Two nights in Memphis

Memphis Travel Blog

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The iconic street

So the hour is late.  Our brief stay in Memphis is coming to a close.  In fact, for all intents and purposes, it is already over.  It is 10:30pm as I write this.  The kids are winding down (at least in my imagination), the sites have been visited, our bags are packed.  In the morning we leave headed for Washington DC. But I am reluctant to turn Miss Idaho east again.  I would love to spend a couple of more nights in this city with Eva.  And a babysitter.

Much like the Grand Canyon behind us, and the Smithsonian ahead of us, Memphis was on the "we really should hit this spot" list.  Neither Eva nor I had ever been, and Memphis is too far from anywhere else to add to a trip.

  You can not drive from DC  to here (it takes two days), you can not go from Disneyworld in Florida to here easily,  so unless you are intending to go to Memphis, you probably won't ever get there.

We arrived mid afternoon yesterday.  We checked into the Hearbreak Hotel. The hotel is obviously "All Elvis, All the Time".  There are Elvis portraits.  There is an XM radio set to the Elvis XM channel.  The bar in the hotel is called the Jungle Room Bar and Grill.  Graceland is indeed an Elvis Mecca.  There was a heart shaped pool (of course), so after hauling up enough luggage, we went for a nice relaxing swim.  The hotel is nice, but the staff is surly.  It may be becuase of the high humity and high temperature.

The bass player at B.B. Kings checking if Ryan is ok with the set.
  Anyway, who cares.  After a swim, we thought we would look around Memphsis.  It seemed like Beale street was the place to go.

To be honest, I had never heard of Beale Street in Memphis.  Some people reading this (maybe Scott or Kay) will be shocked that I did know of it.  Some people may not have heard of it either.  At least I hope so.  I would feel totally nerdy if I was the last person to hear about.  Eva knowns about the place.  Of course.

Beale street is about a three or four block section of a downtown Memphis street that is blocked off apparently everynight.  The place becomes a mecca of blues (Is that the second time I used the word mecca in this entry?  Odd. I hardly ever use it.)  and Southern cooking.

Selling a CD in the street.
  It was absolutly fantastic. There are dozens of blues artists and bands playing their songs live, and somethimes so close to each other that they get in each others way, in an auditory sense.  There is the ubiquitous "Tips" bucket, and often someone trying to sell CDs that look very much like they were pressed off of a home PC. Liam was not impressed, to say the least, with the live band in B.B. Kings BBQ restaurant. Ryan, on the other hand, was giving the bass player a thumbs-up after every song.  After an hour or so, Liam brightened up enough to start dancing with an Elvis impressionist/impersonator.  But by then, Ryan was now dragging his feet.  And Beale street is not really for kids.    Eva and I made a solemn pact to return to this place, but as a couple.

In the morning we lazed around the hotel till about 10:00 am and then headed across the parking lot to Graceland, the main purpose of our stop in Memphis.  Graceland is well done.  I think it faithfully represents Elvis as he was throughout his life.  The Elvis Mansion was very much worth walking through.  It seemed pretty luxurious, even for something that has remained in stasis for better than 30 years.  Lots of insight into his life, a walk through his two private airplanes, a museum with a surprisingly large collection of his cars and motorcycles.  And although the weather was hot and muggy and humid and oppresive, the kids held up well.  The line ups were not too long.

And honestly, that seemed like a problem to us.

View of the street
  Short lines at Graceland.  We were there on a holiday Friday.  I would have expected the place to be absolutly packed.  But the line up to get on the plane was no more than 5 min.  The shuttle to the mansion - 15 min.  At lunch, we walked into the 50's restaurant and there were several empty tables.  This is, I think, a sign of the economy.  People are a little tighter with thier spending money.

We saw something similar on Beale street.  Friday night, warm evening with the heat of the day bleeding into the sunset, and a friendly crowd building on the street, helped along with lots-o-suds, I would have expected seating in the eating establishments to be at a premium.  But that was not the case, we looked into several places before picking B.

Where we ate.
B. Kings place, and all of them, including B.B.'s, had immediately seating.   And later, when we went to a different place for a bit of ice cream, the first place we tried had both ice cream and lots of free tables.  And a passable Elvis impersonator.  Kinda looked like people were holding on to thier greenbacks.

After seeing Graceland, Eva and I were in total agreement that the visit to Beale Street was far, far better.  There was nothing wrong with with Graceland, and I am glad I went.  I will not even complaing too much about the cost.  Not too much.  But there was an incredible vitality to Beale Street.  Graceland is, in reality, nothing more than an intricate picture of a man that passed away some 32 years aog.  Nothing can change.  Nothing can evolve.  The musicians on Beale Street  are trying to break into the music scene.  They are hoping, with some desparation I am sure, that a Big Wig will walk by and they will become one of the lucky ones who can add "Noticed" to the description of thier act. But make no mistake, they were having the time of thier life. I felt there was a sense of autheticity and risk here, that was missing at Graceland.  Not that the representation of Elvis was not authentic to him, but that was just the point.  The machine that keeps Graceland running, with all of its minions, mechanics and, say true, its morons, are authentic to a memory.  To an image.  The artists on Beale street were, to me, authentic to themsleves.

If I return to Memphis, I will not go back to Graceland.  I have been there. I have done that. I bought the book.  Really.  I enjoyed it.  But I can plumb my pictures and memories if I want to go back - assumming I do not lose one or both - whereas the artists on Beale street, their music, the scene will change and evolve.  That i would see again.  Say true.

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The iconic street
The iconic street
The bass player at B.B. Kings chec…
The bass player at B.B. Kings che…
Selling a CD in the street.
Selling a CD in the street.
View of the street
View of the street
Where we ate.
Where we ate.
Memphis
photo by: vulindlela