One week ago today I returned home after five great days in Memphis. For this year’s annual pilgrimage to my favorite city, I played tour guide to my friend Allyssa on her first trip to the Bluff City. We had an amazing time and a lot of laughs. We ate all the fabulous Memphis food, talked with all the friendly Memphis people, listened to the magnificent Memphis music and saw all the super Memphis sights. We literally had a fantastic time!
MEMPHIS DAY 1:
I left my house at 9:30am for my flight at 11am. Dad drove me to the airport. I met Allyssa at the gate. We arrived in Memphis at 12:30 cst, a half hour early, where as we came down the escalator we heard “Walkin in Memphis” playing on the intercom – fate. An hour later we finally had our rental car after the second try. There was an empty space where the first car was supposed to be, so I had to walk back down, get in line and get another car (the escalator did not work so I had to take the elevator). I had reserved the cheapest car, which was the smallest never thinking there wouldn’t be enough leg room, but I put the seat back and down and it was fine. But for the rest of the trip, we referred to our Ford Fiesta as our clown car – Aribbaaaa!
On the way from the airport to our hotel, we passed by Elvis Presley Boulevard so of course I had to do a Graceland drive by. Then we went to Walgreens to get snacks for the week and boy did we get snacks, all we could carry. Along the way, a song by REO Speedwagon and came and Allyssa said, “OHHHHH!” She said she always thought it was Reo (like Rio) Speedwagon. We laughed about that for a while – this would not be the last gem from Allyssa. We finally reached our hotel, the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. As we got out of the car and walked toward the entrance, we hear U2’s “Sweetest Thing” playing over the loudspeaker – fate again. We got in line to check in and had a bit of a tenuous check in process. Trainee Jane couldn’t talk to us while incorrectly making our keys. We had to tell her three times we wanted two beds on a non-smoking lower floor. (the floor was non-smoking, but the room smelled like it had been previously smoked in not to mention the intense incense coming through the bathroom vent from the room next door – oh and there was no soap dish in the shower and no fan in the bathroom. but other than that the room was great, except for the terribly slow rooms-cox wifi)
Trainee Jane had told us we could eat at the Buffet or Pickle and Jam, which I kept referring to as Pickled Pete’s because I couldn’t remember the name). We didn’t want to eat at the cafeteria style Pickle and Jam. We wanted a sit down meal, since it was almost 3pm and we hadn’t eaten all day. We walked to the back of the casino and the buffet had closed at 2pm and wouldn’t reopen for dinner until 4pm. So we walked next door to the Horseshoe Casino, but their buffet closed at 3pm for lunch. We ended up going to cafeteria style place anyway called 8 oz, but they were the best, biggest cheeseburgers with amazing french fries and bottomless sweet tea – or we were just REALLY hungry. We went back to our room in a food comma to relax and unpack. I mentioned to Allyssa that I leave all of my spare change (because I don’t like carrying coins) for the housekeeper’s tip at the end of our stay. Her response, “You’re supposed to tip the housekeeper?” Allyssa gem number two.
Around 6pm, we left for Beale Street – downtown Memphis is about a half hour from Tunica. We parked in the parking lot next to the Orpheum, where we would park each day throughout our time in Memphis. We walked past the Elvis Statue then into my fave shops on Beale Street (each of us buying a Beale Street tee shirt) before settling in on the Rooftop Deck at Alfred’s. We ordered the traditional Sausage and Cheese plate and BBQ nachos and a few adult beverages to celebrate the start of our vacation. We had a fantastic waitress names Bobbie McGee, who was not named after Janis Joplin or Kris Kristofferson, but rather her father Robert McGee. We were back in Tunica by 11pm (midnight est). 25 year old Allyssa went to bed and I, the 43 year old, went to the casino to play the slots and luckily won $500! It was a great night!
Memphis Day 2:
Even with the pouring rain until 4pm (and I mean 3 inches flash flood watch pouring rain), our second day in Memphis was even better than our first. Our first stop was the Peabody Hotel, the South’s Grand Hotel and my former place of employment from 2002 to 2003. We went there to see the world famous march of the Peabody Ducks, which I haven’t seen since I worked (since I used to see it twice a day for a year). The story goes that back in the 1930s the owner of the hotel and his friends were drunk in the lobby after hunting and brought back the ducks and put them in the fountain to swim around. Now every day at 11am the DuckMaster brings the ducks down on the elevator from their Duck Palace on the roof of the Peabody Hotel, marched along the red carpet to music by John Phillip Sousa and jump into the fountain in the lobby where they swim around all day until 5:oopm when they march back along the red carpet, get on the elevator and back to their Duck Palace on the roof until the next morning when they do it all over again. This happens every day and every day there are 100s of people in the lobby along the red carpet 4 deep and upstairs looking down and around the perimeter downstairs trying to catch a glimpse of the Peabody Ducks. Our visit to watch the duck march was particularly fun because the honorary Duck Master was 105 year old Dorothy Davis who was an elevator operator at the Peabody back in the 1930s, but more fun was the fact that this was a new group of Ducks and it was there first march, so they ran everywhere. It was great!
Starving, we left the Peabody and braved the torrential downpour driving to my favorite restaurant in Memphis, the Cupboard. I have been going
there for almost 15 years, each year when I visit. I used to eat there all the time when I lived in Memphis from 2008 to 2011 as I lived right down the street. I got my usual four veggie platter with green beans, eggplant casserole, mac n cheese and corn pudding. It’s really a four side platter, but in Memphis mac n cheese is considered a vegetable. All meals are served with mini cornbread muffins, which are warm and buttery. Friday’s dessert was my favorite banana pudding (with nilla wafers), but I was too full from all the yummy food and many sweet teas, so I got it to go. We then drove down the street so I could show Allyssa my old house. I was surprised and excited to see they had finally finished the development (that was started back in 2008 when I first moved in). We drove through Evergreen (the nice historical neighborhood just two streets over from my not so nice neighborhood) and then through Overton Park by the Gold Course, the Zoo and the Levitt Shell.
Our next stop was Sun Studio, the holy grail, the birthplace of rock n roll (not Cleveland!). In case you don’t know your music history, it was Sun Studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howlin Wolf, Ike Turner, Roy Orbison and many others all got there start. Musicians like Ryan Bingham, Elvis Costello and U2 still record there today. I visit Sun every year, but only take the tour about every other year since I basically give the tour. I just like to go there, just to be in the building. Allyssa had never been to Memphis, so we took the tour and I loved it again – to be in the actual studio where both Elvis and U2 recorded – the same tiles, the same mic, the same drums! I did learn something I didn’t know – drums were not allowed in the Grand Ole Opry until the mid-1970s.
We then went to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which I have never been to since it is new. It was not a big deal – just one room of memorabilia. I am glad I saw it, but there is no need to go again. We made our way over to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony and where the National Civil Rights Museum is. I haven’t been through the museum since I worked there in 2009, but I always visit the Lorraine Motel facade to pay my respects to Dr. King – and that’s just what Allyssa and I did (and I gave her a brief history of the assassination while were there). We got Allyssa’s much needed pick-me-up at Starbucks then went to Rum Boogie Cafe, my favorite spot on Beale Street, for the best sausage and cheese plate (Alfred’s has the better bbq nachos, but Rum Boogie has the better sausage and cheese plate – got Allyssa hooked).
Even though it had stopped raining, there was still plenty of mud at the Beale Street Music Festival. Luckily the Gin Blossoms were playing the closest stage to the entrance. They played from 7:35 to 8:40, and we were front row for all the hits including “Follow You Down,” “Alison Road,” “Found Out About You,” “Til I Hear It From You,” “Hey Jealousy” and “Until I Fall Away.” They sounded great, although the mic could have been louder. Lead singer no longer has that 1990s bob, but I did flashback to my babydoll dress and birkenstocks of the early 90s. We really lucked out it did not rain during the show, but we didn’t want to brave the mud and were very tired from all that we had seen that day, so we headed back to Tunica.
On our drive back we were discussing the movie The Blind Side for some reason. I asked Allyssa if she knew it took place in Memphis. She said yes of course she knew that. Then she was talking about how the parents in the movie were big Ole Miss fans. I said yes Ole Miss is only about two hours from Memphis. Allyssa said, “Ole Miss is in Alabama right?” (Allyssa gem number 3) I said no Allyssa, Ole Miss as in MISSISSIPPI is in Mississippi. We were hysterical laughing the rest of the car ride. We got back around 10:15pm, went up to our room, as were walking in the door we were talking about how we should have shut the curtains. I said why it’s not like someone is going to come in through the window and look at us. And it was at that exact moment we both froze and neither one of spoke but we were both thinking the same thing. We saw our own reflections in the window and thought someone was coming to get us. I particularly thought who is that big man in the that – yeah that was me. We shared what we each were thinking knowing it was the same crazy thoughts. That was a blonde moment for both of us. In the elevator on the way down to Pickled Pete’s, uh Pickle and Jam (my gem), to get pizza, we met a big Broncos fan who showed me a picture of his Broncos car on his phone – and the Broncos banner on his house. His Memphis neighbors are none to pleased with him. It was at this time I found out my Broncos drafted my Memphis Tigers QB Paxton Lynch.
MEMPHIS Day 3:
Somehow Day 3 was more relaxing, yet more exhausting than previous days – maybe that is because I was awake at 7:45am after only four hours of sleep. We didn’t leave our room until after 1pm. For a few hours, we played the slots at both Gold Strike and Horseshoe Casinos. Around 3pm, we stuffed ourselves at the Village Buffet at the Horseshoe. And I mean I was so full I felt like I was going to puke – the three sweet teas I had probably didn’t help. (But we didn’t eat dinner, so I guess it all evened out). We relaxed in our room for almost two hours before heading down the Beale Street Music Festival.
Since it had rained the past two days, there was SO much mud at the festival but we carefully made our way to the middle stage to wait for the Violent Femmes. We were not going to be front row on the rail like we were for Gin Blossoms because I was not about to walk through that mud. So we stood back a ways, on the concrete where the food stands were. My friend David met up with us. Then the Violent Femmes opened with their most popular song “Blister in the Sun!” I couldn’t believe it. That would be like U2 opening with “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The Violent Femmes have a new album out so I figured they would have opened with something off of that, but no they played their entire debut self-titled album from 1983 – the one I know backwards and forwards. After “Blister in the Sun,” they went into my favorite “Kiss Off” then into “Please Do Not Go” then “Add It Up.” I was going nuts – poor Allyssa didn’t know their music and hadn’t quite ever seen me jumping and squealing like that.
Since Allyssa really wanted to see Yo Gotti (and so did I since he is from Memphis), I had promised her I would leave the Violent Femmes after they played my four songs since Yo Gotti and Violent Femmes sets overlapped. Plus I had seen the Femmes back in the 1990s and was maybe going to see them again in Maryland in June (but I’ve since found out the show is sold out). We mostly avoided the mud walking back to the first stage for Yo Gotti. His set was very short but included my faves off his latest album “My City” (about Memphis), “Law” and “Down in the DM.” He brought his mother out on stage, which was sweet. Toward the end of his set, this hot guy just walked up to me and hugged me and then I realized he was also wearing a Broncos hat. Lots of Broncos love in Memphis – not at all like in Baltimore. Jason Derulo was next and Allyssa really wanted to see him, but he was late. This really chatty guy from Texas, whose name is not spelled like Virgin with a B, told us his whole life story which passed the time since Jason Derulo was over a half hour late then the DJ came on first. We only stayed for a couple of his songs as it was closing in on midnight.
MEMPHIS Day 4:
Day 4 may have been my favorite of the first four days in Memphis, or did each day just keep getting better? We stayed in the room until almost noon when we left for the unveiling of the Johnny Cash historical marker in Cooper-Young. The marker was placed at the old Galloway Methodist Church, on the corner of Cooper and Walker, where Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two played their first show back in December 1954. They were unveiling this marker on the 60th anniversary (not 160th as Allyssa may have said – gem number 4) of the release of “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash at Sun Records on May 1, 1956. During the ceremony, they announced that May 1st is now Johnny Cash Day in Memphis.
Me being me of course arrived at the ceremony about 20 minutes early, then realized they weren’t even going to start the ceremony until 1:30 with speeches from Johnny Cash VIPs and then the unveiling of the historical marker wouldn’t actually be until about 2pm. We were starving as we hadn’t eaten yet and didn’t really want to listen to the Flying Vs for a half hour, so we decided to drive down the street to Central BBQ, eat and then come back for the unveiling. But we got to Central BBQ and they were lined up out the door and there was no parking. So I changed my mind and told poor Allyssa we’d drive back to Galloway Church and watch the entire ceremony then eat after like we originally had planned hoping Central BBQ would be a little less crowded upon our return. And I am really glad I did not miss the ceremony.
For Johnny Cash’s marker unveiling ceremony, attendees included Memphis historians Mike Freeman and Jimmy Ogle. Of the Johnny Cash VIPs were Johnny’s nephew Roy Cash and his wife, Roy’s bandmate Ron Haney and his wife, Johnny’s niece Jackie and Johnny Cash’s drummer WS “Fluke” Holland, who I was most excited to see since he played with Johnny all those years. (FYI Holland was part of the Tennessee Three, and continued through the San Quentin shows etc, but was not part of the Tennessee Two for which the marker was for). They gave WS Holland an award and then he spoke for a bit telling a few fun stories about his days with Man in Black. Then Roy Cash and WS Holland unveiled the Johnny Cash historical marker and they played “I Walk the Line” on a scratchy record player. It was a great moment!
We then hightailed it over to Central BBQ, which still had a line out the door, but we there was some parking available. It began to rain – again. We ordered our scrumptious BBQ, the best in Memphis in my opinion. I ordered my old usual – the BBQ Portobello Sandwich, mac n cheese and sweet tea (the best sweet tea in Memphis in my opinion). After stuffing our faces, we went down the street to Flashback – probably my favorite store (all 1950s treats). I bought an “I Walk in the Line” metal record ring – fate. On our way to Sun Studio, we had to go back there even though we had already been on Friday because it was the 60th anniversary of “I Walk the Line” – I just had to be at Sun that day to pay respects, we stopped at the I Love Memphis mural to take pics. (see the cover pic of this post) We then went to Beale Street and did one of my most favorite things in Memphis – sat out on the patio at Rum Boogie and people watched and listened to the great, free Blues music coming out of all the bars. Oh yeah we may have partaken in some adult beverages and apps.
On the drive back, Allyssa said it was really gorgeous today but I heard “I really look gorgeous today.” I was really proud of her for what I thought was her great confidence. We were back at Gold Strike before 9pm. We rested in the room for a bit eating snacks and watching Full House on FoamTime, which is actually called Free Form (the former ABC Family channel) – that was my gem. We went to the casino where I proceeded to lose all the money I had won Thursday night, but then won it back and ended up breaking even for the trip (maybe actually up a bit). Allyssa won – since we stayed awake this time. We then went to Pickled Pete’s aka Pickle and Jam to spend our free points we accumulated at the slots to buy a very late dinner. We were back up in the room before midnight.
MEMPHIS Day 5:
We spent our last day in Memphis at Graceland. We arrived at Graceland by 9:30am, toured the exhibits, grabbed at snack (fried peanut butter and banana sandwich) at Chrome Grille, toured the mansion, shopped and was at the airport by 2:30pm to return our car and wait for our flights – mine at 4pm, Allyssa’s at 5:30. As I sat on the plane ready to take off, I reflected on our day at the happiest place on earth (Graceland) and our trip in Memphis in general. It was amazing to be back at Elvis’ home and to see it through for the first time through Allyssa’s eyes. I’m not sure why we didn’t take a selfie in front of Graceland or in the living room (my favorite room in Graceland), but we did take a picture of the picture they took of us before getting on the shuttle. I talked Allyssa into recreating Dad’s photo in the meditation garden from my first trip to Graceland back in 1999. We had an amazing time in Memphis, and I got to share all of my favorite things about Memphis with Allyssa – and I think she enjoyed them almost as much as I did. I wasn’t as sad as I usually am when I leave Memphis, probably because I already have a flight and hotel booked for October when I return for the opening of the new Graceland resort. I was home just before 7:30pm – exactly a week ago from the time I finished writing this blog post.
To see all of my pictures from our Memphis 2016 vacation, please click here