You guessed it, we’re in Memphis, the “Birthplace of Rock & Roll.” As often as we’ve stayed in or passed through Tennessee we have never visited Memphis. We thought it was time we did. Presently we are camped at the Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River Park. A no frills campground located in West Memphis, Arkansas but still the closest RV park to Memphis. The favorite pastime for RVers here is watching the barges going up and down the Mississippi from the many riverfront benches. We have a waterfront site and watch them from our patio. It is very relaxing to come back to after spending time in the city.
Now I have an admission to make, before we visit each new area I make two lists, one list gives all of the attractions, tours, etc. that we’d like to visit and the second list, which is Don’s favorite, names the must try restaurants or foods the area is noted for. After we arrived and completed setting up Don queried, “Where are you taking me to eat tonight?” Well Memphis is known for its BBQ so number one on the food list was Central BBQ. Don ordered a combo plate of ribs, brisket and turkey. I had the ribs, half dry rub, half wet. We both thought this diner had the best darned BBQ we’d ever ate up to this point.
Our jaunt into town the following day started at the Peabody Hotel to witness the march of the infamous Peabody ducks. The tradition began in the 1930’s when a manager of the hotel and his friend returned from a hunting trip. Having had a little too much whiskey they thought it would be a hoot to release a few of their live duck decoys into the Peabody’s lobby fountain. The reaction from the hotel guests was an enthusiastic one and thus began a long standing tradition.
In 1940, a hotel bellman named Edward Pembroke, once a circus animal trainer, offered to deliver the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke served as the Duckmaster for 50 years until retiring in 1991.
We arrived about 30 minutes prior to the ducks’ grand entrance and it was a good thing we did as the fowl really bring in a crowd. It was quite the spectacle to see.
From the Peabody we went to the Bass Pro Shop. You can’t miss it. It’s the huge ostentatious pyramid next to the river. Our purpose was to ride the elevator to the top where an outside observation deck offers views of the Memphis skyline and the Mighty Mississippi below. The store’s interior was pretty amazing too. This one reminding me of a Louisiana bayou.
Next stop was Beale Street to listen to some blues. I love the old-style neon lights that jut out from the buildings up and down the strip. Beale Street is also the location of the A. Schwab variety store. It’s one of those old timey places with a still working old fashioned soda fountain. I can’t resist popping into places like this when I can find them. This one has been in the same location since 1876.
By the time we’d finished shopping we were ready for a bite to eat. So second restaurant on my list of places we needed to eat at while in Memphis was Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. We arrived an hour before most folks dinner time and it was a weekday, still there was already a line waiting to be seated and not an empty chair to be seen. I will say the wait was worth it though and I feel Don would agree. He ate 3 pieces, this from a man who doesn’t like fried chicken.
Since Don’s a musician I scheduled a tour I thought he could really sink his teeth into. The following morning found us at Sun Studio for the first tour of the day. The Sun recording studio opened its doors in 1950 and many big names of that era cut records there, singing artist such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and the most internationally known rockabilly of all, Elvis Presley.
Much of the original appearance has been retained. The single recording studio still has the original recording equipment, acoustic tiles and tiled floor laid down by the Rock and Roll pioneer himself, Mr. Sam Phillips. There is one other original item housed at the studio that often has fans swooning; Mr. Phillips insisted that the item stay at Sun Studio and not be enclosed in a glass box at some museum, he wanted the fans to have hands on access to it. Just what is this fan thrilling item? It’s the Shure 55 microphone used by all the Sun Studio’s legendary singers. Several on the tour lined up for the opportunity to hold the mic and have their photo taken while doing so.
I decided to continue with the Elvis theme after the tour by taking Don to lunch at the Arcade Restaurant. The Arcade, Memphis’s oldest restaurant (1919), is a 1950’s style diner. It promotes itself as having been Elvis’s favorite place to eat when home. You can dine in his corner booth if it’s available. It wasn’t while we were there. The menu still offers his sandwich of choice, a fried peanut butter and banana. It can be ordered with or without bacon. I tried to talk Don into getting it but he said it sounded like an artery clogger to him. Ya think?
We spent the weekend holed up inside the Suite Pea on account of the steady unrelenting rain. I didn’t sleep too well Friday night. I had visions of us floating downstream trapped inside our rig even though logic said otherwise.
Neither of us are Elvis fanatics but we do like most of his music and I did grow up seeing all of his movies at the matinee. So how does one not visit Graceland on their first trip to Memphis? That’s how we spent Monday. We arrived early hoping to avoid the crowd but found the first two house tours fully booked. Apparently a bus tour company had booked in advance. As it turned out, it worked out for the best. We toured the other exhibits, excluding the airplanes, first.
First we toured Presley Motors, his automobile museum. Don was chomping at the bit to see Elvis’ 1955 pink Cadillac. Even though there was a bevy of vintage beauties on display, the pink Caddy was my favorite too. It brought to mind fond memories of my parents 1953 pink Cadillac they had when I was first learning to drive. How I loved that car! The museum also included many of Elvis’ motorcycles, boats, and tooling around Graceland toys.
We continued through his career museum, family archives, concert costumes, and an exhibit on how he influenced other musicians. We finished just in time to catch our tour bus to Graceland proper.
Upon entering through the specially designed “musical” gates my first impression was what beautiful grounds, and what a lovely house…..and then we entered through the front doorway. My second impression was…I don’t want Elvis’ interior decorator anywhere near my home. Lawd how gaudy!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so ugly in all my life. Don was amused too. He said he had expected to walk-thru a huge majestic mansion, instead it wasn’t much different than any other upper middle class home, except for the tacky decor.
After the house tour we moved on to the surrounding grounds and out buildings, finishing up in the Meditation Garden. The garden is tastefully done. It is here where Elvis, his mother Gladys, father Vernon, and grandmother Minnie are laid to rest side by side. Surprisingly it was less crowded here than inside the house.
Our thoughts once the tour was complete? We felt we’d paid too much, $117 not including another $10 to park, and this was with Don getting the Senior discount. There is a cheaper tour, house only, that would’ve cost us $86 not including parking. Perhaps we would’ve thought differently had we not been herded through the house quickly and had the tour group size been smaller. We would recommend the tour only if you’re a die hard Elvis fan or if you’re insatiably curious with money to burn.
Afterwards we went back to Central BBQ to eat. We had discussed trying the que at Charles Vergos Rendezvous but then decided why mess with perfection. You know it must be good when a man who professes to not care for ribs eats his slab and a third of mine too.
The remaining two days of our Memphis stay we spent catching up on household chores and prepping to move, that and appreciating our view of the river.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..