As there wasn’t much to stop for in Mississippi (confirmed by the woman in the Tourist Information kiosk just off the Interstate) it was time to push north to Memphis. I’d figured all along that I was going to like Memphis more than New Orleans, simply because it’s not a major tourist destination and that there is a lot of current history.
Our hotel, an old historic property that’s been well kept up, was in the heart of downtown, and after checking in, it was just a short walk to Beale Street, home of the Blues. However, with the fact that yet another college Bowl game had been played their the night before, the town was dead. You could have fired a cannon down Beale and not hit a single person. I’d go so far as to say that no one would even hear the cannon. We ended up going to BB Kings, which as a chain, sufficed with live music and food. It seemed they were the only place in town that had anything going on at all. So much for being a hot bed of live music.
Up early the next morning, off to Memphis’ best breakfast as rated on Tripadvisor, and then down to Graceland, to tour the King’s home. An interesting place Graceland is. At $35 a pop, it ain’t cheap. And the crowds are mixed… foreign tourists eager to touch a piece of history, older Americans reliving their youth and younger tourists, being dragged along to see the supposed “greatness”. I was surprised at how small, as a building Graceland actually is. You’re able to see the living room, dining room, kitchen, entertainment and pool rooms, and the infamous “Jungle Room” and then it’s off to the out-buildings to see Elvis’ collection of Gold Records. Regardless of what you think of the King, you have to be impressed by the number of awards that he actually did win. The place is full of his gold and platinum records. A quick stop to pay our respects (amazingly, we held it together, while others did not), a tour of his airplane and car collection, and we’d had our fill. Back in town, we headed to the National Civil Rights Museum, centred around the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was shot. A very surreal and interesting experience. Currently, the museum is undergoing a major renovation, and when it’s done, will be huge! But what was left, though mostly focused on the events of 1968, was very well done. Visitors had a chance to see where Ray had taken the fateful shot (if you believe the official version), and then to stand on the actual balcony was a moment similar to standing in the Book Depository in Texas…. this place is somewhere that changed American history. We then headed off to Sun Records, walking the three miles (which seemed to shock the tour guide who suggested we cab it).
Sun Records, is what it is. A recording studio that happened to capute some of the first recordings of Rock and Roll. Listening to an early Elvis recording (when he was 18) in the studio where it was recorded was a neat experience. Granted, the tour guide was a bit much, but… A quick refresher back to the hotel, and then we hopped on the Memphis trolly for dinner at the best BBQ in Memphis (as recommended by all the locals). I was surprised that in both Nola and Memphis, they still have a streetcar system. Whereas New Orleans’ system has been kept up and updated, the Memphis system is like taking a step back in history. The trolleys themselves are vintage and run like it. They creak, they rattle, the roll and god forbid the operator falls asleep, it didn’t appear that there were any safeguards in place. BBQ was good (but way too much) and then an even quieter Beale Street meant a return to the hotel to watch some college football.
Driving back to New Orleans, it became clear that what we had in mind for both Mississippi Louisiana was not what we got. Bayous, Spanish moss, swamps and alligators were nowhere to be found. Instead, the drive was identical to any other, either in Canada or the US. Rolling hills, forests… and boredom. Choosing to avoid the causeway (for fear the the boredom would kill us), we ended up taking the Interstate as far south as you can, and for about half an hour, saw the south of our dreams. People living on the Bayou, Spanish moss and flooded swamps. Made me want to stop, but had to get the car back. An evening of exploring the Warehouse District and a really good dinner at Capdeville (where I had a very decent poutine in the American South), and it was time for bed.
Over-nighted in DC first, and spent Sunday morning doing something that I’d always wanted to do. Gospel Brunch. I’d found it online, and normally when I visit DC, have to start the drive back to Canada before brunch would even begin. Flying back provided the opportunity, and it was great. A classic brunch, entertained by the Gospel Persuaders was definitely worth doing again. And as it’s the first weekend in January and few tourists are around, an exhibit at the Naitonal Archives listening to audio recordings from the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and then seeing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all without having to line up. Love travelling in the off season!