I would argue that no, all roads do not lead to Memphis. But, I get the sentiment. And I’ve already spent my allotment of arguing energy for the day discussing politics via telephone with my dad this morning (hi dad, love you!).
And also, apparently this time the road did lead to Memphis. For us at least.
And we are thankful it did. Because Memphis is mad cool.
Against the warnings of some fellow nomads, we decided to risk the sanctity of our nostrils and park Dyna at T.O. Fuller State Park. Apparently this place smells like shit much of the time.
But, we lucked out, and only smelled the aroma of fecal matter once, briefly, during our 8 day stay. And the park was pretty nice too. There were spider-webby trails that ran throughout the park, so I made Jake run/hike with me to be my spider web breaker (I hate those things). Also, I saw several predatory mammals while running alone through the park, so I thought that was cool. Jake didn’t think that was so cool. He’s got this weird worry that I will get eaten while out running one day.
Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee. Yes, even larger than Nashville, which for some reason seems surprising to me.
Memphis is also famous for music – just like Nashville. But other than that – these two cities appeared pretty darned different from each other to us. And seeing as we just came from Nashville, we found ourselves questioning how two cities that aren’t that far apart geographically, and seem to hold similar ‘tourist fame claims’ could be so very visually different.
Memphis outshines Nashville in one area for sure: poverty. Memphis touts a record of ranking near the top four poorest cities in the U.S., although apparently as of 2017, it no longer tops the list (Memphis just can’t win – literally). I was pretty interested in why this might be; mostly because every time we entered or exited our home for the week-ish (T.O. Fuller) we were confronted with blatant poverty. It was weird to go from a lovely little State Park that rarely smelled like poo, to BOOM – houses on the brink of falling to pieces.
In general the city of Memphis – even the touristy parts – seemed more ‘run down’ than what we had seen in Nashville (which still has areas that are in need of some loving for sure). The creativity of people’s patch jobs on their homes and businesses in Memphis does add quite a bit of soul to the city though. We appreciated that. We liked Memphis a lot.
But, we were curious as to why two cities so similar in size and based on similar economies historically could be so very different.
After some research I found out that Nashville and Memphis have taken different strategies in building their cities over the past decade or so. Supposedly in the year 2000, their economies were very similar. But since then, Nashville has flourished and Memphis has faltered. Nashville spent money investing in large public works projects, like a gaudy enormous convention center, which has in turn brought in many outsiders, stimulating additional care of the downtown, and in turn making for an active, vibrant downtown.
Memphis used their money to offer businesses tax incentives to move in, which is good. But the tax breaks ended up helping the businesses more than the city – sounded to me like tourists didn’t care about tax breaks – and businesses didn’t dump money into city beatification. So now Memphis is a southern industrial center, rather than a hot tourist destination. Memphis has also apparently dealt with a long history of corruption, with dollars not making it where they should be making it. Corruption seems to be a very historically relevant theme for Memphis. When we visited the Civil Rights Museum, corruption was an ongoing theme there (amongst other sobering themes).
Ok, back to regular programming.
We were fascinated by the long lines of fuel tankers creeping in and out of the oil refinery near the State Park we parked at; but they weren’t pretty. Or entertaining for more than a few minutes. More of a “so that’s how they do it” reaction.
There are an amazing number of churches of all shapes and sizes dotting the pothole pocked roads of neighborhoods. Free roaming dog packs seemed to act as both deterrent of too much pedestrian traffic, and janitors of sorts – scouring sidewalks for remnants of food that may be left in the abundant litter strewn about. If you are in the downtown district, you’ll be free from pup packs though – so no worries. But finding places to run in Memphis was a bit of a challenge. I hate free roaming dogs when I’m running.
Elvis’ Graceland Estate lies within city limits, but far enough out that if you’re staying downtown you’d need to catch a bus. A fortress of rock’n’roll, seemingly in battle against the gas stations and cheap souvenir shops that crouch outside her gates. Elvis’ airplanes are parked out front though, and I wouldn’t doubt for a second that they are ready to rock-and-roll into a battle with encroachers if necessary. (Heh-heh-heh)
There is a big beautiful glass pyramid shaped building that was built as a convention center, but later sold to Bass Pro Shop to revitalize. We don’t have many needs that require Bass Pro Shop to fulfill, but we did enjoy poking about this particular Bass Pro mecca. Spoiler: they have alligators inside.
There is, of course, Beale Street. Lined with bars and shops and vibrant neon signs and street performers heckling you for cash. And music. Lots of music playing from every which window.
There is a riverfront park with benches and a legitimate fitness course donated by the Memphis Grizzlies. Oh, and also remnants of an extremely racist, but historically telling statue dedicated to a man who saved a crap-ton of people in a boating accident. Supposedly there used to be a top to said statue, but the top has fallen off twice now, so now there is just the embarrassing statue bottom to remind us of where we’ve come from. But also where we need to be headed.
Tucked inside a rather plain brick building, the Peabody Hotel continues its daily duck march. 6 ducks ride down a fancy elevator at 11am to an ornate, historic lobby, and then return back to a rooftop duck penthouse at 5pm. Everyday. For the last 90ish years. I don’t know why, but watching those ducks march downstairs was very joy inducing. Because, guys, elevator riding ducks! Who live in a duck penthouse!
The Lorraine Hotel in Memphis has been transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum, a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr and the many citizens of the U.S. who stepped up for and continue to step up for and dedicate parts or all of their lives to bettering our nation. The Lorraine was the site of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr and chronicles the civil rights movement from the colonial period to the present. We spent most of a day exploring the museum, and I thought it was really well done and pretty thought and reflection provoking. We were a bit thrown off by the (large) portion of the museum dedicated to the asshole that shot MLK Jr. though. Yeah, it’s history. No, the asshole man doesn’t need to be memorialized in such a large manner (opinion).
There is a place within the limits of the State Park we camped Dyna out in called Chucalissa. Cool name. But pretty boring representation of the Native Americans and heritage that Chucalissa attempts to preserve. I guess I don’t really know what you can do to make a man-made lump of grass covered earth more interesting, so I won’t complain. Also, some people were throwing spears at bales of hay, so that was cool.
There are eateries hidden here and there throughout Memphis. We mostly scouted out those that offered Memphis style barbecue. And also, Memphis has barbecue spaghetti. Yes, that’s right. Spaghetti noodles slathered in Memphis style barbecue sauce infiltrated by pulled type pork. Isn’t that amazing? And can you get more Americanized than barbecue spaghetti?
Surprise! Yes you can! Memphis also offers barbecue nachos. I’m pretty sure that’s an Americanization of an already very American delicacy. Mind blown.
Anyways, I completely recommend the barbecue spaghetti at the Bar-B-Q Shop. The waitress wasn’t overly impressed with my barbecue spaghetti consuming abilities, but maybe she doesn’t know how good the leftovers are. (She probably does, let’s be honest.) Also, they give you an elephant’s sized portion of barbecue spaghetti when you are smart and order barbecue spaghetti. I’m totally cool with that. Because good leftovers.
We managed to find some decent beer in Memphis too. We went a bit light in the beer area though. Nashville idiocy lingers.
Other than attempting to decipher the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of Memphis and eating a bit more than our share of barbecued things, we did the usual ‘work during the day’ deal.
Oh, and I steam cleaned the floors. Which I mention because I have decided that I dislike that job slightly less than shining the rims on Dyna, but only slightly. I was hoping maybe I would get a nice facial steam (that’s a thing I think) from doing this. Immediate results don’t look promising for the face. The floor looks nice though.
We ate a lot of barbecue in Memphis. And by the time we left Memphis, we had decided no more barbecue would be consumed until we hit Texas. Because, yes, we run a lot. But we also still have arteries. Also, our next stop looks like it will be Little Rock, AR. They probably don’t even have barbecue there.
I’ll let you know.