This was a very full day. Started out with a minor disappointment. A large part of the reason I insisted on driving to Memphis instead of flying was this crazy Wizard of Oz themepark. It is now closed to the public, but for a decade or more it was a fully operational park with rides and attractions, all built around Dorothy and her journey through Oz. It was located in the middle of nowhere – Beech Mountain, NC. The park is so remote that the website to this day warns the traveler to ignore GPS directions (as some of the roads in the world’s maps of the area no longer exist, apparently) and instead to rely only on the posted directions on the website. And once one gets there, one has to visit a vendor who is not associated with the park but instead operates a ski resort in the winter to get lift tickets to get up to the park. Yep, the public can only get there in a lift chair. Beech MOUNTAIN indeed. As I said, the park is and has been closed….. except for four Fridays in June and a weekend or two in October, when they open the park for walk throughs only so the public can see what used to was there. In June, the tours are led by a fully gingham clad Dorothy who apparently weaves the tour between the realities of the park’s former life and her own true account of life in Oz. This seemed like a perfect way to spend a vacation day with my resident Oz fanatic.
Anyway, tickets for each Friday’s tours are advertised to go on sale at precisely 9 AM EDT on the Monday of that week. So I got up early (for a vacation day) and sat at the computer, refreshing the screen every few seconds until at last the tickets were on sale. I swear I completed the sign up as fast as my fingers could type, and still, no matter the effort, all tour groups were sold out in less than 90 seconds. Irritated? Moi? You betcha.
After this beginning to our day, we got dressed and headed for the free breakfast at our hotel. We didn’t make that mistake again. Remember the good gravy at the crappy Quality Inn in Dickson? This stuff was born in a bag somewhere. Ick.
We started the day by going to the state’s Arkansas Welcome Center just across the interstate. We got lots of brochures and a few postcards, and more than an earful from the cheery hostess who apparently had orders to stress the fun and meals to be had at that casino we mentioned yesterday. We thanked her and began the day in earnest just driving around downtown and the riverfront area to get our bearings a bit. View of the river and bridge just getting to the riverfront:
This is part of what is called ‘Mud Island’. I guess because it’s in the middle of a famously muddy river:
We didn’t get a chance to get over there and I’m really sorry, because it sounds interesting. There is a scale model (including water) of the lower Mississippi River, pedal boat rentals with great views of the skyline and what looks like a wonderful museum (we are museum geeks). But, I have to say that it doesn’t look very attractive from a distance. When I first saw it from the bridge, I said it looked like WWII bunkers!
We dropped in on the Visitor Center:
...said ‘Hey’ to Elvis, BB King and for whatever reason a giant Welcome Egg:
…then went off to a neighborhood we’d discovered the day before. Peabody Avenue and the environs had some of the most beautiful houses:
This was my favorite:
I took lots of pictures of this one.
She made me walk around this neighborhood. A LOT. I enjoyed the view, but that delta humidity was tough. By the time we returned to the car I felt I had been in a sauna.
Lunch was this:
We had to do this. Leonard’s is THE Memphis BBQ place for my mother and grandmother and I’ve heard about it my entire life. My dear friend, Rachel, also wanted me to go. Now, we probably didn’t get their best BBQ because we chose the buffet, rather than ordering a sandwich or ribs. I liked it better than Mr. Kim did – he was not at all partial to the sauce. But what we both thought was amazing were the BBQ chicken and the side dishes. The dry rub they used on the pork and chicken was extraordinary. Here is a sampling:
These were all my plates. I didn’t finish it all, but I tasted everything. The butterbeans and the soup beans were incredible, as were the collards and baked beans. If I lived in Memphis, I’d be here every week for the vegetables ALONE! Waiting to order:
Next stop was Muddy’s Bake Shop. We weren’t hungry yet, but knew it was only a matter of time:
Mr. Kim was too full to even contemplate cupcakes, but I picked out an assortment. I limited myself to four cupcakes and four cookies.
Around the corner from Muddy’s was Lucchesi’s Ravioli & Pasta Company, a really amazing little Italian Deli/Café. They had an amazing assortment of pastas, cheeses, salads, sandwiches and Italian ingredients. They even had this:
Benton’s is OUR bacon. We order it out of Madisonville TN by the boxful.
Then it was back to the hotel for a quick rest and swim:
…before heading out to Beale Street:
That’s me in the white pants and checked blouse. This was so much fun. Just looking at all the cool signs and hearing music pouring out of all of the joints:
We also saw WC Handy’s home and musicians tucked down a little courtyard:
This is the Daisy Theatre:
It opened in 1936 and is still in operation. That red arch is gorgeous:
We had dinner at Dyer’s:
Famous for frying their burgers in 100 year old grease. The grease is filtered daily (and added to), but never changed out. The burgers are actually submerged in the grease. They don’t turn out to be greasy, really – but they are juicy and incredibly good:
We each ordered double doubles – double meat and double cheese, with fries. I cannot say that it was uniquely the best burger ever, but it was darned tasty! The interior was 50’s neon and vinyl booths, with photos spanning the years then and now. We tried to get good pics but the neon messed with the camera’s focus a bit.
Walking Beale’s two or three blocks, it had a bit of a Bourbon Street vibe to it. There were “yard drinks” and open carry drinks and a store front selling those alcohol Slurpie things that are so ubiquitous in New Orleans. More than once I was glad we were there on a Monday with sparser crowds than would have been there on weekend nights.
I had spent some time before we came to Beale online trying to find info on which clubs had the best music. I had found some music calendars naming groups I didn’t know or course, but also news articles about automatic weapons fire and a teenage death just a week before, just a block away from Beale. As a result, the police were in obvious presence, and the news articles told of new admissions charges to get on Beale on the weekend to keep undesirables away. I thought back to the shopkeeper near Graceland and her near apology about Memphis and Beale.
Signs around Beale informed us of another side of the area that I hadn’t known. The streets we were walking were the site of African American stagings during civil rights marches. Dr. King walked here, and Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young and thousands of names never recorded. After Dr. King was assassinated a few blocks away, the whole neighborhood was torched. It took years to bring it back to the tourist area it has become.
We wandered over to the Peabody Hotel – home of the famous ducks. It is gorgeous! We planned to go back during the day sometime to have afternoon tea and take pictures. We never made it back, so the only picture I got was one of these weird dogs:
I can’t find any information online about them. They are quite unsettling.
We stopped here for a drink and a little music:
We would have kept wandering but the rain was coming fast and hard and the streets were clearing into the clubs. We were lucky to get a nice table in Club 152. The house band was playing, a three man group called Mercury Blvd. And while the blues they played was a bit more southern rock than BB King, it was a true thrill to know that we were sitting on Beale Street listening to music and just absorbing the local feel. All too soon they stopped for the night around 10 PM. Way too early for me – I could have sat there for hours more!