Cajun Vacation: Walking in Memphis

Today, we are on the move again.  We woke up to dry skies, but the clouds were very low.  It’s probably good we are leaving NOLA today.  We start our first leg back to the real world and home.  After packing up, Rich went down to the lobby for coffee so that he would be prepared for the drive.  We would stop and grab something to eat on the way out of NOLA.

I called down to get our car brought around by the valet and to have someone bring up a cart to help us get all of this stuff downstairs.  I thought it would be easier to tip someone.  I am on vacation, you know.  The young man knocked on the door and even had his own doorstop.  That’s good planning.  We got everything to the door and he loaded it up for us.

Rich had not returned, so Rick and I headed to the lobby to try and catch him.  No luck though, because we missed him somewhere.  Rick sent a text to join us in the lobby.  A couple of minutes later, Rich appeared with phone and coffee in hands.  He said he got to the room and saw the guy taking the cart to the service elevator.  He figured we were already downstairs.

I thanked the ladies at the front desk for helping us around the French Quarter during our stay.  They had the best information and always willing to help me figure out how to do something.  The Courtyard was the best place.  We had a wonderful stay with them.

Down in the garage, our car was ready and waiting.  The valet was giving me instructions for getting out of town and back on the road toward Memphis.  Our luggage showed up and I packed the car with my usual expertise.  Time to wave good-bye and creep out into rush hour traffic in New Orleans.

We got lucky and traffic was clear.  We headed west on Dauphine St and followed the Navi to I-55 going west.  We had gotten on the other side of Lake Ponchetrain when the first rain drops started hitting the car.  It was only sprinkles at this point.  So we made it out of town before it got wet.  Now that was great planning.

We stopped up the road for gas and something to eat.  That would take us into Clarksdale.  The rain got a little heavier as we were getting around the Tennessee border.  Then it really broke loose as we got off the interstate and onto the minor highway.  There were times when it was a little hard to see.  In some places, we hydroplaned somewhat where water just couldn’t run off.

As we moved north, the evidence of flooding was getting more and more.  In several locations, the fields looked like good sized lakes just standing with water.  A couple of places had water running from one field across the road to another field.  It was a single lane of traffic at these points.  Luckily, it wasn’t trying to sweep any vehicles with it.

We got into Clarksdale at the crossroads.  The viaduct on 61 was closed because of high water.  We snaked our way through the neighborhoods.  At one point, the train was blocking the tracks because it was stopped for water.  We got around it all and back over to 61.  Across the Sunflower River, we found that Hick’s BBQ was still open.

We had just an hour before they closed for the day.  We ordered half a dozen tamales, rib tips, BBQ pork sandwiches with fried okra and baked beans.  Rich and I had been trying for a couple of years to catch Hick’s open so we could eat the best tamales in the world.  The guy behind the counter laughed when I said that.  However, it is true.  These were some of the best hot tamales that I’ve had.  We’ll have to stop by and try them again.

We got back to the crossroads and headed north for Memphis.  I tried to stop for gas outside of Clarksdale, but apparently the pumps and computer system was down.  With the storms and rain, it appears that things have been down off and on all day.  I opted to get gas further up in the delta.

We’d be spending the night in Memphis and hopefully get to see some blues at Run Boogie Blues Hall.  Rick can check out the act on stage next door at Rum Boogie, if he wanted.  I knew Rick also wanted to go by the Gibson Factory.  He wasn’t interested in the tour so much as the guitars on display and the fact that you could play them.  I think we had a full day for our one night there.

We got within 10 miles of Memphis when a sign said the road was closed.  Apparently, the high water here had the road closed to traffic.  We got on an east-west highway to get around the block.  This took us out of our way by some miles, but it was better than nothing.  This road took us back over to I-55 so we could head up to Memphis.  The road was drier here, but there were still some places with standing water.

The exit off to the interstate ran down into some of the industrial areas.  At one point, we were detoured again because of high water.  This wound us around through some of the older neighborhoods and right by Gus’ World Famous Chicken.  We turned on Union and right down to the hotel.  We were across from The Peabody.  I tell myself I’m going to stay over there someday, but today was not that day.

We got checked and ready to walk to Beale St.  Somehow, Rick talked his Dad into going over to Lansky’s first.  When I caught up to them, they were standing by waiting for the famous Peabody ducks to go up to their penthouse for the night.  I pulled them along to the Lansky store to shop instead.

Once inside the shop, the colors and textures are wonderful.  I find it hard not to run around and touch everything.  Rich started looking through shirts and hats.  Nothing was standing out for him.  Rick saw shirts he liked, but he figured he would never really wear.  One of the salesmen asked about our day.  I explained we had stopped by to look.  Rich then found the perfect shirt.  It was a black camp shirt with guitar picks and a fret board on the front.  On the back was a full guitar and the words, “Home of Rock and Roll” in bright colors.  It was beautiful and it was in Rich’s size.  Out came the credit card and Rich purchased it.

I ran the shirt back over to the hotel while the guys walked down to the Gibson Factory.  By the time I came back down to the street, it was starting to rain.  I had left my rain jacket upstairs guessing that the rain was over for the night.  If you have to decide something, I figured I’d go for warm.  Darn, I got that wrong.

I didn’t see the guys when I got to Gibson.  Inside the door, I looked around.  A young lady who worked there asked if she could help.  I explained I let my kids come down where and I couldn’t find them.  Rick walked from behind one of the racks about then.  I told her I found one of them.  She laughed.  Rick sat down and started to play a Les Paul that he had admired.  Price tags here are to be admired, but not paid either.  Rich sat down on a couch and waited as Rick and I walked around and around the guitars.  It is an impressive place with lots of guitars just hanging around.  After buying a new guitar strap that says Gibson, Rick was ready for me to drag him out of the store.

We walked back down to Beale Street, but no one was playing any live music yet.  That would be around 8:00.  We checked on the schedule for a couple of places and getting the names of groups who would be playing.  We walked down toward the Handy Park to check out some places.  Across the street, Dyer’s was open.  Rick decided he was hungry again.  We went in for burgers and beers.

Back out on the street, we wondered up Beale Street toward B.B. King’s place and then around the block back to the hotel for a rest.  The rain had pretty much quit and it was getting a little bit chilly.  We’d rest our feet and then head back down to Beale for the 8:00 shows.

Live music started up at 8:00 PM on Beale Street.  We left the hotel just after the guitars started.  The rain was coming down slow and steady.  The five minute walk up to Beale Street didn’t soak us through.  We got to the door for the Blues Hall Juke Joint with the music coming through the door.  The doorman checked our IDs and stamped our hands.  Luckily, the bar is free to enter.  We stepped inside and the music surrounded us.

We took over one of the high-topped tables and shucked the raincoats.  Rich stepped up to the bar and got us three bourbon high balls.  Well, they were actually Canadian whiskey high balls since that’s all they had.  The Blues Masters were on stage.  I wouldn’t say they were exactly blues.  They were playing mostly R&B and Soul.  They weren’t bad though.  We heard three or four songs.

The crowd was ebbing and flowing around us.  People would move between the Juke Joint and Rum Boogie Café through the adjoining door.  A large group of guys and girls came in at one point and tried to find seating together.  They ended up at a table behind us and a table right up front.  They didn’t stay too long before they picked up their Big Ass Beers and moved back out to the street.  I assume they were looking for a specific type of music and hadn’t found it yet.

The band brought up their singer after the first few songs.  Her name was Queen Anne.  To my ears, it sounds strange to name your child with a title as their name.  She had a nice voice.  Unfortunately, the lead guitarist was also the sound guy.  To hear Queen Anne over the band, he cranked her mic up over the other sounds.  This meant the sound now made your ears bleed.

We hung out for a couple of songs and finished our drinks.  It was time to go while we could still hear.  I would prefer to hear more music.  I asked the guys to walk through Rum Boogie Café in hopes that the band there was still on stage.  I wasn’t having any luck though.  No one was on stage and the lights were dark.

On the street, we could hear music blaring from several locations all at once.  The rain was coming down harder.  Maybe it was time to call it quits for the night.  We were planning to be on the road early tomorrow.  It would be a long day as we planned to drive on home for the 8 and more hours.

The street was dark with the rain coming down.  In a couple of spots, we had to skirt puddles to keep our feet dry.  We debated crossing the street at Peabody Place against the light because there was no traffic coming down the one-way street.  At the last minute, the pedestrian light changed in our favor.

We joked about melting before we could get back to the hotel.  Good thing none of us were that sweet.  As we passed the Peabody Hotel, Rick told me we’d be home now if I had just made reservations there.  I told him I would have, if he were paying.  We crossed the street and entered our warm and dry hotel.

The night in Memphis didn’t work out as well as I had planned, but we did manage to do a couple of things we wanted.  Rick got to play guitars at Gibson.  Rich shopped at Lansky’s.  We got to see the Peabody ducks walk to the elevator.  The live music was short, but enough to remember.

Beale Street in the rain
Beale Street in the rain
Gibson Factory
Gibson Factory
Rick with one of his favorite guitars
Rick with one of his favorite guitars
Love is a new guitar
Love is a new guitar
Little dobro with that song
Little dobro with that song
Peabody Hotel on a dark and rainy night
Peabody Hotel on a dark and rainy night