TravelUSA

Deep South Day 2: Walking in Memphis

Beale Streed 4th of July
Beale Street 4th of July

Time to celebrate Independence Day Tennessee-style, whatever that means.

The early part of our day was spent in transit, on a bus from Nashville to Memphis. The Greyhound station was an awesome place for people watching. Among the sights on display were a 4’10’’ lady who was the exact shape of a bowling ball (but may not exactly quite as solid), an impromptu country jam session between a couple of strangers with guitars, a man who apparently decided every day should be Halloween since he had half his face painted, and a large (obviously) family of Mennonites/Amish/whatever that looked totally out of place amongst the rest. As a piece de resistance, we even got an authentic and heartfelt “ain’t nobody got time for that” just before boarding the bus.

Four hours of bus riding later we arrived in Memphis, dismayed to find out that the station is way outside the city. We got in a cab manned by an unintentionally hilarious cabbie who looked a heck of a lot like Morgan Freeman.  During the ride, among other things we were informed that there are something like 18,000 to 20,000 grizzly bears live around Memphis, and that “big time rasslin’” used to be the main event in Memphis back in the day. Ok, not so funny in writing, but if you had been there you would have laughed as hard as we did.

The cabbie told us our hotel was about twelve blocks from that of this French guy we split the cab with, so to save a couple bucks we got off at his hotel to walk it. Idiots. Apparently in crazy cabbie speak “twelve blocks” means “twelve kilometers”, which is about what we ended up walking as we meandered south along the Mississippi River and the interstate to our hotel. Fortunately we crossed Gus’s (sic) Fried Chicken, which proved to be as delicious as advertised and gave us the boost we needed to make it through our trek.

Memphis Wander
Our not-so-direct route from taxi drop-off to hotel
walking on interstate
Scenic Memphis interstate walking

Eager for a drink to celebrate our long anticipated arrival, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed back downtown. This time we paid for a ride.

We went for ribs and brisket at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, which disappointed us in its serving size and service, then headed to the July 4 festivities on Beale Street, Memphis’ party central. Just as we turned the corner to get in the security line for Beale we saw the familiar neon orange colors of our faithful friend: Hooters. Not wanting to mess with destiny, we went in.

Memphis’ Hooters wasn’t on par with Nashville’s, but it did have $2.50 high balls, which suited us just fine. We also got to enjoy quantity over quality thanks to Gordon’s genius idea to sit at the bar right by where all the ladies bring their orders to the kitchen, the best seats in the house. Warmed up and ready for the main event, we crossed over to Beale Street.

It was awesome. Pure exito. Highlights were:

  • The band playing in the park by the Elvis statue. Our favorite song was aptly entitled “Tip the Band”, which consisted of the lead singer soulfully pleading for the audience to, you guessed it, tip the band. The lyrics went something like this: “Tip the band! Tiiiip the band! Tip the baaaaand!”. He also gave a fantastic and creative performance involving him humping a stool.
  • The fantastic outfits many people were wearing. There was a guy with matching leopard hat, shirt, shorts, and socks. Another lady was in a mini-dress made out of a US flag on the front and another on the back, with 6-inch-long fishing line tying them together at the sides. Everywhere we looked the clothes got crazier and crazier.  Gord and I agreed that it was the best people watching we’d ever experienced.
  • Being obvious minorities. We estimated the crowd to be 95% black, something us Canadians are not very familiar with. Just like traveling anywhere else when you stand out, we got extra attention (and who doesn’t like attention?), everyone seemed extra nice, and it was extra stimulating for us to be immersed in a new and different culture we’d only seen previously on TV.
  • Drinking on the street for cheap. For $5 including tip we got 32ox beers that we could take out into the party on the street and drink.  Thanks to this fact, my memory of other highlights is too faded to recall and write here.

Our night ended the way it started, with Gord and I being forced to make the long trek back to the hotel by foot, since his phone was out of batteries, cabs were nowhere to be found, and nobody seemed interested in picking us up as hitchhikers.

Tips:

  • The Greyhound bus may be expensive ($36), but it’s nice. There’s lots of leg room and there’s free Wi-Fi onboard that actually works. Bring a sweatshirt on board because the air conditioning is pumped high.
  • Despite its inconvenient location, we found the Super 8 Downtown Memphis was a great value. The staff, a family that owns the place, was super friendly and helpful, the rooms were fine, and they offer very affordable shuttle service to Beale Street ($3 each) as well as bus stations and the airport. If you’re on a budget, stay there. We got a queen room that was updated to a king for under $60 a night.
  • For going to the bathroom on Beale during huge parties like the 4th of July, the bathroom of the King’s Palace Cafe is a lifesaver. Despite not being open for business, they opened the side door to let revelers use their toilets for free. Very few people seemed to know of these toilets’ existence, so it was super clean and there were no lines. Thank you King’s Palace management!

Reflections:

  • Tons of people were rocking Vancouver Grizzlies gear. Retro is in style and all, but it was surprising to see so much. We definitely saw more Vancouver Grizzlies hats and jerseys than we did Memphis Grizzlies. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe if you went to Oklahoma City you’d see as much Sonics apparel.
  • Gord and I concluded very quickly that Memphis is way cooler than Nashville.  We prefer the music. The food’s better. The people are nicer. The town’s got more character. Memphis is awesome.
  • I’ve noticed that in most men’s bathroom stalls here, the seat is up. It may be a coincidence, but it makes a lot of sense. If the seat’s down, most dudes will be too lazy or grossed out to pick it up, inevitably leading to a sprayed seat. Leaving it up prevents this. For men’s washrooms without urinals someone should make toilet seats with gentle springs on the seat that pick it up automatically. Not surprisingly, this is the exact opposite of what women want.

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