through the door on the right and left Elvis singing and the old drunk reclining and nodding his head drunkenly.
The large room I entered was a closed-down restaurant which covered half the bottom floor of the hotel. It had been closed for many years. The only light came from bare light bulbs dangling from the high ceiling at the ends of frayed wires. On the left side of the room, the few tables that remained were broken, leaning, and covered with decades-old junk of every description. On the right side of the room, washing machines and refrigerators in various stages of repair lined the front half of the wall. The wall's crumbling plaster hung in tatters. The restaurant's old counter lined the rear half of the wall on the right. The counter and stools had been ripped as a unit from their former position near the center of the room and pushed against the wall. Most of the metal stool pedestals contained no tops. Junk lined the counter.
Against the left rear wall of the large room sat an ancient and huge six-burner gas stove. An inch-thick and jet-black layer of baked-on grease and soot covered the stove and the hood above it. My second and last ex-wife would have killed for that stove. In front of that stove stood an ancient and huge butcher block, made from a single massive chunk of oak, its heavily scarred surface concave and curved from many years' usage. Dangling from an iron rack built into and above that butcher block, thick cast iron and cast aluminum pots looked like they had hung there since World War One. Almost anyone's last ex-wife would have killed for that butcher block and rack.
When Lockie and Rose introduced themselves and discovered the purpose of my visit, they were glad to see me. Before five minutes passed, most of the residents of the hotel and some people from out on the street came by to take a look at the strange sight of a white man inside the Broad Street Hotel. Blue Franklin and his band soon arrived, and they set up their amplifiers and speakers amongst the broken tables.
As the afternoon wore on toward darkness and the band practiced, I took a seat on a rickety stool at the restaurant's old counter and turned my back to the counter and my front to the room and watched the band, out in the clutter of what was once the seating area of the restaurant. To my right sat a chubby and attractive black woman. She didn't live in the hotel. To her right sat a very skinny black woman with her front teeth knocked out and her lips permanently altered by the same blow that knocked out her teeth. She looked awful. She lived in the hotel. In front of us, Rose, the hotel's cook, began cooking dinner. She started pulling pots down from the metal rack.
Blue Franklin played drums instead of bass--his real talent--and his bass player couldn't seem to correctly play something Blue called a modulation. They played a 10-note string of a rhythm and blues song over and over again. Then, also over and over, they played the song from the start of the song to the end of the 10-note string. That went on for at least an hour. I didn't like the rhythm and blues song. I wanted to hear blues. I feared I would hear the 10-note string in my sleep.
The skinny ugly woman suddenly spoke to me: "You like black women?"
I was shocked at the out-of-nowhere question: "Ah, yeah, I like some black women."
Several 10-note strings went by. The skinny ugly woman spoke again: "Skin color don't matter to you?"
"I don't care if their skin's green as long as they're women."
A few minutes later, after many 10-note strings, Rose giggled and so did skinny-ugly and chubby-attractive. I asked Rose, "What's so funny?"
Rose was adding some kind of spice to a steaming pot and trying to stifle a giggle. She looked at skinny-ugly. "Something she said."
All three women started giggling. Confused, I asked Rose, "What'd she say?"
Rose, her giggle even louder, said, "She said, 'That shore is a pretty white man.'"
Darkness fell. The dinner finished cooking, and the hotel's residents started lining up at the stove. Rose filled their plates with salmon croquettes, rutabagas, cornbread and apple pie. They poured themselves glasses of milk or tea or picked up little cans of juice. One by one they assumed seats in the rickety chairs out in the floor or against a wall and started eating.
The band continued playing--the same damned song. In the darkness to my left and in my peripheral vision, I saw a flash of white. I turned my head and watched Elvis come through the door, the white towel around his neck gleaming in the darkness. Something was wrong with his legs. Even with the three-footed cane, he could barely walk. He struggled across the floor toward me and the stove, throwing one leg forward, then the other leg, then the three-footed cane, then repeating the agonizingly slow process again and again.
He reached the stove and held out a plate. Rose filled it. A child filled a glass with milk and stood there, waiting. Elvis turned, and the agonizingly slow process reversed its path. Only then he held the heaping plate in one hand, the other hand down on the cane. And then I discovered the meaning of agonizingly slow. The speed of his progress--the process of walking--decreased by half. I wanted to rise and help him. But something stopped me.
He finally reached a chair a few feet beyond me and against the wall. He turned, placing his back to the chair, obviously preparing to sit. And, then, an amazing thing happened, and I discovered why he got his name--Elvis, Elvis the Pelvis.
The plate of food held out and unmoving, Elvis's legs thrust to the left, then the right, exactly like I'd seen the real Elvis do so many times. Then he plopped down in the chair. The child handed him the glass of milk and he started eating. I was amazed. Then I discovered the meaning of amazed.
The door opened and in stepped the drunken old man dressed in khaki. I watched him stagger toward me. Suddenly, the realization came to me that something was wrong with his legs,
his hips, and even his back. Then, shame came to me with the realization that the old man wasn't drunk at all.
Laboriously, he make his way toward me and the stove, staying near the cracked-plaster wall, both of his hands reaching down and out for the support of rickety chairs, wobbly tables, and washing machines without tops and refrigerators without doors. I caught my breath as he almost fell, then caught himself, then almost fell again, then walked again.
He finally reached the stove and held out a plate. Again the child filled a glass with milk, and again the child waited. The tottering old man turned and reversed his path, and, like Elvis before him, now with a plate of food in one hand. He hobbled toward me. Now I could see the determination in his eyes. Now I could see the cataracts in his eyes. He reached me. He made it past me. He reached Elvis. He almost fell, almost dropped the plate.
The thin black arm of Elvis shot out to help him. The old man looked down in disapproval at Elvis's outstretched hand. The helping-hand moved away. And the old man hobbled away, victory in his glazed eyes.