Doing Memphis right

Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
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Trip End Oct 07, 2012


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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Thursday, September 27, 2012

We rolled into Memphis yesterday afternoon and we've been having a fun during our stay here. We started it off properly with a visit to a fried chicken place called Gus's World Famous Hot & Spice Chicken. It lived up to the name with some delicious food. We also ran into someone from LA there which was fun. He beat us by noting that he had done the cross-country trip three times, however.

Our first glimpse of Memphis was a little sad because it seemed pretty deserted around this eatery. We proceeded towards Beale Street thinking we would just preview it. It turned out that Wednesday night is "Bike Night" on Beale Street which means it is shut to traffic (except bikes of course) and all the stores and restaurants stay open. It was hopping when we arrived. We love it when places stay open. It's always baffling when, and this is common in major cities from LA to San Francisco to Boston, things shut at about 7 PM. So, we attempted, unsuccessfully, to blend in with the crowd. It was very mellow with people just strolling about, checking out the bikers, and eating, drinking (open containers no problem). We decided to find some music and we ended up at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall which was featuring Brandon Santini & His Band. As the video(s) will show, it was pretty cool. 

Today was a big day with Graceland as the focus of the schedule. Our crappy hotel, the Days Inn Graceland, is located one door down from the ticket stand for Graceland (across the street). So, we at least avoided paying parking. Admission is not cheap. We had a coupon which turned the 'platinum' tour into $32 instead of $36 and we were happy because this meant that for the price of the regular tour, we also got to see Elvis' private jets and his auto collection. The tour was decent. You take a little shuttle from the ticket pavilion up to Graceland and you have an audio tour through the first floor, basement, and outbuildings at Graceland. Due to Elvis' tradition of not letting anyone upstairs except family, the upstairs continues to be closed to the public. I suppose we would have seen where he died then, right? I believe he died in his bathrooom. 

Some of you may know that I have a thing for Elvis. I'm not too fanatical, but I have read Priscilla Presley's autobiography, Elvis and Me (actually a page-turner!). I really like rockabilly music and anything catchy so Elvis is one of my favorites. I found the tour to be fairly surreal. I don't think I really get the whole celebrity thing though. I realize that I create celebrities in my mind to be how I want them to be and that 'reality' doesn't correspond to that image. When you see where someone ate their peanut butter and banana, it confronts the element of fantasy that seems inseparable from the creation of that image. I think I'd rather not know. Still, there was a good deal of kitschy fun involved. The house is decorated in high late 1960s/early 1970s style. 

After we finished up at Graceland, we went to Stax Studios which was where Otis Redding and Booker T and the MGs recorded along with many other soul artists. We debated this or Sun Studios, but decided that we covered the country/rock side of things with Elvis. I'm glad we went to Stax. We heard a bunch of old good music and learned about the rise of the studio and its intersection with the complicated story of race relations in the 50s, 60s and 70s. It really emphasizes how important Memphis is to music. Between Stax and Sun, it's amazing how many artists recorded in Memphis from those I mentioned to Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and the like. 

We stopped by, somewhat briefly, the Peabody Hotel which is downtown Memphis for the daily marching of the ducks. For those of you who haven't heard of this tradition, it's worth looking at it (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peabody_Hotel ). If we hadn't been so busy, we would have gone to the roof to see the new duck habitat the hotel has built. In short, there are ducks that live in the fountain in the hotel and have since the 1930s. They were trained later to march from their home on the roof down to the fountain in the morning and back at 5 PM. The ducks have been on the Tonight Show and on Sesame Street. It was extremely crowded when we showed up at 4:30. The city really seems a little deserted at times so it was surprising to see all these people in the lobby awaiting the ducks. It was cute, but a lot of fanfare for some ducks. I guess the hotel must make money off of it through concessions which is good because Memphis could use an infusion of cash and enthusiasm to keep it alive. I think I would look into staying at the Peabody if we returned. It was (re)built in the 20s and, in the style of LA's Biltmore, is very beautiful. 

Following the ducks, we headed to dinner at this place, Cozy Corner which is a barbecue joint. It was as good as yesterday's chicken. I don't love messy barbecue sauce, so I had the cornish game hen "dry" or with a dry rub. It was very well-cooked and the skin was tasty without being overwhelming. Mike had the ribs which he enjoyed quite a bit (in fact, I kinda wished I had some too). Dessert, which we don't always get, was sweet potato pie and banana pudding. I *loved* the banana pudding. It was sort like a bread pudding in that it's not all pudding. There seemed to be sliced bananas, nilla wafers and whipped cream involved. The consistency was very nice. It was so good. I want more right now!

We are getting ready to pack up and head farther down South now. It's on to New Orleans tomorrow. On the way, we're traveling through Mississippi and stopping at William Faulkner's house and Eudora Welty's too. This should make our day very looooong tomorrow. It's a seven-hour drive without stoppping. Oh yes, and we are making it to Jackson, MS which is the subject of our favorite Johnny Cash tune-- "Jackson" : (Lyrics) "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout; we've been talkin' 'bout Jackson ever since the fire went out!" I hope that we can stop for lunch there to get a feel for this town, but I don't think there's much to see there.   


 
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