Reflections on Memphis: March 2008

You don’t need to be a genius to know that Memphis is a city rich in musical history. We decided to put on our blue suede shoes and board a plane … to spend five days with our dear friend Janine who flew down from Minneapolis to meet us at Memphis Int’l Airport on a Saturday afternoon.

For lodging on this trip, we went for inexpensive with free breakfast included. Thus, the cozy Comfort Inn was the big winner. I have to say, we were all pleased. With this chain, you get pretty decent beds in a decent-sized (and clean) room, plus a breakfast selection of fruits, cereals, oatmeal, pastries, and a make-your-own-waffle stand. After settling in a bit, we walked down to Beale Street for dinner and blues at Rum Boogie Cafe. (God bless BBQ chicken and live music!) The streets were alive with excitement, street musicians, and the occasional bum dressed as Elvis.

On our first Memphis morning, we made waffles for breakfast at the hotel before taking a tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory which was very, very cool. The goggles we wore looked ridiculous and we couldn’t help but laugh at each other. It was fascinating to watch the process of how a flat piece of wood becomes a highly crafted, powerful, and sometimes annoying musical instrument. After the tour, we strolled along to Beale Street where we hopped on board Miss Clawdy (an old bus from 1956) for a magical spin around the town while being entertained with live music and trivia. Our tour guide, musician Memphis Jones, showed us the sights while playing the geetar and singing familiar tunes. The best part? We got to play along with tambourines, shakers, and bongos. That’s right! We found ourselves indulging on more yummy BBQ on Beale Street and browsing all the kitschy shops we could handle. We took a sunset stroll along the Mighty Mississippi before calling it a night.

Monday was the best day of all with Sun Studio (my personal favorite) in the morning and the legendary Graceland the afternoon. Talk about musical history overload! To stand in Sun Studio where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash all got their start was almost a religious experience. Just … wow. The staffers let us snap photos of ourselves standing at the microphone and playing the very drum kit that famous musicians have pounded on for so many years.

When it comes to the kitschy side of Memphis, Graceland can’t be beat. We lucked out and didn’t have to fight crowds, and we were able to move through each of the rooms at a comfortable pace, soaking in all things Elvis. The green carpeting on the walls in the jungle room? Hilarious! I got a kick out of the halls filled with gold records, numerous prestigious awards, and fascinating wardrobe and memorabilia. It’s a self-guided tour, with audio, which narrates the history in each of the rooms before you step outside at the end of the tour to pay your respects at the memorial.

Memphis may be known for their BBQ, but the other food does not disappoint. Case in point: Huey’s, a joint that claims to have the best burgers in town. Oh yes, they were delicious. Huey’s also has a unique attraction: Toothpicks dangling from the soft ceiling, shot up north by customers past. Throw in some live blues piano and you have quite the fantastic foodie experience. There’s so much hullabaloo about Rendezvous, touted as the best BBQ in Memphis. We checked it out, though finding it was a chore since it’s tucked in the back of a seedy alleyway and we weren’t sure if we’d make it out alive. I found it to be “so-so.” The history is more entertaining than the food is tasty. I’d rather eat deep fried pickles again at the cafe across the street from Graceland.

We had a good time riding around in the historic trolleys (perfect activity when it’s rainy). Our trip included a sombering visit to the grounds of the Civil Rights Museum and the site of MLK Jr’s assassination, an extremely emotional thing to see in person.

I can’t remember the name of the place, but we stumbled upon an Irish pub somewhere…it may have been on Beale Street? I had read about it in a travel guide under “best kept secrets.” The pub keeps goats in the central courtyard and if you ask the manager nicely, he’ll bring you up close so you can pet them and possibly even feed them a leaf or two. They also have a “Walk of Fame” of sorts on the back patio, with blocks of concrete where famous musicians have inscribed their names.

Yes, Virginia, there is a lot of sightseeing to cram in while in Memphis. My advice to travelers would be to skip the silly “march of the ducks” at The Peabody Hotel. We showed up early on two separate mornings to see the ducks parade by. While the hotel is gorgeous and worth touring, the ducks are not worth it. Avoid the 11am crowds and just YouTube it instead. You can thank me later.

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One Response to Reflections on Memphis: March 2008

  1. Janine says:

    Good times! Sun Studios & the Gibson Guitar factory tied for my favorite attractions, and eating at the BigFoot place was amusing as well. Thanks for the memories!