After a night in what can only be described as a truckstop, Texacarna, Arkansas was an experience. Between our stay at a Motel 6, our dinner at Applebees and breakfast at Denny’s we felt neither safe nor healthy but at least culturally immersed in the USA roadtrip way of life.
For the uninitiated, Arkansas is pronounced ‘Ahh-Ken-Saw’ which took several miles of highway driving to resolve among our party of five headed east from Dallas to Memphis. Arkansas is best said with a southern drawl which we we’re each attempting with mixed results.
It is not until you are traversing the US of A by car you get a full appreciation for the investment in their roadways and supporting infrastructure. The spiralling multi-level strips of suspended bitumen as you intersect with another freeway, the slip-roads that run parallel for miles allowing entry and exit points for locals. Not to mention the towns that have sprung up like Texacarna that seem to exist simply to support life on the road.
Beale St, Memphis
We had a 3pm booking for a trolley tour in Memphis, partly to celebrate a 40th birthday. We had previously decorated our chosen rental wheels, a Chrysler Grand Caravan, with window paint and balloons and were streaming happy birthday from various artists through the vehicle incessantly. That coupled with the Cowboy hats acquired from a rodeo town outside of Dallas and we were all set.
All set, except for the fact our ETA into Memphis was around 2:30 but we still needed to check in to our Airbnb in the suburbs then Uber it into town, supporting the sharing economy along the way obviously! All running to plan until cabs were few and traffic was held up due to a charity walk in town. Having missed our trolley pick-up we literally bumped into it while arriving into town so it was just a matter of jumping on!
Now the trolley tour was with a difference. It was a trolley car that seated about 15 people. As a passenger you provided the pedal power. The driver controlling the direction. As a passenger you were free to drink a beer and as such the entire trolley was setup as a moving bar. What can possibly go wrong!
Due to our late arrival we were short a few beverages so our fellow trolley passengers, which all seemed to belong to the same group, shared their drinks with us until we reached a liquor store. The trolley also doubled as a self-propelled pub crawl and stopped at a number of establishments for the purposes of accelerating the alcohol consumption. Like I said what can possibly go wrong! But this was Memphis and as we pedalled our way through town openly drinking, singing and making a whole lot of ruccus, people in the town were happily waving at us, even the police officers!
Trolley tour over, and far too many beverages later we walked up Beale St, which is the main strip of Memphis. Beale St is full of Jazz and Blues bars with live music spilling out on to the street. It was a Sunday night and the place was packed. We went to the BB Kings Bar for dinner and had some delicious smoky sauced ribs washed down with some Budweisers while listening to the band belting out some classic Blues numbers.
Memphis Civil Rights Museum
It is sometimes the non-touristy things you do on a trip that stand out the most. The neighbourhood where we stayed in Memphis was quite suburban a short strip of shops with mostly single storey homes in orderly grid shaped streets. An early morning jog down to a nearby park and golf course was quite a peaceful start to what had been a hectic roadtrip thus far. With the mist still coming off the dew soaked grass and squirrels running up the trunks of the trees. Joggers, dog walkers and us sharing a nature trail in the early hours it was a good way to burn off the ribs.
Onwards and a trip to the site of the Martin Luther King Jnr assassination. Having been at the JFK assassination site a few days earlier in Dallas, this was turning into quite the morbid road trip! Outside room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel laid a permanent wreath to King. Prior to arriving a lady was manning a table in protest of the Civil Rights Museum that stands next to the Lorraine Motel. Getting chatting, she has been here for 23 years in protest of the civil rights museum claiming it is a bit hypocritical to absorb a vast sum of money from tourists and seek government funding for a museum when the same money could go towards actually addressing civil rights in Memphis. A fair but controversial point. What is not controversial though is her commitment!
Well our ethical decision to now enter the museum or not was a moot point, as it was closed today. However the 6 or 7 audio-visual posts outside the entrance gave a pretty good overview of the civil rights movement and the events surrounding Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.
Graceland & Sun Studios
Our next stop was the other major site you might think of when you mention Memphis. The small matter of the King, Elvis Presley. Graceland was on the outskirts of town in what was a rural area in Elvis’s time but is now more suburban. Graceland is a mecca for fans from around the world, yet we arrived close to closing time, mid week in late Autumn (ok ‘Fall’). Suffice to say the crowds had thinned out somewhat.
As a semi-interested Elvis fan I was pretty impressed by Graceland. The Mansion was quite eclectic and each room done in a specific theme and done with no expense spared! The grounds were very peaceful and the audio walking tour gave a very good summary of the place. Main thing I think it captured was Elvis’ obsession with his craft and exploration into new and uncharted territory. Also it is quite overwhelming the amount of stuff Elvis did. Not just the songs but the movies! And all the extra-curricular activities such as the cars and other vehicles, horses, and a custom fitted out passenger plane and jet!
The walk down Elvis’ memory Lane gave us some interest into his beginnings so we stopped in to Sun Studios where Elvis was first signed. As a very modest studio Sun Studios has signed a long list of household names, Johnny Cash among them. The original owner encouraged open recording of all types of music. You might say it was an originally incubator of ideas around music. Hence the birthplace of rock and roll! The tour was like the building, modest and interesting.
It’s fair to say our 2 night stay in Memphis was varied, action packed, historic and educational. Definitely worth the visit!