The evening of July 7 I realized that I only had so much time down in Northwest Arkansas and only a handful of free weekends to travel and explore the area. I wanted to drive somewhere. I contemplated between Tulsa and Little Rock because they were a quick road trip away with minimum commitment and plenty of things to do for a couple of days. Then I thought about Memphis. It being five hours away it was a bit of a drive and would definitely eat into my travel plans of spending 10 hours of my weekend simply driving.
But then I said, sure. But with who? I had Tyler or any other intern to accompany me if I wanted. But to heck, I had never traveled anywhere completely alone, so why not? I know how to travel, be smart and safe, make sound decisions. My only concern was the driving honestly. The most I had ever driven one way was only 3 1/2 hours (from Lawrence to Bentonville, nonetheless).
Friday night I browsed Airbnb, got a space for two nights for under $40, planned my itinerary, and packed my bag. I worked Chihuly Saturday Night the following day and passed the hell out that night.
I left Bentonville a little after 8am with a full tank of gas, a long Spotify playlist, Starbucks coffee in one hand and steering wheel in the other. Driving down I-49 was easy until you hit the tumultuous hills, bridges, and tunnel crossing through the Ozark Mountains. For some reason, semi drivers like to race SUVs like trying to traverse through dramatic elevation changes…
Anyways, changing onto I-40 outside of Fort Smith was fine. Driving through the hills, heavily forested scenery, and Johnny Cash ringing around me was relaxing. Traffic got steep around Little Rock as expected, and the drive from then on out was navigating around the herds of semis amongst the construction as best as you could.
I got to Memphis around 1:30pm, and headed straight to the National Civil Rights Museum. I ate my packed lunch, went inside, got my ticket and spent around 3 hours navigating through the museum. This was a visit I HAD to visit while down in Memphis. The only trouble was digesting all of the content they have stowed on the exhibitions. It was overwhelming in some portions but I was more thankful than anything being there and educating myself while interacting with the displays and artifacts. But over everything, paying homage to Martin Luther King Jr. was of the utmost importance of visiting the site. It was solemn, like I was transported back to the late 1960s, embedded in tension of segregation.
With a change of pace I went to the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous ducks make their walk to the elevator for their dinner and rooftop penthouse. After watching the 5pm show, I went up to the penthouse to look at the views and look at the ducks’ home. After getting back down to the ground I walked down Main St. which is closed off to vehicles for pedestrian and trolley traffic. The area is lined with new restaurants, shops, and public art.
When I was done killing time I walked down to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken to eat dinner. I wasn’t sure if having a police officer posted by the front door was a good or bad sign, but it being 6pm and all the tables full on a Sunday was a great sign. I had to only wait for about 10 minutes. I walked in around the same time as an older woman who was there by herself as well, so instead of waiting more time to sit at a table, I invited her to sit at my table. Her name was Jan, a retired elementary school teacher road tripping across the country in her RV with her dog. She was in town for the day, having spent most of the afternoon at Graceland, she decided to eat at Gus’s for dinner after hearing from her friends to go there. We enjoyed each other’s company while enjoying some spicy fried chicken, beans, and slaw.
The previous Hannah, from a year ago, would have never thought to invite someone else to eat at the same table as her, let alone travel alone. But recently I have learned to like spending time alone, to my thoughts, enjoying the silence. So that’s something to reflect on.
With a few more hours left on my parking meter I went down to the Mississippi River to walk alongside and enjoy the people walking, running, dogs, just simply being riverside. I stayed long enough to enjoy the sunset and slight breeze while sitting in a rocking chair.
Before complete darkness I went to the 24/7 donut joint, Gibson’s Donuts to grab breakfast for the next morning. I got a maple bacon one, and an Oreo one.
I then checked into my Airbnb. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Heidi, the host, who used to teach at the University of Memphis, and since has been using this as her primary source of income. The other guests were long-term, there for internships in Memphis for the summer. So having college-aged guys there was a relief instead of having some creepy older middle aged guys or anything.
My only problem was that Heidi had two cats. Now, I have become more and more allergic to these creatures as the years go on. So much so that my right eye was slightly swollen when I woke up the following morning. Cats are alright…
I had an earlier start to my day than I anticipated but that did not bother me too much. My tour at Graceland was not until 11am, so I took my time getting around and did not leave the Airbnb until 10:15am or so. My grandpa told me that I HAD to go to Graceland at some point in my life, and that day had come. Let me forewarn you, it was the epitome of American tourism. I bought the ‘cheapest’ ticket for a measly $34 (wow student discount of $2), plus $10 for parking. They forget to include that. My ticket only granted me access to do the mansion tour, wow…
After being sifted into a brief 10 minute montage of Elvis’ life (leaving out how he died of course) that feels like an extended introduction of a documentary, waiting for the break in music for some kind of narration. Then you head to an enormous line for a shuttle that takes literally 45 minutes to wait, but only after taking your picture in front of a giant backdrop of the Graceland gates – the height of American tourism- jeez. Once you get somewhere close to the front of the line they hand you a damn iPad with a strap to throw around your neck or on your shoulder (what I did) as your personal tour guide – thanks John Stamos.
You ride a shuttle for less than 5 minutes to simply cross the damn street and pull up to the front of the mansion (no you cannot simply walk there). Then you are shuffled into another line (shocker) while perched on the front porch listening to the brief history of how Graceland came to be while suffering through stifling Southern heat. You are shepherded inside where everyone acts like you’re in another line, when in fact you can just roam around as long as you’re up against the rope to make room for more paying guests. So instead of being stuck amongst the pack, I waited out the storm and walked around the house at my own pace without being pressured by annoying tourists all while listening to Stamos, of course.
What I thought was most interesting at that point was the staircase downstairs that is lined with psychedelic mirrors (they simply fed Elvis’ ego I’m sure). Another tidbit that was peculiar was that his upstairs quarters are all private because even while living at Graceland he was all glammed up and put together while interacting with family and guests on the main level.
Once you get past the tourist veneer of it all, it is still exciting and mesmerizing to be in such a customized and historic site that belonged to such a well-known public figure.
If you absolutely dislike tourist traps, inflated ticket sales and gift shops, and do not want to waste 3 hours of your time (half of it spent waiting in lines), then Graceland is not the place for you. FYI.
I drove about 10 minutes away from Graceland to Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ for a late lunch. I got a pork rib sandwich with a side of beans. I really loved the sauce. It almost envied Kansas City – but not quite! After enjoying that meal I drove to the other side of town to visit Jerry’s Sno Cones. The line was quite lengthy, but not nearly as long as the menu options. I ordered the wedding cake flavor as a supreme, which is an infusion of sno cone and soft serve vanilla ice cream. It was one of the most refreshing and unique flavor and texture combinations that I had ever had – and it was so delightful.
For whatever reason, I already thought it was a good idea to head back to downtown Memphis and see one of the most obvious buildings of the Memphis skylines, and that is the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid. Yes, it was one of the most fitting and odd features of Memphis. It used to be an arena before Bass Pro bought out the place. The entire space is just absolute ridiculousness. The main level has a couple of restaurants, a hotel, bowling alley, an enormous fish tank, and fish swimming about in the inground pond of sorts, as well as a couple of alligators residing at the bottom of the giant 28 story freestanding elevator, and the store of course.
You can ride this elevator to the top of the pyramid and look out on downtown Memphis on a lookout deck or while enjoying dinner at the restaurant. Yes, I paid $10 to see this view, glass floor outlook deck and all. Have I mentioned that I hate heights? Oh well…
I went back to my car, and went to Central BBQ by the National Civil Rights Museum for dinner. Yes, I can have BBQ for two meals in one day. I got the half slab dry rub plate with a roll, slaw, and beans with a beer. Wow, the dry rub was fantastic, but being used to Kansas City style BBQ I just had to have sauce so I tried their vinegar sauce. Not only was I full and content, but I found another person to be company with alone at the bar. I ate at the bar to prevent any awkwardness with a table.
I dropped my leftovers at my car and walked back to Beale St. to enjoy my evening. I sifted by the street flippers asking for tips, the many bars that offered curbside service to sell booze to walk with while walking down Beale (one of the few places you can do that in the States). I ultimately got a damn Beale Big Ass Beer that I managed to get down before enjoying an evening of listening to blues music at B.B. King’s Blues Club.
I sat at the bar to settle the issue of occupying a table alone. I later met an older couple visiting the States from New Zealand that were very lively. We talked it up about travels, family, and the wife and I enjoyed up on the dancefloor jiving to Ray Charles. She later gave me her number and told me to give her a call if I was in that part of the world.
I stayed until close out at 11pm to get my $3’s worth of entertainment, and it was worth it. It was the most entertaining Monday I had every experienced.
I took my time getting up and heading out of Memphis around 11am. I wanted to stop in Little Rock on the way back to the Clinton Presidential Library.
I only had known so little about President Clinton from high school history class and visiting his house in Fayetteville, so I was expecting to walk away knowing much more than before. When I got inside to the upper floor I happened upon a starting tour group so I decided to join it and get a walkthrough of the museum. Both unfortunately and fortunately the main guide was just giving what seemed like her third or fourth tour because she was reading right off of the cards and checking up and back to her supervisor. It was still an enjoyable and knowledgeable tour about the museum.
There were many artifacts and tidbits about history and events that I had no idea about because I was too young to know about them when they happened during my lifetime. The library was worth a visit for sure. Outside of the cantilever library is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Arkansas River and in the front lawn is a sapling from the Anne Frank tree which was surprising.
Another 3 1/2 hours later I was back at home in Bentonville. I was super appreciative of my time spent away from my summer home and being able to support myself enough to travel to a place I had never visited before, alone.
If you have ever been to Memphis as well, let me know what you think about my visit!