Last entry for our trip home. We got up this morning to the sun shining in the windows. Every step takes us further from Memphis and the Blues.
So the drive from St. Louis area to McHenry was uneventful. We ran into snow along the way, but nothing on the road. We made it home in good time. Rich was texting directions to Rick for his chores and what to have done by the time we arrived. Can you say, “surly teenager.”
Our concern was Sascha’s reaction to our return. Would she be happy or a little concerned. Turned out, she was overjoyed at seeing us come through the door. And, no, there were no bacon treats involved in her homecoming greeting.
So the laundry is done and the souvenirs passed out. We are quietly returning to the normal daily grind. I’m not looking forward to going back to work. I’ve enjoyed my week off. Well, kind of off. I did take a few hours and here there to help fix some issues since Jim had to leave unexpectedly for a family emergency. But hey, I was taking a break from all the walking.
I did call my voicemail to leave a message since my accent has almost returned. I had to do that before I go back to talking like this Northerners. It sounds funny, but I’m one of those people whose accent changes based on what I’m hearing around me. My original accent is heavily rhythmic with some southern pronunciations. Not a downright southern belle, but definitely accented. A few more days and I might have been mistaken for a Memphisean.
Well, since I’m home again, I guess I’ll have to find something else to write about. Or take another trip! Wonder where to? By the way, I’m writing a blues song. The title is “The Peabody Duck Boogie.” Look for it record stores soon.
It is a sad day. We awoke in our share cropper’s cabin to a sunny day. However, this was the day that we are leaving Clarksdale and the Delta to return home to Illinois. You should be able to hear the loud wailing and mourning at this point.
We cleaned up the cabin, packed the car, and took the key to the lobby up at the Commissary. There were four people ahead of us to check out and no coffee left in the pot. Sad again. We waited for our turn. Ended up, the two couples ahead of us were from Chicago. We talked a little while we waited our turns. Finally, it was my turn to sign the receipt and drop off the key.
We headed into town to find kleenex, gas, and breakfast. I stopped at the first station going into town. A little bit of a dump with no window cleaning devices, but they had cheap gas. No kleenex either. So on to breakfast. The recommendation was for The Resthaven. I pulled into the lot under a sign that says, “American, Italian, Lebanese.” What? I want breakfast! The parking lot is full and that is a very good sign. We picked out a booth and sat down. The place was filled with old guys and duck hunters! We ordered food, including my beloved grits.
The waitressowner was busy getting food. Pretty soon, one of the very tall guys came around with the coffee pot filling up everyone’s cups. So the local clientele help out with the coffee! That was cool. Our food arrived and it was pretty good. One of the very tall duck hunters brought the coffee pot around the second time. For some reason, there were a lot of guys well over 6 foot 4 in this place!
We finished up and headed out in search of kleenex. The Kroger came up and we went in. Rich hit the pharmacy for things to stop the nose from running away and cough drops. We found the kleenex. Yeah! After paying for our treasures, we hit the road again. This meant that we had to return up Hwy 61 to Memphis. We knew this part of the road. I also have another connection between Memphis and Chicago. They drive extremely fast on their expressways too! Sound like 355 or 90 to anyone from Chicago?
As we moved steadily north, the weather became cooler and cloudier. No, I’m not ready for winter again. I liked spring! I guess I don’t get a choice though. I do have to make money to pay for trips like this. We stopped in Troy, Illinois for the night. We were at least back in the same state we live in. We went in search for Bandana’s BBQ. We ate here on our way back from New Mexico and I was impressed. And I’m still impressed. The food was great and you have to leave room for the donut holes at the end of the meal.
So now for a good night’s sleep and on to McHenry in the morning. Good night all.
One the road again. This time, we are down in the Delta visting Clarksdale. Legend has it, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to gain his skills with blues music and to be a guitar master. Those crossroads are in Clarksdale where Hwy 49 and Hwy 61 meet. The same crossroads that Eric Clapton sings about in his song. We aren’t here to meet the devil, just hear some good blues music.
But first, we prepared to leave Memphis. This is a sad moment. We’ve had such a great time here and have learned about the city, the music, and the food. Breakfast was at Cockadoo’s again. Rich indulged in the cathead biscuits again while I got the Shag. There is no way that french toast, peanut butter and bananas can be fried together into such a scrumptious menu option. I’ve got to find a way to make this one at home! Today we were not privy to any meetings and the place was quiet. They only had the search our booth for someone’s phone clip. We checked out of the hotel, but I noticed the parking wasn’t on the bill. So I stopped by the front desk to see what happened and how to pay it. The clerk looks at me and says, “Guess you got free parking.” I asked if I can get out of the lot without pay and he says sure you can and have a nice day.
We took Hwy 61 out of Memphis and headed for Clarksdale. This is Delta country. Since the Mississippi River runs right through, and sometimes over, this beautiful flat land, it is all bottomland perfect for farming. It was amazing to see so much green in January. The grass is green as well as the fields that we passed. The temperatures were in the 50s, but it rained almost the entire ride down 61.
We stopped at the Blues Visitor’s Center in Tunica. There, the ladies were helpful with suggestions for our trip down. Around the ceiling of the Visitor’s Center, there are examples of many guitar styles and several signed guitars from Blues legends. We saw Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and, my personal favorite, Bonnie Raitt. Back on the road, our next stop was the Clarksdale Visitor’s Center where we are told there is more information and helpful hints. This is beginning to sound like a scavenger hunt!
At the Clarksdale Visitor’s Center, we talked to the ladies behind the desk. One turned out to be from Chicago! We got a map, some directions, and things we really needed to do in the area. From there, we hit town. Driving into town wasn’t bad. It looked like a lot of small towns I’ve been through before. Being from a small town, you gotta know that I much prefer those to the big cities. My town had less than 3,000 people in while I was growing up there.
So back to Clarksdale. We get into downtown, which looks a little worn. We find out way to Delta Ave, where some of the things we really want to see are located. Our first stop is Cat Head. Roger Stolle has taken great time and effort to preserve the art and music of the area. His store, Cat Head, houses his music business (Cat Head Records), promotion business, and folk art from the local area. Let me tell you, I saw so much stuff I would love to have had. We settled for some books, CDs, t-shirts, and one piece of art by Super Chikan (Rich loves this guy!). Roger also gave us more tips on what to see and do in town. Rich found out that Watermelon Slim lives in town. He’s playing on Saturday. Darn, we’ll be gone!
After lunching at the Oxbow around the corner from Cat Head, we checked out the Delta Blues Museum. This is a really nice museum with a lot of blues memoribilia from early to later. There was a special exhibit for Muddy Waters, including what was thought to be the one-room cypress cabin thought to be his home and running video of importance artists talking about his influence on them. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top was instrumental in helping get the museum here started based on having seen Muddy Water’s original house on its site. As we finished our walk through the museum, a huge thunderstorm came up and trapped us for a while. We did manage to run between raindrops at one point back to the car and off on another adventure.
Next, we headed into town to visit the Blues and Rock Museum. This is a personal collection of one Dutch man. His wife got tired of it being in the house and he opened a museum in Clarksdale rather than storing it. Shelley got us started on the tour by introducing the display of local musicians. The collection is based on a timeline starting with the early 1900s and running into 1970s. I don’t think I saw much beyond that. This guy had great taste in what he collected and it represented blues very well and showed its influence on rock-n-roll. This was a wonderful view of the music and personalities that made up the blues.
Shelley directed us next door to the Hambone Art Gallery. The gallery is owned by Stan Street. Stan it turns out is musician, artist, entrepeneur, and just great guy. We rang the bell to get enter, but it turned out the bell didn’t work too well. We went in and looked at the beautiful art. Once again, I was fascinated by the color and subject matter. Good thing I don’t have too many empty walls at home. We ended up talking to Stan for a while about music and the town. Turns out, his group was the act on stage at Ground Zero Blues club for the night. It was also a jam night, so they expected people to come by and sit in with them. Loved the gallery, Stan!
We stopped by the Riverview Hotel in town. This is the place where all of the blues musicians would stay when they were in town. It was the blacks hotel in segregated times. We were told a lot of them still liked to stay there as good luck and to commune with those musicians already gone on ahead of them. It was a long narrow building that looked like it had been added on to a lot of times. In 1937, Bessie Smith was involved in a terrible car crash outside of town. She was taken to this building, which was then a black hospital, where she died of her injuries. The original hotel owner’s son still lives there and the hotel is run by his granddaughter. Kind of a cool history.
So I ran by Ground Zero to grab some pictures before we headed out of town to our reservation for the night. We were staying out at the Hopson Plantation in one of their sharecropper cabins. It sounded like something different and the website was really cool. We drove to the crossroads and turned south on 49. Just outside of town, we turned on a side road leading us to the plantation. You could see the large buildings from the main road. We drove around to the lobby to sign in. The gentleman ahead of me was explanation his latest project, and the reason for his trip to town, to the proprietor. He was doing a photobook of all the great living blues guitar players. He was in town to shoot photos of a couple of guys. I didn’t catch his name. I thought that was different.
I finally got my turn at the desk and explained that my reservation was for the Office. It was advertise that you could have money business in the office here. The size was good for us. However, the owner looked at his screen and stated that his guys were doing work on that area in the morning. He was moving us to another cabin where the noise wouldn’t bother us. There was no extra charge for the upgrade. OK. Upgrade, uh?
We got the keys and drove to the Robert Clay cabin. This is the name of the guy who used to live in this cabin with his wife and 7 kids before it was moved here for preservation. We opened the back door first that lead into the main bedroom. Walking down the hall, it opened up into a huge kitchen and living room. I’m trying to figure out where he put the 7 kids! All over the floor, I image. The cabin is bare wood walls and a tin roof, with a nice porch on the front. There are pictures of Rob in front of the cabin when he stilled lived here. Kind of cool.
By this time, Rich is suffering from a sinus issue. We aren’t sure if its all the cigarette smoke that you endure in the clubs since there is still smoking in public buildings or just a bad sinus infection that’s been making the rounds. He’s not feeling so hot at the moment. We rest up and he takes some meds to get through the evening. We go back to Ground Zero for dinner and wait for the show. For those who don’t know, Ground Zero Blues Club is owned by actor Morgan Freeman and his two business partners. They gone together to bring blues and business to the town. It’s great that they are trying to bring something back to their town. No, we didn’t see Morgan while we were there. I think we saw one of the partners though.
Dinner is BBQ pork and tamales. Tamales are big thing here in Mississippi. With the migration of Mexican workers to help tend the fields, many of their staples have been added to the Southern diet. And they are so good. Rich gets his greens and okra fix also. The food was wonderful and the service was friendly and helpful. We had a great time talking to Tamala. She gave Rich a hard time about being a beer snob, but she found things to tempt him from the local Mississippi breweries.
The musicians filtered in slowly and began setting the stage for the evening. Stan and his Hambone Jam Band were great! Stan can play the harmonica. Several people beginning signing in to the jam list to go on stage. The four older guys next to us are from Natchez MS. One of them has signed up to go on stage and play guitar. They are ribbing him and drinking a lot of beer. Finally, he gets his shot. He’s not too bad. I’d say red was the color of guitars tonight though. The next guy is Omar Gordon, a local kid from town. He’s probably not more than 15 by the look of him. But he can play, maybe too well though. I thought he overplayed the Stevie Ray Vaughn song a little.
While we listen, I notice an older gentleman standing at the rail around the area where we are sitting and he is all dressed up in a suit and tie. He looks snazzy. Everyone has something to say to him. He comes by Rich and asks where we are from. I guess we stand out as tourists. Rich says, “Outside of Chicago.” He thinks that’s funny. Everyone here does. Everything is outside of Chicago to them. We just say Chicago now. He wants to talk so I go over by him and let him talk to me. Turns out, he is the real driving force for blues music in the area. For years, he has run a program to teach children how to play and work as a blues musician. He tells me all about getting the electric turned on this building and how one or two of the musicians I’m seeing are from his program. The drummer in Stan’s band is a product of the program and has played for President Clinton in the White House. I’m impressed. He tells me to google him when I can and I can read all about him.
We finish up listening to Slim Fatz on stage. He’s a different type of blues guy. Not sure I like that style much. Rich is feeling a little worse and is ready for bed. It’s late and I tell John thanks for the conversation. I really enjoyed meeting him. We return to the Robert Clay cabin and Rich heads off to bed. I’m sitting here writing my blog and filling in the pieces where I need research into facts. I decide to look up John and get his info for my blog. Sure enough, there is on the Internet in a lot of entries. John Billington, Mr Johnny, was born in 1935 and was a blues musician for most of his life. His Blues in School program came about in 1990s when he using the garage where he worked to teach kids to play the blues. He got government funding to run the program so that the neighbors would quit complaining about the noise. He says he doesn’t play much now, but his credentials as a bluesman were really, really good. I was impressed now to have met him!
So that’s it for today. I’m off to bed. Tomorrow, we leave the Delta and the blues behind and start the trip back to Illinois. Wonder if my son will have the house back to norma before I return? You hear me, Rick!
Last full day in Memphis. Rich says I’m leaving out a lot of details that he thinks I should include. I think it’s fine or it would be a novel. I don’t time for a novel!
Rick is taking over my house! So I called Rick late last night since we had been out wondering around town again. Sascha is doing fine without me. Good to know. But not to break her routine of sleeping under my side of the bed, he moved in there for the week. She appreciated that since she just couldn’t figure out where to be. Now he tells me that he has moved his guitars into my room. He moved his computer and the PS3 into the living room. Wait, this is only for a week, right?
Some of us woke up a little later today. Couldn’t be those later nights out listening to blues and have a libation or two. We walked down to The Street for breakfast at Miss Sally’s Soul Food. Rich was thinking about chicken and waffles, but opted for a BBQ special omelette. That’s right, BBQ pork right inside the folded eggs with gravy on top. I got the Down South, which was sausage in the omelette. It was good.
After breakfast, we ambled over to the Gibson Guitar Museum again. This time, we went on the factory tour where they show how a guitar is made from start to finish. The tour takes you right on the factory floor in between the stations. It’s a small factory there of only about 65 workers who make the most beautiful things. It was fun to watch the paint booth painting up guitars. The details are incredible. We saw a lavendar guitar made up for Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. Too bad you couldn’t take one home with you as a souvenir.
We continued our amble back up to the Peabody Hotel. This is a large and rather fancy hotel across the street from our rather modest hotel. As a tradition dating back 79 years, they have a group of ducks that they bring down in the morning and put to bed every evening. The ducks remain in the lobby fountain all day enjoying the guests. We had missed the parade until now. We were determined to watch the 5:00 ceremony to take them back up to their penthouse suite. That’s right, the Peabody ducks living in a special dwelling on the penthouse. In the 1930s, a trainer for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus trained a set of ducks to get on an elevator, come to the lobby and then return by elevator to their penthouse suite. This is the parade that you see everyday at 11:00 and 5:00. We talked to the Duck Master for a few minutes and got all the details we need for the parade.
After a rest at our hotel for a little while, it was time to go back out to The Street for our new 3:00 habit. We returned to Silky’s Oyster Bar for oysters on the half shell and beer accompanied by some blues music from Bill and Lawrence. Yep, the duo now recognized us from the day before and had to stop by our table to chat. We are getting well known on Beale Street. So yesterday was my first day trying the oysters. This time, we got a full dozen and took our time eating them. The larger ones don’t really taste like anything. However, the small ones taste like you are sitting by the ocean. It was wonderful. I just don’t know how I’m going to keep up my new 3:00 habit back home.
Now it was about 4:15. We had plenty of time to walk back to the Peabody and get a place to watch the duck parade. We actually arrived a little early and decided to look in the shops of the hotel lobby. Rich went into Lansky’s. Now, Mr. Lansky had the privilege to dress Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. That ought to tell you something to start with. So he finds this beautiful bowling shirt with embroidiered landmarks of Memphis. It was nice and 100% silk. Then the shock set in when he revealed the price tag. Nope, he just couldn’t justify $140 for a shirt that he couldn’t think of one place to wear it.
So we get our place at the end of the ropes where the red carpet is rolled out. The ducks are excited and bobbing their heads up and down. The Duck Master does his introduction and presents an honorary certificate to someone. Then the steps are put into the water and the ducks walk up and out of the fountain. They proceed to waddle up the red carpet to the bank of elevators, where a door has been left open for their use. The nightly duck parade ceremony is completed for public viewing.
Did I mention that Kix Brooks was in town? His tour bus was parked outside of the lobby entrance when we came in for the duck parade. I didn’t see him personally, but there were a lot of cowboys with silver-tipped boots walking around the lobby and bar area talking in funny accents.
Now it was time for dinner. We returned to The Street for our last evening out. We went to the King’s Palace Cafe for a little seafood. When you looked at pictures of Beale Street from the 20s and 30s, this building and name are there. We started off with gator bites. These were bite-sized pieces of alligator that had been deep fried. Quite tasty, though a little chewier than I had thought they might be. We finished up dinner with some bread pudding. The bourbon sauce covering the dessert was wonderful. It wasn’t a bad last meal for us in Memphis.
Since it was too early to hit Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall, we returned to The Flying Saucer where I had seen a drink I just had to try. We walked in to find the place packed. Our luck, Memphis was playing a home basketball game that night. Everyone was hitting the Saucer before walking over to the Forum for the game. We found seats at an island and waited for the server to come by. Turns out the guy next to us was in a talkative mood. This stranger mentioned a coconut beer and Rich ordered that. Me, I ordered a Black Velvet. I have a new favorite drink. A Black Velvet is half champagne and half Guiness. It was wonderful.
We continued to have a conversation with the Stranger next to us, who had a lot of information. There are plates all over the ceiling celebrating each individual who drank beers by the 200s. The stranger had a 5-plate, which indicated 1,000 beers. When he found out that Rich liked hoppy beers, he recommended the Yazoo Hop Project. It was the perfect choice for Rich. So the basketball game started and we got into that for a while. Then it was 8:00 and time to go. We never got the stranger’s name.
Back out on Beale Street, we made our way through the crowd of basketball fans still streaming down to the Forum. We ducked into Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall and Juke Joint right before the band was starting up. This time, we were able to find a table right off. We settled in to listen to Chris McDaniel and the Bluesmasters. After the first set, Chris came by the table to ask how we were. He noticed us from the other night and was checking in since we had returned. We told him our plans and how much we enjoyed the band and the music they played. He thanked us for our support and hoped we enjoyed tonight as well. It was great. A little bit of blues and little bit of soul. We had a great time.
Then we stumbled our way back to the hotel. Definitely going to miss walking around Memphis, seeing the sights, all the Southern hospitality, and hearing the great blues. It is so nice walking Beale Street and getting into places without a cover charge. When can we come back?
Another great day in Memphis. What a trip this has turned out to be. One of us slept in yesterday while the other one was writing her blog entry. You know how I mean. I guess it gets harder to rejuvenate after a night on Beale Street.
We are beginning to see how connected Chicago and Memphis really are. It’s amazing. We tell everyone from Chicago and they each know someone up there. I never knew how strong this connection is.
Yesterday, I took notes on things. That means I might have more to say. Unfortunate for you, because you’ll have more to read. Don’t worry. I promise pictures at the end. We have an interesting practice on our trips. On something that she loves, a friend of ours tells the server, “That’s horrible. Never bring me that again.” Remember this as you read.
We headed out to breakfast at the The Little Tea Room. Darn, there are only open for lunch. I could have swore I saw breakfast in their daily servings. Oh well, guess we gotta return to the Cockadoo and those horrible, awful biscuits. Rich ordered eggs and ham with a biscuit. I could finally see that it was a drop biscuit, but it was one of the largest I had seen. I had The Shag. I posted a pictorial description of this breakfast in yesterday’s post. So I had to try it. It is a deep-fried french toast sandwich stuffed with peanut butter and bananas covered with blueberries and maple syrup with a huge line of whipped cream. I love the South! Once again, we had Mississippi Mud coffee. I tell the waitress, “Never bring me this horrible breakfast again.”
As we sat and enjoyed our breakfast, there were three gentleman sitting a table nearby. One gentleman was from Chicago and the other two were from Memphis. After they finished their breakfast, they pulled out papers and begin to work. This was a planning meeting between the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Memphis Orchestra for how their seasons would use the same people and share in music planning. Wow, we got to hear what next season would be!
Our first stop this morning was at the Rock and Soul Museum. Believe it not, we are running out of things to keep us busy during the day. We’ve seen so much and walked all around downtown. Oh, there’s more here to see and do in just downtown. Unfortunately, we don’t have an interest is some of the things. We’ve decided that we aren’t really interested in Graceland. I know, I know. How can you not pay homage to the King. Well, there are a whole lotta Kings when it comes to Memphis, blues, and music. We are trying to celebrate all of the others.
So as I said, we went to the Rock and Soul Museum. Now, I have been to a lot of Smithsonian exhibits in my day. Even with the Smithsonian name attached to the museum, I wasn’t expecting that much. I was most pleasantly surprised. The first surprise was to find that Mike working the front desk was from Sandwich, IL. He talked about Blackhawks, and I nodded my head. I know who they are, just not a hockey fan. After watching a short documentary on the development of music in the delta area, we got our headsets and wondered forth in search of Rock and Soul. The museum is arranged in chronological order. We start off in the 1700s to 1800s talking about life in the delta and the different types of music being played on front porches, churches, and fields. You move into the 1900s where blues and country were the main sources of music. Finally, all types of music blend together into Rock-n-Roll and Soul. Really takes you down the road in a great set of stories and examples. Along the way, you have a list of songs you can play to hear what they are referring to. Can you tell I really enjoyed this one?
Now I might admit to dancing a little bit in the museum. But all that walking made me hungry and it was after 1:00. We stopped into Dyer’s on Beale Street. This is a soda fountain still operating today. We ordered up burgers and fries. No shakes though. The fries were awesome. Cut straight into the grease from a potato. My favorite kind of fries.
Now we are back out on The Street. I have a bag with goodies that I purchased from the Rock and Soul Museum and it’s a little heavy. We decide to return to the hotel from another angle. It’s still the business district, but there are few people on the street. Kind of heard to believe I’m in a major city and it looks that deserted. So the Peabody Hotel is across the street from us. This is the place you really want to stay, if you can afford it. We finally found the main entrance to the hotel on the lonely street we are walking. We have yet to see the duck parade through their lobby. Maybe tomorrow.
We drop off my heavier-than-it-should-be package and decide to finally take that trolley ride around town. Now everyone says to do this first so you can see everything. We never seem to do things in the correct order. Our time is almost up and we finally jump the electric trolley. To find out information about the trolley, I stop a member of the Blue Suede Brigade. These are people stationed throughout downtown to answer questions for visitors and provide direction. You can tell them by the vivid blue jackets in the cooler temps and sashes in the summer. Our brigade member was very nice and I complimented her city.
So we step up (way up up since the step was so high) and find window seats. This is an old horse-drawn car, so the seats are very short and narrow. This is not a modern fit. The car takes off and we see Main Street and the riverfront. The Pyramid is closed these days. All sporting events have moved to a new home in the Forum. It’s pretty and shiny though. Mud Island is still out in the river beside the Visitor’s Center. I love architecture and can almost identify time periods by the types of buildings. We see an old quartermaster that is converted into lofts. At least it is getting used. There are Art Deco buildings, Federal styles and a couple of extremely modern designs that wouldn’t hold up to much snow and ice. We arrive at the top of Beale Street and jump off.
We realize that those burgers didn’t hold us and we are hungry again. We decided to snack a little and head down to a little place called Silky’s Oyster Bar. Now I’m not too keen on oysters, but Rich thinks this is good idea. We get to the door and the little lady on duty has company. We ask if this is entrance for oysters. The young man opens the door and asks how many he can shuck for us. We get a table and order a couple of pale ales. There is a blues duo playing on stage. We are the only people in here at the moment. It’s like a private concert. Oysters arrive on the half shell. Am I adventurous enough to try one? OK. It’s not bad and so fresh, but Rich only has a half dozen and he starts guarding them. Rich tells the waitress, “Never bring me those horrible things again.”
The duo on stage finds out that Rich likes Freddie King and Howlin’ Wolf. So all of their music becomes centered around everything that Rich wants to hear. One after another, we hear the kings: B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King. Rich is getting really spoiled here. Everyone wants to please him with their music. He knows that ends here in Memphis, doesn’t he?
Back out on the street, we walk around some more listening to music and watching everyone getting ready for the evening’s entertainment at each of the clubs. Now, each establishment has a person out front from the time they open until they close. These people talk to the crowd and try to get you into their joint for food, drinks, and music. Some of them are very interesting. We’ve had a couple of great conversations along the way. You can’t escape them, they are right there as you pass by, even if you out in the street and not on the sidewalk.
It’s late afternoon now. We decide to head back for a well deserved rest and wait for Rendezvous to open. Now this is the premier BBQ joint in town. It is conveniently located right behind our hotel, in an alley. Yep, an alley. A lot of business started out sharing a building so there is an entrance on the front street for the top and one in the alley for the bottom. Most of the alley businesses wouldn’t think of using the front street entrance these days, even though they have the entire building! Kokomo Joe says this is the place to eat. The Rolling Stones go here whenever they are in town. Just gotta try it.
Now Memphis BBQ is a dry rub on the meat with no wet ingredients. So it relies on the best cut of meat to cook up its own juices and soak in the flavors that are coating the top. I didn’t know if I liked Memphis style or not. Rich, of course, knows the differences in all the BBQ styles and then there is his own. We went down to eat and the alley is full of cars. People are milling around and walking up and down the alley. This isn’t a big street, mind you. It really looks like an alley. To be precise, this is General Washburn’s Escape Alley by name. We go into the restaurant and go downstairs. This would have been their original entrance and building layout. We get seated and the menu is under glass on the table top. Your choices are limited. Ribs, chicken, pork shoulder, and lamb riblets. Rich orders a rack ribs and I get pork shoulder. That way we can share. The food comes right out since they spent all morning cooking it. The cole slaw is mustard-based and kind of yellow. The beans have meat and BBQ sauce in them. Needless to say, that didn’t take long to eat. It was wonderful. Gotta admit though, I prefer Rich’s BBQ. Still my favorite.
The hotel is on the way back to Beale Street, we stop to get dolled up and decide what kind of jacket to wear. Evening temp is supposed to be 44. Not too cold, but still chilly in the breeze. Off we go back to The Street. We arrive without a definite plan. We find out that The Bluesmasters don’t start until 8:00 at Mr. Handy’s. We wonder around listening to the music. At B.B. King’s, we decide to go in. The band, Memphis Jones, is about to go on stage. We get drinks and get seats right in front of the dance floor. These three nerdy looking guys in the almost impossibly straightest leg jeans I’ve seen appear on stage and mill around. What the heck was I about to see? This looks like Green Day coming on stage. They play their first song and then introduce themselves. They are dedicated specifically to Memphis music. OK, let’s see. We listen for an hour. They play everything from B.B. King, Ike Turner, Elvis, and other great Memphis artists. Not bad, but the electric guitars, jumping around, and screaming were getting too much.
Back out on The Street, we wonder down to Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall. Opening the door, the place appears to be packed. We find seats at the bar and listen to some great old blues music. I realize the lead guitar is the same guy from last night. Cool! He was pretty good. The singer is pretty good also. They walk around with their tip bucket and I throw a couple of dollars in. Next set, they shift to soul music and we move to a table. Some of is pretty good, but some I don’t recognize. Can’t say I’m a soul music enthusiast. At some point, a couple of older guys come in the door. The singer sees them and introduces them as two original members from the BarKays and having worked with Otis Redding. We just read about these guys today in the museum!
We listen for a while and just can’t keep up anymore. We give up our table by the wall and head out into The Street. Things are still jumping out there and people are milling around. No more for me. We walk back to the hotel and talk about what we’ll do on our last day in Memphis. We have a plan. Now to sleep. “Don’t bring me anymore of that horrible music and food from The Street,” we say.
Yesterday, we woke up to clear skies after the big tornado and thunderstorms of the night before. High was going to be 59 with a light wind. Just right for hiking through the concrete canyons.
We hit the streets and rounded the corner to this little shotgun restaurant that I had stopped by the night before. It advertised Mississippi (one of my favorite words!) mud coffee and a nice southern style breakfast. Getting a table, we got our first cup of coffee. It was wonderful. The taste is deep, rich, and very aromatic. Rich ordered the biscuits and gravy and I got one too with a side of grits. How can you say that you have just eaten the best biscuit in the world? And it was slathered up with some good gravy. The grits were awesome. Love Cockadoo’s!
With breakfast well applied, we headed out to the river again to find the Visitor’s Center. We had almost made it there on Sunday, but they wouldn’t have been open. Our quest was really to find the B.B. King statue that commerates the man and his music in this city. Over hill and dale, because Memphis is a rolling river town with its great hills, we found the building. Yep, B.B. was standing there waiting for us. Larger than life and all in bronze. Rich got his picture taken and I had an interesting conversation with the little old lady behind the counter. I miss southern hospitality and charm. By the way, Elvis is in the building there, but you can only worship one King at a time.
So we wondered back up to Main Street to find some other locations. Turned out that the Ghost River Brewing Company was way on the other side of town. I had already decided that if I couldn’t walk to it or take the Trolley, I would find something else to do. We can get their beer all over town. We debated hoping the trolley, but decided that we still had breakfast to walk off. Stopping by the hotel, which is just so centrally located, to freshen up and drop off what we purchased in the area, we headed out again. Go West, young people.
We walked down the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel. This is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. The outer part of the hotel is preserved from that time in 1968, but the inside is renovated into a very nice museum that chronicles the Black culture throughout American history from 1619 through today. The exhibits show the chronological order of the civil right movements and ends with the issues we still fight today. The movie being shown, “The Witness,” highlighted Rev. Dr. Billy Kyles. Rev Kyles was a local minister who was helping to lead the civil rights efforts in Memphis and was standing with Dr. King on the balcony at the time of the shooting. Very insightful man speaking of Dr. King and the movement.
So now, it is late afternoon. I’m not hungry enough for a late lunch (Thank you, Cockadoo), but Rich is getting that hungry feeling himself. We wonder back to Beale Street to see what we can find. I see a border collie riding on one of the horse and carriage outfits and feel a little homesick for my Husky wannabe with a little border collie thrown in for good measure. Hope she’s surviving Rick. Of course, EVERYTHING is open on Beale Street. I decide I want to do some souvenir shopping so we might as well stop at B.B. King’s place first.
Man, B.B. wasn’t home! They let us in the door anyway and set us up with a table. Rich orders wings and a beer. I’m just thirsty and not ready for anything more than Coke. It’s a photo op while we wait. I took pictures of the stage and the Lucille wall. The bar reminds me of some of the places back home. Definitely designed for music and not for looks. Wings arrive and they are good. Yes, I tried one and that was I could handle. Another beer later, we hit the gift shop and pick up our official t-shirts.
We go next door to A. Schwab’s. This is the original general store in the downtown area. It still looks like that, too! There are so many trinkets and gadgets that probably don’t apply to our lives today. The museum for the store is upstairs. Rich decides to explore and I just wonder around downstairs. Found a great gift for Rick, but just couldn’t spend the money. There was a chain-mail shirt with hood for only $275. Sorry, Rick, how about a nice t-shirt instead?
We continue through the shops on Beale Street for a while looking at the touristy stuff and trying to find some odd and unusual. With that behind us, it was time for another bar stop. So many bars, so few time. This time, we decided to drop in at the Beale Street Tap Room. This is mostly a tap and bottle bar. It was definitely typical. Rich ordered up Ghost River Pale Ale to check out the local stuff. It wasn’t bad. I discovered a speciality I hadn’t heard about before. They mix Guiness with champagne and call it Black Velvet. I like the song, so I’m going to have to try that before I leave town.
After a short rest back at the hotel, it was time for dinner. Since the Roundevez is closed today, we’ll have to hit Blues City Club. Now according to my source from the first day (Kokomo Joe), this is the second best place in town for ribs. There’s a band at 7:00 so the timing works out perfectly for us. We get our table, order our beers, and decide on the food. I get the tamales and chili and Rich gets a half rack of ribs. Did you know that the form of tamales we eat came from Memphis? Neither did I! They were excellent. Ribs were awesome!
Gary Hardy and the Memphis 2 take the stage and get the show on the road. Now, we are two of about 8 people sitting there at the beginning and we are up front. They can’t miss us. Gary centers his show around the famous Million Dollar Quartet picture behind him. His show is really a history lesson, examples of music, and his just rambling on about whatever comes into his head. You might think that would be scary, but it was great fun. I learned that a song doesn’t end until somebody jumps up in the air. Gary was walking history himself though. He told stories about the people he knew (Jerry Lee Lewis, Ringo Starr, Carl Perkins, George Harrison), things he did (buy the Sun Records building), and why all the music is important. Thanks, Gary and band, for a wonderful hour.
Time to move on. We wondered the street a little bit. Rich really wanted blues music, but the sounds coming out of the bars was a mix or just rock. Finally, we walk by Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall. Yep, that was blues music of the old persuasion. So in we went. Dr. Feelgood Potts Band was on stage, all 4 of them. The lead guitar, bass, drums and the front man, Dr. Feelgood, on harmonica. We sit at the bar and Rich orders up a beer. I’m looking around at the place, which looks like it was last decorated about 1890. Really cool though. The bartender asks what I want and I just say water. No Black Velvet yet. I look over and Rich is holding a Beale Big Ass Beer! It’s a small keg in your hand.
We hang out here for almost 2 hours. Dr. Feelgood comes out in the crowd to sell CDs. We strike up a conversation and he finds out we are from Chicago and asks for a holler from the crowd. Everyone loves that we are from Chicago. The second mecca of blues they say. I’m really impressed with the lead guitar player and bass player. Lead is really good. I don’t think there isn’t anything he can’t play. The bass player is great because she is this little Japanese lady holding this rather large bass guitar. But her moves are great. They call her the ice queen because it takes a lot for her to smile. My favorite song of the night: My In-Laws! Feelgood says, “My in-laws are my outlaws.” Hey, that’s what the Zurek in-laws are all called!
So we stumble out in the night and think maybe it’s time to rest. We’ve been walking all day, had a lot of food, drank some beer, and sleep sounds good. We make our way back up Beale Street. Of course, you can’t just walk. Everyone has something to say. We wave at Kokomo Joe on our way. We say good-night to the doorman at the Blue City Club and thank him for letting us in earlier. And up the street we go to our hotel.
Wonder what we’ll do tomorrow? Roundevez for sure.
P.S. There are all these things that we hear, say, or do during the course of the day that I keep trying to remember, but I can’t. I need a notebook to record them, but I have yet to buy something. So I’m missing some of the best parts here.
And the saga continues. We had an uneventful drive down to Memphis yesterday morning. Not much traffic on a Sunday morning. I so wanted to stop in New Madrid and see the earthquake zone and museum. Just probably not open at 10:30 on a Sunday. So we continued down Interstate 55. Maybe on the return.
We arrived at our hotel in downtown Memphis about 12:00. Not much stirring out there and it was easy to find where we need to go. Great location! We got checked in, settled in, and ready to explore. The hotel is about 3 city blocks from Beale Street. Nice stretch of the legs to go listen to blues and have a brew.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beale Street. I was thinking it was your average street that closed up at night and just had the local nightlife that looked blank during the day. No, sir, this is Memphis! The street is blocked for most of the long block. At 1:00 on Sunday, it was hopping. Trucks were bringing in supplies. Bands were unloading equipment. Music was blaring out of open doors. There was band in the courtyard and the very busty lead singer was wandering the street looking for action. Yes, there were tourists everywhere, including us, snapping shots of the action and landmark buildings.
About halfway down, we were stopped by a gentleman who called out, “Do you want to know the best BBQ in town?” Now, Rich was going to go on by. Something about the guy made me stop. This is where Kokomo Joe’s spiel began. He asks us to be involved in a little math game. You know the one. Pick a number and perform all these math processes to it. So we picked numbers. Joe began to tell us a little history of Beale Street and ticked off all of the things we needed to see. Yep, he withheld the name of the best BBQ joint for awhile. I let his carry on with his talk. He had a great style and a lot of information. We finally got down to divulging our numbers to him and getting his list of the top 3 BBQ joints. Then he requested pay for his hard work, but I felt he had done his job. Thanks, Kokomo, everything you said so far is true.
Down at the end of Beale Street is the W. C. Handy house. W.C. is considered to be the father of the blues and recognized to have written the first blues song back around the turn of the century. The house was a little bigger than I expected, but he was a band leader back at that time. We walked by the Daisy Theater and I just had to get a picture of Curious Daisy to see. The Gibson Guitar Museum was around the corner. Now this was a must for Rich. Probably more for Rick, but he didn’t come so I had to stop and get a t-shirt. It was like walking a kid through a candy store in there. The employees would be bored and play guitars. The patrons stared and shuffled their fit as they walked by the guitar of their favorite star. And that was just in the gift shop. We decided against the tour itself since we knew how they made guitars.
I was starving by now. The clerk at the hotel recommended Gus’ Famous Chicken when we were ready for chicken. It was Sunday and that sounded good. It was a little bit of a hike up and over the hill to find it. The smell outside was great. Pushing open the door, the place was packed with people waiting. We put our names on the list and waiting in line. Tables opened pretty quickly at this point and we got seated. We ordered up our chicken and fried green tomatoes as the appetizer. Rich ordered up sweet tea and then commented that he understood why so many southerners had diabetes. I told him it might be best to order unsweetened and do the work yourself. Chicken was great and we left room for sweet potato pie. Unfortunately, they had run out! Maybe next time.
Back out on the street, we decided to walk to the river. That’s the mighty Mississippi. Love that word! We walked through some of the business district to get there. Lots of downtown lofts available. We made it to the Confederate Park overlooking the river. This the vantage point the Confederate Army had in the Battle of Memphis. The last brigade left in town defended their position here against the Union naval attack and the incoming infantry as the last of the Confederates left town. The battle was about 90 minutes and then everyone pulled out. Can you tell I’ve been reading informational signs and Shelby Foote’s Civil War? I love history and anything that I can read on it.
The clerk had told us that bad weather was moving into the area for the night. It was starting to sprinkle and I was tired. We made our way back in the direction of our hotel. Of course, this meant exploring the streets as we went. We made it to Main St as two trolley cars were coming up. These are electric cars with overhead cables that circle the downtown area. One convenient stop is right at the head of Beale Street. The cars look to be 1940s-1950s vintage in green and yellow. I don’t remember hearing any clanging bells though. I guess the flashing railroad lights take care of that.
Back at the hotel, we put up our feet and checked out the weather. Yep, there was a big one coming in. We opted to watch the end of the Baltimore and New England football game. We decided that maybe tonight wasn’t the time to go out and about. We decided to go to The Flying Fish for a bite to eat and maybe to the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium to check it out. So catfish seemed to be meal of the day. Rich got his fried okra. The food good, but the atmosphere was great. Fish everywhere. The Billy Bass Adoption Wall was great. It covered most of the room. The Liar’s Wall was fun. Unbelievable claims!
We wondered up the block to The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in a light rain. Entering, it looked like a game room. Then we spied the bar. There across the back wall were 57 taps with each dispensing a different beer! It was a beautiful thing. We sat at the bar and worked through the menu until we came up with our choices. I had a Lazy Magnolia Pecan Ale and Rich went for flight of beers. Mine was so-so. They have a daily fire sale too. That’s the beer of the day to the rest of us. Now that was excellent. It was a Belhaven Scottish Ale.
So time to return to the hotel. The wind had picked up quite a bit, but the rain was still holding off. The pavement was very wet and slick, but it was all humidity! We watched the end of the 49s-Giants game with all the interruptions for the tornado warnings and thunderstorm watches. About 9:45, the tornado sirens went off in downtown. We had been following the Weather Channel and Weather Bug and could see where the bow echos were showing up. Most were north and south of town. We went to the bathroom as the storm hit and waited it out as we watched Weather Bug on our phones. It was pretty fast and we survived. Finally, it was 11:00 and I could go to bed.
This morning, it is bright sunshine and expected to be in the 50s. We are ready for breakfast and more walking.
We were talking a couple of weeks ago and found out that we both had vacation days left that we would lose at the end of January. We always say we should go somewhere, but we never do. Now that Rick will be 18 in 6 weeks, seemed like a good opportunity. Rick could stay home with Sascha and get himself off to school all week. Then we had to pick a place to go. We went over a lot of possibilities. Go to a warmer climate: Mexico or Bahamas. Go colder: Montana to Glacier. How about Memphis? Would be warmer, go see all the blues sites, and party on Beale Street! OK! And we’ll drive!
So I did my planning mojo and found places to stay coming, staying, anf going. Figured out all the high points for us. We decided to add Clarksdale, MS to the route. Clarksdale is he undisputed home of the blues. So I made reservations at the recommended place to stay there. Cute!
Yesterday was our first day on the road. Sadly, we started it off with a vistation for a friend. One of the guys on Rich’s bowling team passed away of a heart attack earlier in the week. Bowling on Friday night was a little somber. We went by the church before the service to pay our respects. It’s a little scary to think about since he was only a year older than Rich. Our condolences and prayers go out to Les’ family.
So to continue our road trip, we drove out of Chicago on Interstate 55. The snow slowly receded and the temps went up a little. It was a nice drive. We had planned to stop in Cape Girardeau MO for the night. The town has grown! After getting settled into the hotel, we started out to find a brewpub. Rich had eaten at one several years ago coming back from a visit to a friend stationed in Columbus MS. He was hoping it was still open.
Yep, it was still here. Buckner’s Brewpub was downtown on the river. We found it it without too many problems. Even found a parking lot right next door. We went down to the river first. That’s the mighty Mississippi River. It was beautiful in the dark with a verynice spanning bridge over the river. Murals graced the flood walls that kept the river on the right side of town. They were pretty cool. So then, we went into Buckner’s.
We could decide what the building had been. I think it was an old warehouse and office for unloading and loading on the river. It was a great building for a brewpub. We were seated and ordered up our drinks. I had their own specially brewed root beer and Rich had one of their seasonal beers. As we are sipping, we realize we are surrounded by pre-teen girls in makeup, tight dresses, stockings and high heels. Another pre-teen event in a brewpub. Rich was flashing back to a similar happing for a Katy Perry concert in Louisville! No pink or blue hair this time. The waitress confirmed there was a school dance. They allwanted a separate bill and to pay in cash. We assured the waitress we would be on the same bill.
We ordered up fried pickles (dill or course), toasted ravioli, mushroom burger, crab cake sliders, and another round of drinks. Rich swears that Buckner’s have the best fried pickles anywhere. He’s been trying them everywhere too. So maybe he should know. I forced myself to try one. I really have a hard time with the taste of dill, but the breading was awesome. The raviolis were tasty too. Rich’s first beer was made with raisins. It was more a fruity and dry flavor than Rich prefers, but the pale ale on the second round was more to his liking. As he said, when he can drink a beer where he has to strain the hops through his teeth, that’s a beer!
So today, we are waking up to clouds and a warm Southern breakfast. Then on to Memphis. Last night, Rich tells me that people here have an accent. Do you think, dear? You are in the land where they speak a little differently. wait’ll he goes to Mississippi! I just love spelling that word.
For a winter day, today wasn’t too bad. The temp got up to 30 at least, if not more. The wind was relatively calm. My weather station didn’t record anything too major. Sascha must have thought so too. She preferred outside today.
In the late morning, I put Sascha out. She was sitting in her usual position as if to guard the house. Either that or she is spying on the neighbors. I hope not. She is usually pointed to Kevin and Carol’s house just across from our backyard. They had 3 dogs, so she could be keeping an eye out for them. I believe it more to watch the squirrels that scamper in their oak trees.
I went out at some point to check on her and see if she wanted in. She looks directly at me and lies down in the snow. She has a very direct way of looking at you as if it is a challenge. I assumed that meant she was staying out. So I came in. The more I thought about it, it was funny how she tells you to go away. I decided to take a picture of her lying in the snow.
I took my camera and went out the back door to take the picture. As I was focusing the camera, she came running at me and planted a huge paw in the middle of chest. She then sat in the driveway and gave me that death stare. Of course, I start laughing. She is not amused. So I go back into the house. It took another hour before she felt ready to come in.
Later in the day, I put her out again. After a half an hour, I checked on her. She again lies down in the snow in response to my question about coming into the house. This time I just took a picture through the back door. She won’t have to tell me twice to go away. She did eventually come in.
Lesson in all this: When Sascha gives you the death stare, don’t mess with her!
Sascha looking out the back door.
After impolitely telling me to mind my own business.
Her royal highness letting me know she is staying outside.
With any animal, you find your life is a little more interesting. Our dog, Sascha, is no exception to that rule. She always comes up with something that surprises me, makes me laugh, or just downright astounds me.
Today was another snow day for us. The snow from yesterday continued on through the night and into the next morning. I think it finally stopped out here around 9:00 or so with maybe 6 or 7 inches. By Chicago standards, that’s a light snow. That meant there was more snow on the ground to shovel. Luckily, Rick was off from school today. I believe it was a Teacher’s Institute Day to make a longer holiday weekend for MLK Day. Good timing for me, because he was going to do the shoveling! Yeah!
Rick went out to start the front driveway and the front porch. Sascha and I made breakfast. Around lunchtime, Rick and I went out to tackle the big driveway. This driveway is about 3 cars wide. So the snowblower is no help at all. It has to be done by hand. I took one side and Rick the other. Sascha came out to play in the snow, which she did NOT do. She stayed by the side door barking occasionally in her high pitched woofs. I understood she wanted to be out front of the garage, but that just wasn’t possible. It only took us about 30 minutes to clear the whole thing. Then I went inside. Sascha, of course, followed.
So I sat down to drink some water and warm up. It was only 16 with the wind chill out there. Before I know, Sascha is sitting next to me in the chair and drapes herself over my neck. She’s been trying to find a place to lay in the chair where she is comfortable and, I believe, take up most of the room. She liked the position today. It wasn’t too bad, except she was breathing slightly in my ear.
So in between all of the activities today, I’m working away at different projects. I have a couple of meetings with different groups. I really felt productive today. It might have been the exercise in the cold air at lunch. I knocked off at 4:00 PM. Rick and I decided to go out for dinner. This is Rich’s bowling night, so he’s not there to hold us back.
After dinner, I decide to relax and check out TV. Before you know it, Sascha is in my lap again. However,she opts for a position she tried the other day. I get the feeling that I’m sitting in the chair with a large child. I think she has found her favorite way to relax in the big, red chair!
So someone had mentioned that Huskies can become couch potatoes. Most everyone I’ve talked to with a Husky says that’s not possible. I think my photos prove that my Husky wannabe could quite possibly be the best couch potato in the house. I know she had a hard day out there in the snow, but I really don’t think that’s a reason for the snoring.
Sascha helping to keep me warm after shoveling.
Sascha has definitely all the qualities of a couch potato!