Magnificent Memphis

As I crossed the Arkansas state line into Tennessee, I played “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers. I hoped that the song might put me in a good mood in spite of the speed trap ticket I’d just received from a Arkansas trooper in a one horse town with more police than residents.I passed a giant chrome pyramid as I turned south for Graceland, my first stop and wondered if there was anything  to see in Memphis besides Elvis? You can bet your peanut butter and banana sandwich! Memphis is an exciting city with lots to do.

After we did a power tour through Elvis’ estate, we headed straight to The Peabody. We were on a mission and only had twenty minutes to get there. The ducks were marching at five and they were not going to wait for us. The Peabody Hotel was built in 1925 after being moved from it’s 1869 location and as kind of a joke in the 1930s, the general manager and a few of his hunting friends put some live ducks in the fountain of the hotel.The birds were a big hit and started an 80 year tradition. In 1940, the bellman (who had worked as an animal trainer previously) taught the ducks to march. Almost eight decades later, the crowds still gather to watch the ducks march out of the fountain and into the elevator to their rooftop penthouse. You can also catch the ducks at eleven when they first arrive to the fountain. There were hundreds of people lining the upper balcony and filling the entire bar and lobby to witness the spectacle. The show is short and  sweet and much of it is a monologue explaining the history, but the ducks are damn cute.

Across the street from The Peabody is a hamburger joint called the Kooky Canuck. You might have seen it on a Man vs. Food when it was still called The Bigfoot Lodge. The restaurant seems fairly ordinary when you sit down, but it’s claim to fame is the 12 lb. hamburger. Twelve Pounds is just the meat, mind you. Once you’ve added the sides and condiments, the hamburger weighs almost 25 pounds. We ordered the Kookamonga, which was almost 8 lbs with toppings. If you can eat the burger in less than an hour, with no outside help, you get your food free and your photo on the wall of fame. It took the kitchen an hour to make the sandwich and sharing it, we couldn’t even make it through half. It’s just as well. The hamburger is 12,000 calories. If beef isn’t your thang, a ten minute walk takes you to Gus’s Fried Chicken, considered by many to be the best fried chicken in the world. It’s a simple, unassuming place that reminded me of Johnny’s Poboys in NOLA at first glance. The chicken is fantastic and the line to get in attests to the diner’s popularity. If you don’t believe me, open Google maps and type in “Gus”. It’s the first destination to pop up regardless of what city you’re in.

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that the nearby Lorraine Motel was an old school motel that suddenly shut down. The parking lot is bare except a couple of cars from the 60s parked outside. There’s a creepy twilight zone aura around the place since it looks 50 years out of place with the rest of the area. The truth is that the motel  is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s no accident the re-utilized inn was chosen for that purpose. It is the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The museum follows the historical timeline of African slavery to present day with multi-media and various artifacts and is well worth a look. The original interior of the hotel was replaced with the museum except for the rooms that MLK and his party were staying at the time of the shooting. The motel rooms feature the furniture and amenities of the time so that one can imagine what the world was like back then. It’s a powerful location for it’s equality message.

I’m not the kind of person who hangs out in sporting goods stores but the largest Bass Pro Shop in the world is a tourist destination in itself and it’s right in the heart of Memphis. The sixth largest pyramid in the world houses the giant retail shop but was originally built in 1991 as a sports arena. It was vacant for 10 years until Bass Pro turned it into their flagship store complete with bowling alley, hotel rooms, restaurants, aquariums, alligator ponds, and …..the list goes on. It’s an experience that blends retail with an outdoor lodge that must be seen to be appreciated. For $10, you can take the elevator to the apex of the pyramid (you can’t do that in Egypt). You can make your own custom sunglasses, check out the waterfowl museum, or just marvel at the amazing job that someone did in transforming a sports venue into a Louisiana swamp.

Beale Street is the place to go if you want to experience Memphis nightlife. It looks like a miniature Bourbon Street at first glance. The tourist area only spans a few blocks, but it’s full of shops, bars and little eateries and… it’s where Elvis used to hang out. Memphis is the birthplace of rock and roll and the R&B played on this little street shaped the music we listen to today. BB King and other local artists created what is known as the Memphis Blues and Beale is now officially known as “The Home of the Blues”  If you love music, the city has lots of iconic spots to visit that are connected to Beale street in one way or another. You can visit Sun Records, Stax Music, The Rock and Soul Museum and of course Graceland.

You could say there’s been 3 famous “kings” that shaped Memphis. The King of Rock and Roll, BB King and Martin Luther King. They all have had enormous influence over our history and music. You can visit the marvelous city and see for yourself.

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