The Mighty Mississippi!
I was pretty excited to be going to the South for the first time and was even more excited that I would be hitting 3 states in total. My friend Noah had decided to fly into Little Rock as it was the cheapest flight around and from there we would take a rental car and drive immediately to Memphis.
If you are interested in a more detailed account of the drive to Memphis, please check out my Arkansas Blog. But on this page I will give you a brief synopsis. Basically it was decided by my friend Noah and I that we would take back roads to Memphis as the Interstate tells you nothing about a state. Pretty much you have cars, signs, more cars, McDonald’s and cars.
Not thrilling. Taking the back roads was eye opening, scary, fun and informative; so many emotions wrapped up in one trip! Stopping at various places along the way was even more interesting…
The Great Pyramid of Memphis
Now I love to drive. I mean I REALLY love to drive. One of the hardest things about living in NYC is I don’t have a car; it is just depressing! So driving in a new 2008 Mazda made my month!
The thing I noticed about drivers in the South is that they like to take their time. If the speed limit says 55 or no speed limit is posted, the majority of cars go 45-50. Not my style. I have a lead foot and I was using it.
I was passing cars right and left (though mostly left). I had been warned about the police being everywhere in Arkansas but only ran into them at the Sobriety Checkpoint (explained in the Arkansas blog). I guess I got lucky.
The Horses of Graceland
As we got closer to Memphis I pulled into a factory parking lot and announced that Noah would be driving the rest of the way. This was news to him. See, I don’t like driving in the city, ever. It makes me nervous and I get aggressive and start yelling things and honking. Nobody hears what I yell except my passengers, but still, it isn’t pleasant for anyone! Noah didn’t mind, though he wished I had announced it earlier, but I am spontaneous person!
I adore Noah, but I wasn’t prepared for his driving.
It was slow and jerky. He was driving 5 under or the speed limit only, no more; two very different styles. I was a little scared actually, but my guess is he was frightened by my driving as well. Especially when the choice words started to flow; so we were even. As we headed over the main bridge into Memphis, the words began to flow once again! That thing was large and in charge of my fear. I hate bridges! I told him to drive in the middle lane, but he told me we needed to be in the right. I said I didn’t care and you know; I really didn’t. But he was going by the map and that was how it was going to be. Before the trip I had been excited to finally see the Mighty Mississippi. No longer… It is no exaggeration; it is huge and mighty alright; mighty scary!
Uh Oh, Big Bridge Ahead
When we got of the exit Noah told me he wanted to stop at the Visitor Center first.
There was no argument from me, I was just happy to be alive. It was pretty empty at the time we went as the weather was overcast and it kept sprinkling, so parking was a breeze!
Pretty View From the Visitors Center
But before we entered the visitor center, we wanted to get some pictures near the Mississippi as there was a great view there. You know, the river wasn’t so scary from this view point; it was kind of nice, though brown. I guess when the river travels that far it churns up a lot of dirt; it kind of reminded me of the Hudson River but on a larger scale.
I was surprised to find that the visitor center was so large. The ceilings are high, making me wonder if there was more than I was seeing.
It also was kind of sparse, but there was reading material everywhere and screens with the blues playing, ahhh yeah. Also there was Elvis everywhere. There was a cardboard cutout of younger Elvis for people to pose with. I had to argue with Noah that we needed to keep the photos clean as there was a child in the center. Also there was a big bronze statue of Elvis in a small room in front of us. I don’t know why, but I didn’t get a picture. I think it scared me too much!
I Think We Make a Great Couple
After we got our maps, we were ready to find our hotel, The Sleep Comfort Inn. It was supposedly right off of Front Street. Yeah, right. This hotel was impossible to find, we finally called the hotel’s front desk to help us out, but their directions made no sense.
We kept going in circles around it but couldn’t get to it; the One Ways were killing us and a few roads had closed. There were police everywhere, too! It turned out that it was the Fourtieth Anniversary for the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Noah and I had no idea! No wonder why the streets were a little crazy, though I think finding the hotel would still have been a pain.
The Famous Peabody Fountain
After circling the block four times we got directions from a couple of police officers who were hanging on the street corner. They informed me that we needed to go around the block again and go down a small side road off of Front Street. So we tried to find it again, foiled! Apparently, the fifth time is a charm as we found the hotel.
After we parked the car and checked into the hotel, we decided that we wanted to see if we could see part of the MLK ceremony that was very close to where we were staying.
But by the time we had gotten there, the crowd cheers were dying and the people were dispersing. It was kind of disappointing that we missed pretty much all of the ceremonies of this important day, I won’t lie, I was disappointed.
The Peabody Ducks!
After that we headed over to the Peabody Hotel to see the Duck Walk in reverse at 5PM. The Duck Walk is a tradition that had been going on at the Peabody for 75 years. How it started was the General Manager of the Peabody had gone hunting with his buddy but it had been a bad hunting day. They didn’t want the day to be a waste, so they found some comfort with Jack. Yep, Jack Daniel’s, Tennessee’s own! Along with Jack, they brought back their ducks. Back in the 30’s it was fine to use real duck decoys (lovely)! Well, the guys were so smashed they put the ducks in the fountain in the lobby and went to bed.
The next morning, the ducks were still there and a crowd had circled the fountain in appreciation. Bingo! A grand idea was born! Everyday at 11AM the ducks with the help of the Duck Master march to the fountain. At 5PM, they go up to their penthouse on the roof of the Peabody to retire.
The Ducks Chilling at the Duck Palace
I had no idea that this happened at The Peabody. In fact, someone on Travbuddy hooked me up with this information and other great suggestions. Thank you! This is exactly the type of thing I like. It is just lighthearted and fun!
When we got to the hotel I was amazed at how beautiful it was.
There is dark wood everywhere, with chandeliers, stained glass and in the center, many tables and a large fountain with a beautiful display of flowers that smelled wonderfully. We were surprised to see so many people lined up already when we arrived. I pretty much knew I would not be getting very good shots of this event as I am kind of short. Still I was going to try.
The whole event starts with the Duck Master telling you the history of the Duck Walk and then he removes the barrier from the fountain, slams down his cane and out the ducks go! Well, the night I was there they didn’t go without a fight. This was only their second day and they didn’t want to leave and kept running back into the water. Finally after a few moments of coaxing these guys booked down the stairs and onto the red carpet straight to the elevator! It was classic!
After the duck walk the crowd thinned a bit and we decided to grab a table and order some drinks.
I was told that the drinks at The Peabody were expensive, but I found them to be about the same price as they are in NYC, so I wasn’t shocked. The service was very good and our waitress was very pleasant and great with people; though she thought I was Irish which I thought was funny. For some reason I confuse people a lot when it comes to where I come from in and out of the US.
The Peabody Hotel
Because of the MLK festivities there were a lot of high profile people staying in Memphis. As we left the bar, we ran into Reverend Al Sharpton. Noah, thought I was joking around with him, but finally turned around to see that I wasn't messing around. He snapped a photo without the flash and prayed it turned out. We still don’t know as he is still old school and uses film.
After the drinks, we decided to look at the Duck Palace which is open on the top of The Peabody.
This is where the ducks retire when they are not in the famous fountain in the lobby. You can see the ducks in their “Palace” until 11PM at night and since we planned on eating and hitting Beale Street soon, we decided now was our chance.
The Roof With a View
When we exited the door that lead onto the roof, we were hit with a blast of cold wind. For some reason I though that in April Tennessee would be warmer than it was. It was freezing, but there was a beautiful view of the downtown area all lit up. The ducks are to the side in a big cage with a pool, food and a little “mansion.”
I have to say at first I was depressed for these little guys. They were huddled together and their little heads were tucked into their sides as they were sleeping.
It was so cold and this cage was hardly what I would consider a palace. Noah and I looked at each other depressed. But reality set in. They were wild ducks! Ducks live in cold ponds during the winter. They are use to this type of environment and after their three month stint was up, they would go back out to the wild on the farm they came from. All of a sudden I felt a better.
The Roof of the Peabody
I decided after my rollercoaster of emotions over the ducks, I needed to grab a few more drinks and have some dinner. I had been told by a friend that when I went to Memphis I needed to go to King’s Palace Café as it was her favorite place in Memphis for its cool, laid back environment and great gumbo.
The King’s Palace Café is large restaurant with a stage for various Jazz and Blues performers in the front, seating in the back by the bar for those who want a little more of a quiet atmosphere and what appeared to be a another room downstairs though I don’t know for sure, so don’t quote me on that.
The atmosphere is pretty chill as I was told. It was dimly lit and is primarily decorated in medium colored wood. We sat away from the stage, but had a perfect view of it. The performers were pretty decent though the first woman we saw was very good. Also the jazz combo was great too and just the perfect volume so that you could still have a conversation with your table mate.
An Early Start to Beale Street
The dinner was great as well! King’s Palace Cafe has won the honor of having the best gumbo two years in a row. After tasting it, I don’t doubt it for one minute. That gumbo was so good, I almost wanted a vat to take with me and carry around to eat for the next few days. But then I realized that gumbo may not hold up well after a few hours. Fish is strange like that. Besides the gumbo I had the alligator chips and I have to say they were quite good! I hate to be cliché, but they tasted sort of like a chicken nugget, but spicier.
The Champion Gumbo
After a fabulous meal, we knew it was time to hit Beale Street. Truth be told, we had been there earlier right after the Duck Walk. The reason I didn’t mention this was I didn’t want to look like a total lush doing Jell-O shots at 6PM on an empty stomach. But yes, we had been there. While we had been there, we also met a random guy named Tony who spoke to us a while and welcomed us to Memphis. I think he had been at Beale for a few hours already, but he wanted his picture taken, so why not?
An odd thing that both Noah and I noticed is that the song Kiss by Prince must be Memphis’s unofficial theme song.
We heard it at least 5 times in the first 24 hours we were there and every time it came on, we would both lip synch to it and do this stupid cheesy dance. Why I don’t know, but it was funny! Especially after a few Jell-O shots chock full of Jack!
Jell-O Shots Aren't Worth it Unless They Have Jack!
Now, Beale Street is fun, but it was not very busy when we went. Part of it was that it was still sprinkling and it was very cold. There were people wearing tank tops, I kid you not. Tank tops and frilly summer shirts! It was 40 degrees and raining. I am a female, I understand wanting to look your best, but attracting a man is not worth freezing your bippy off. No way! So I grabbed another Jack and began dancing to Kiss again. Who needs to impress with dress when you got these moves! After a while Noah and I realized that the area was pretty tame due to the weather and that it was time for us to go to the hotel as we had a very busy day planned.
In the morning before we checked out we grabbed the free breakfast, but I was surprised to find that everything was pretty much stuff I don’t eat; gravy, sausage and grits! Yep, grits! I have had grits before a few years back when a friend’s father from Kentucky offered them to me. I have to be honest, they weren’t my thing. So when I saw the grits in an instant oatmeal looking packet I had to laugh. Both Noah and I grabbed one a piece and posed with it later in the hotel room. Why, I don’t know, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. We still have them and hope to send them as gifts to one special person this next holiday season.
After breakfast, we went to the Peabody one more time to see the Duck Walk at 11AM.
Yeah, I know we had seen it the night before, but there is something about actually seeing them go into the fountain that makes your life complete. I have to say, after seeing it again, I find it never gets old!
Woo hoo, I am Living the Graceland Dream
So after the Duck Walk, we hit a few stores before it was time to head towards the one and only Graceland. I was told that if you visit Memphis, you have to visit Graceland. I told people that I didn’t even like Elvis. They told me it didn’t matter. It sure seemed like a waste of money, but fine, I would go to Graceland. Noah was more excited than me and he hates Elvis! He was afraid we would get thrown out as we get amused way too easily when we are together.
If you go to Graceland, just be aware that the area is not in the best part of Memphis.
I had done some research, so I wasn’t too thrown off, but it might be a little different if you aren’t expecting it.
This Thing Gives Me Nightmares!!!
Luckily when we got tot Graceland the crowds were pretty small. We got there around noon and there was hardly anyone there which was nice as I don’t like to be rushed. The cheapest ticket to get into Graceland is $27.00; a little steep in my opinion for what you get to see, but I would never live it down if I didn’t go.
It is a total tourist trap; they even take a photo of you in front of the pseudo gates of Graceland that you can buy after the tour. We ended up sticking out our tongues and making horrible faces. The woman cracked up and thanked us for making her laugh. We didn’t buy the photo as we had put enough money into the Presley Estate and had enough bad pictures to last us a lifetime after we were done with the trip.
The Jungle Room, Baby!
So after the van was filled with people we headed over to Graceland. I was surprised to see that Graceland wasn’t what I considered a mansion at all, but rather a large house. I expected something on the level of Aaron Spelling, but I would be wrong. Also, the whole upstairs is closed to visitors. I guess this is common knowledge to some, but like I, said I know nothing about Elvis at all. But that was all about to change.
The hallways at Graceland are very narrow so Noah and I stayed towards the back of the group so we wouldn’t be rushed and got many fantastic photos. My first impression was that this place reminded me of my Grandmother’s house. The 70’s never go out of style! Also, this guy loved TV; a lot! I wonder how he would feel about Reality TV?
Besides seeing the house, you also get a view of the area where he kept his gold and platinum records.
That and the horse field, the squash room, his “shooting range” and Elvis’s final resting place. That threw me off as I didn’t expect it at all. The man is buried at Graceland along with the rest of the family. Yikes! You don’t see that everyday!
By the end of the tour I knew quite a bit of information about Elvis. He seemed like a decent guy that was pretty generous to people and pretty down to earth or at least that is how he was presented at Graceland. It also seemed like such a waste that he got wrapped up in the whole drug culture, but it was the 70’s, so there you go.
When the tour was done we drove up to the Mud Island Park to see the view of the Mississippi River.
All and all, Memphis had been a lot of fun and defiantly worth the drive. Especially for the Duck Walk which still makes me laugh when I see the video. Also, I have a new appreciation of Elvis, though I still don’t like his music personally. And after doing my own research, I am starting to believe there maybe some validity to the Elvis sightings over the years. Elvis is indeed alive or at least in my mind…