Friday, June 28, 2013

Memphis, Part 2: Downtown

When I left off yesterday, we had just completed our awesome Duckmaster experience and were setting out to explore what else Memphis had to offer. Eric and I were ready to see the city, while our poor, sleepy sickie napped on my back.

Duckmaster-ing is tiring business!

Our first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum. I really wanted to go in, but given that we had quite a few things we wanted to see and were trying to trim our itinerary at the same time (for the sick baby's sake), we decided to pass. However, we were able to walk around outside of the Lorraine Motel, and see the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. It was very quiet and somber, and it is always surreal to stand in a spot like that and know what a historical event happened there. It's hard to believe, a little bit.

The Lorraine Motel, with MLK's famous words on the marquis

Dr. King was shot right up there on that balcony, outside of room 306, where he was staying.
I particularly liked the Bible verse on the memorial in the foreground: "They said to one another, behold, here cometh the dreamer...let us slay him...and we shall see what will become of his dreams." (Genesis 37:19-20)

Fuller look at the Lorraine Motel

By that time, Ellie was awake and we were hungry so we went off in search of our lunch destination: Gus's Fried Chicken. Once again, as seemed to be a theme of our trip, we were struck by how deserted the streets of Memphis were. Are we just too used to the hustle and bustle of New York to really have a realistic gauge on how "happening" a city should be, even on a weekday afternoon? Is this standard? Or are we scaring people away?

Anyway, we found Gus's and as soon as we walked inside, we knew it was going to be good because the place was packed. Not a soul on the street, but there was a wait for a table at Gus's. We put our name in but didn't have long to wait, and we used our time to cool off (man, it was beastly hot) and review the menu to decide what we wanted.

Gus's Fried Chicken

Inside Gus's

When we were seated we placed our order: one two-piece white plate, one tenders plate, a selection of sides, sweet tea and lemonade. Ellie, however, chose to dine on her own food and she got right down to it.

Lunch in a pouch!

People, let's talk about this fried chicken. I am not one who goes nuts for fried chicken. KFC is fine, sure, and I'm not sure I've ever even had Popeye's and the like. But man, oh man. This fried chicken was divine. It was the best fried chicken I've ever eaten in my life. I am a believer in Gus's.

A plate of fried deliciousness with a side of sweet tea

Not only was the food excellent, but luck was on our side. Shortly after being seated at our table, we looked out the front door to see the absolutely pouring rain. If we had been 15 minutes later in arriving at Gus's, we would have been soaked. And then, by the time we finished our meal, the rain had cleared out! Gus's Lucky Chicken saved the day. What perfect timing!

When we finished our meal, I left Eric inside to pay the check and get us some drinks to go while I took Ellie outside to do a little walking in Memphis (yup, just like the song! She's got her feet 10 feet off Beale and everything).

Walking in Memphis

Speaking of Beale Street, that was our next destination, although we did pause to take in some of the sights of Memphis as we headed that way.

The Orpheum

They seem to like this guy in Memphis.

Beale Street itself was rather fun. There was live music everywhere, and lots of fun bars and such. It definitely had character. I would have liked to be able to go back at night and do a little bar-hopping, but alas, the one thing we forgot to pack for the baby was a babysitter.

Beale Street: "All the sharp men, pretty girls. The works!"

More Beale Street

I liked this sign: "First chance for a drink! Next chance, 25 feet." I like the way you think, Beale Street.

Big ass beers to go.

Left: Statue in Handy Park; Right: Music notes lined the sidewalk, like the stars on Hollywood Blvd.

W. family on Beale Street!

After checking out Beale Street we thought we would try to walk to Sun Studio, which ended up being much further than we anticipated. So much so that we ended up turning around after walking some distance. We headed back to the Peabody Hotel to retrieve our luggage and car while Ellie took the opportunity to nap and soak up some sun.

Sleep, baby, sleep.

When we were back in our car, we decided to drive to Sun Studio. A little history: Sun Studio is where Elvis Presley got his start. Back when Elvis was but 18 years old, anyone could go to Sun Studio and for a small fee ($3-4, I believe), you could record a track - one song, one take, one copy of the record. Elvis decided to do so as a gift for his mother. The receptionist there at the time, Marion Keisker, liked Elvis's sound and made note of him, passing along his name to owner Sam Phillips. Phillips was looking for someone with a different sound, and brought Elvis in to try him out. When the session wasn't turning out quite so well, Elvis picked up his guitar and started goofing off, playing Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right." Phillips loved it, recorded it, and passed it off to Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips to put on the air. Listeners loved it so much, they requested it a ridiculous amount of times in just a couple-hour span. And is how Elvis got "discovered" - all by making a recording for his mom at Sun Studio.

Sun Studio

You can go on a tour of the studio, which we hoped to do when we arrived. Our timing was perfect, as a tour was just beginning (they give them every 30 minutes). However, children under five years old are not allowed. We hadn't realized that. But, it actually worked out really well. Instead of turning us away altogether, they offered for one of us to take the tour for free while the other waited in the cafe with Ellie, with free drinks and snacks. Then, at the end of the tour, the waiting parent could also go into the actual studio to look around for a bit. The reason they limit children is just because the tour is less actual "touring" and more talking and listening to old recordings, something kids won't sit still for (true). I decided to stay back with Ellie while Eric took the tour. It really ended up being a great deal!

Let the tour begin!

Memphis Recording Service (the original name of Sun Studio)

Eric said the tour was really interesting. They talked about the Elvis history I briefly outlined above, plus discussed the Million Dollar Quartet: an impromptu jam session including Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Apparently the session really happened completely by chance, and wouldn't that have been a sight to see?

The Million Dollar Quartet!

A photo of the session, records from each artist and their autographs

In addition to the history, there was a good bit of memorabilia to see, including newspaper and magazine articles about Elvis, and telegrams sent following some of his performances.

Left: A photo of Marion Keisker, the woman who discovered Elvis. Right: Elvis memorabilia

This telegram reads: Saw you on television. You were simply precious. Am looking forward to you coming back to Shreveport. Congratulations. Miss you." How cute is that, to send Elvis a telegram to tell him he's precious?!

Elvis trading cards and a diary

Meanwhile, as Eric was touring, Ellie and I were sipping Cherry Coke (well, I was) and hanging out by the jukebox.

Very important decisions.

When the tour reached the actual recording studio itself, Ellie and I were allowed to join Eric to check it all out. Apparently the ceiling and walls are all original, and an "x" marks the spot where Elvis stood when he last recorded at Sun Studio. We also got to see the little reception area where he first walked in to speak to Marion Keisker.

The studio

The ceiling

The reception area

Ellie standing where Elvis last stood!

Eric, really getting into the spirit of things!

And that was it for downtown, but not for Memphis! We were moving on to a new hotel (Comfort Suites, a less expensive hotel further out of town) for the night. We actually had a pretty negative experience with this one. I mean, it was cheap, so you don't expect much, but we booked it specifically because it claimed to be a suite with pocket doors separating the bedroom. When we got into our room, there was a pocket for a door, but no door. So, we had to move rooms, at the end of a very long day, with a sick, tired, hungry baby and a billion pounds of luggage. When we got to our new room, the door wouldn't stay closed - it would slide shut, then slide right back open again. When Eric called down to the front desk again, he was told that they "can't deal with this right now, we have a lobby full of people." Um, say what now? I don't care how cheap the hotel is or how busy you may be, but there is a much more polite way to address a guest who is having repeated issues. But hey, maybe I'm old school like that.

Needless to say we told the front desk to forget it and made do. We were able to maneuver the door shut so all worked out alright. Ellie and I got settled in then while Eric ran out to pick up some dinner: Corky's BBQ.

Our second Memphis hotel

As you may have noticed if you can make out Ellie's face in the pictures above, she lost it. It was just too much for her, the poor dear. She was sick, tired, hungry, and just DONE. She had a meltdown so epic, it reminded me of her newborn days. She got so upset during a diaper change that I ended up just holding her, still fully naked, in my lap and rocking and singing to her for the longest time. When I finally convinced her to eat some dinner, she would only do so if snuggled into me, without even lifting her head. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt so terrible for pushing her so far. She was such a trooper for so much of the trip but by Memphis, she was starting to wear thin.

Poor love is so over all this activity and just wants to rest.

Cuddles make it all better.

As soon as Eric returned, we finished Ellie's dinner and got her right to bed. We then ate our BBQ on our bed while watching some great true-crime TV. The BBQ verdict? Quite good. Overall, we were very pleased with all of our meals in Tennessee, and in Memphis in particular!

After dinner and some relaxing, it was off to bed for us, too. We had another rather long day of sightseeing ahead of us, our last of this trip (then with only Santiago's birthday party weekend remaining!).

Coming up next: Have you had enough of Elvis yet? I hope not, because we're headed to Graceland!

To see more pictures of downtown Memphis, click here.

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