A little over a week after our return from the Cycle North Carolina beach weekend, we embarked on a week long journey to Memphis, Tennessee and Orange Beach, Alabama. The latter part of this trip had been long planned, as we were to attend the wedding of Leigh and James. Readers may recall I met James when we worked together at UNC Charlotte and we have stopped twice in Mobile to visit he and Leigh in the last couple of years.
Our original plan was to drive down the Thursday prior to the wedding, scheduled to occur on Saturday May 13th but I soon found out that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are touring this year, rumored to be their last, and happened to be playing in Memphis on Monday the 8th. We’ve been looking for an excuse to visit there for some time and so; with concert tickets purchased we booked a room through Airbnb and made plans to visit the birthplace of Rock and Roll.
A nine-hour plus drive on Sunday meant being on the road around 8am, a goal to shoot for and after this much time spent traveling, fairly easily accomplished. This is a straightforward journey, almost all of it on interstate and so we made good time, Sunday being a good day to navigate the periphery of Atlanta, particularly with the bridge collapse that occurred there in late March. Halfway to Memphis we stopped just outside of Birmingham, Alabama for quick bite at what we thought was a Jack in the Box (to grab a couple of those cheap but good crispy tacos), but turned out to be a local chain named, of all things, Jack’s.
We split a chicken sandwich combo and found it quite tasty, meat nicely grilled and juicy, fries thick but crispy, a good meal to divide in two. A few hours later we pulled up in front of our lodging for the next four nights, Rachel’s Adorable Midtown House.
Located in one of the first neighborhoods of Memphis, this it is an older home filled with the type of fine detail you no longer find in new construction, original wood floors, crown molding and built-ins and a big front porch where we could store our bikes.
Rachel greeted us and provided welcome information about the location and things to see and do while in town. We opened a bottle of white wine and relaxed over a glass or two while we perused Trip Advisor for a recommendation for dinner. We settled on an established Italian place with good ratings and attractive prices, Colettas Restaurant.
It’s an older establishment, a bit run down looking with some quirky, yet endearing interior decorating.
Here is the review I wrote for Trip Advisor:
The many positive reviews for Coletta’s brought us here for dinner during our stay in Memphis and we were glad to did. The decor is definitely dated but in my mind that lends to the appeal of the place, a bit like taking a step into the past. Service was friendly and efficient as we ordered the Lasagna and a small Mushroom Pepperoni Pizza. Best of all are reasonable wine prices, less than $20 for a full carafe of house Chianti. Yes, this isn’t the best Italian I’ve ever had but it was hearty, tasty and left us satisfied with the value it presented.
We returned to the house with a couple of slices of left over pizza we’d enjoy later for a snack, finished off the bottle of wine while watching a movie in our private nook and went to bed, ready for what would be a very busy Monday.
As Paul Simon memorialized in that great song (Grammy in song and record of the year categories) from the album (Grammy for Album of the Year) of the same name (we’re going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, we’re going to Graceland), our destination for the day was the former home of the king, Elvis Presley’s Graceland. For all intents and purposes, this is a theme park with pricing to match; there are essentially three tour options and we chose the middle one, the Elvis Experience Tour at a total cost of $113 including my discounted senior rate (getting old does have its positive outcomes).
This would give us four hours or so of the Mansion itself (a guided tour), exhibits showcasing Elvis’ career, his automobiles, his wardrobe, his gold records and for just $5 more, his airplanes.
With a shade under an hour before our appointed time for the mansion tour, we hit the Elvis the Entertainer Career museum, which was pretty much as the title describes, a year-by-year examination of his career including a staggering array of his many ostentatious jumpsuits.
We made it through the entire exhibit with a few moments to spare and so, feeling a bit peckish and not knowing how long the mansion tour would take, we stopped in at one of the food venues, Gladys’s (named after his Mother), a fast casual concept where we nabbed a pretty good chili dog, drink and bottle of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan beer (for Joanna) for the theme park price of $16.53, about what we paid for sandwich, chips and a drink at the Atlanta Aquarium.
We made our way to start of the mansion tour, which features a short movie about Elvis and the mansion, then filed outside to find a theme park magnitude line waiting to board shuttle buses over to the mansion, a wait that would take roughly thirty minutes.
We eventually boarded the shuttle and a short drive later arrived at the front of the mansion, disembarked and began the tour. Elvis was a complicated guy; there at the beginning of rock and roll, sold an incredible number of records, starred in a staggering number of movies and made tons of money and this was backdrop during the tour.
We finished at the mansion and returned to the main property where we completed our time viewing his large collection of automobiles, motorcycles and utility vehicles, the exhibit Icons: The Influence of Elvis Presley which features artifacts from artists who have been inspired by Elvis including Bruce Springsteen, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton, and many others. And we spent time in every single one of the eight or more gift shops that dotted the property.
Having seen all we could see, we detoured over to the lot that contains his two airplanes, one a 1958 Convair 880 he purchased in April 1975 and named Lisa Marie after his daughter, spending more than $800,000 having the jet remodeled to include a living room, conference room, sitting room, and private bedroom, as well as gold-plated seat belts, suede chairs, leather covered tables, 24-karat gold-flecked sinks and more.
We got in the car and drove back to the house, discussing our visit and our opinions. All in all, it was well worth the money spent, likely a one-time visit with no compelling reason to return. It did give us much more insight into Elvis than I would have thought we’d get and in the end, I concluded that he was a guy from humble roots who never lost his taste for the simpler things in life, loved his family and spending time with them more than anything (his parents lived in the house and helped to run his affairs) and yet used the money he had to decorate in a wildly gaudy and uniquely personal display of good taste gone astray.
We hung out at the house a bit recharging our batteries and then made our way to downtown Memphis and its infamous Beale Street to check it out, grab some dinner and then walk to the Heartbreakers concert. We took Lyft there at a cost of $11.44 and spent a hour or so walking up and down Beale, doing some shopping at A. Schwab’s Dry Goods Store, then grabbing a ‘big ass beer’ to drink on the street, as is allowed and openly encourage there.
With about ninety minutes to kill before the start of the concert, we settled on one of the bar/restaurants on Beale that had received moderately good reviews, the Rum Boogie Café. Although crowded, we managed to get seats at a small table in front of the stage and were thus entertained throughout our meal by the talented wife and husband team of Pam and Terry.
Given how busy the café was our service was quite good and we immediately ordered drinks, for Joanna a Beale Street Boogie (Cruzen Banana, mango and strawberry rum, with Orange and Pineapple Juices and Grenadine) and I the house Hurricane. Being Happy Hour both were reasonably priced, as were the menu items we ordered, a bowl of the Gator Gumbo (hearty Roux based Stew with Celery, Bell Peppers and Onions, Kielbasa Sausage, Chicken, Crab meat, Gator, Catfish and Shrimp and spices) for Joanna and the Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Po Boy (Bacon, Lettuce and Fried Green Tomato Po’ Boy with creamy Horseradish Sauce) for me.
The food was much better than I would have expected from a tourist type bar in a tourist location with the exception of the sandwich, which was mediocre at best, the bread to large for its contents, the bacon overcooked, the results being a sloppy mess as I got about halfway through. But the drinks and the music were good and put us in the right frame of mind for the concert to come.
We walked a block or so over to the FedEx Forum, entered and found our seats in the nosebleed section and settled in for another rewarding visit with Mr. Petty and his Heartbreakers. Concert over, we exited with thousands of other folks and ran into our only snag of the day, trying to connect with our Lyft driver. Most of the time using Lyft or Uber is a trouble free experience but we’ve come to determine that this one type of situation, a crowded post event ride home exposes the inherent shortcomings of the service itself.
In this case, Memphis PD had rerouted traffic, making some two-way streets one way and we were handicapped by not knowing exactly where we were, location wise. And the drivers, not necessarily being seasoned professionals are not adept at handling anything that takes them off course. After waiting twenty minutes, viewing the stop and go progress of our driver who did call us to advise they were lost, we cancelled the ride (with a subsequent $5 cancellation fee) and walked a few blocks away to a quieter intersection, where we then hailed a ride from Uber without much difficulty. The take-away then is that when you find yourself in this type of situation, walk some distance from your original location to an intersection or landmark you can readily identify and then call for the service. Your odds of success will increase dramatically.
Atlanta Bridge Collapse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_85_bridge_collapse
Rum Boogie Café: http://rumboogie.com/
Pam and Terry: http://www.pamandterry.com/