Well, the motel was pretty crappy, but the free breakfast was ok – the sausage gravy tasted like an actual person made it! We are glad to be back on the road:
One thing that not getting a room in Nashville did for us was to put us an hour closer to Memphis, so the drive was a breeze. As we drove down the interstate, we couldn’t help but notice that every single interstate exit had signs advertising a state park. More accurately, most exits proclaimed TWO state parks. Per exit. That seemed inordinate, as I knew the states to be roughly the same size. (Hey, numbers is my thing – TN is 3% larger than VA in square miles.) Virginia has 36 state parks, all of a pretty good size. As it turns out, Tennessee has 58. And apparently nearly all of them are just off of I-40.
Geography is not my strong point. I’m pretty good about my own state and places I’ve spent a lot of time in, but totally ignorant of most of the world. So the geography of Tennessee could have been Outer Mongolia to me. I know it is west of NC and that Bristol TN is on the VA border because of the whole Bristol TN/Bristol VA thing, but that’s really it. Before it was drawn to my attention, I had no idea that Memphis was as far west and south as you can go in the state and that Arkansas is smack up against it. When I was checking the printout of the hotel reservation, I was aghast to realize that Mr. Kim had reserved a room in West Memphis ARKANSAS! I assumed he’d just typed in ‘Memphis’ and thought West Memphis meant TN. Well, of course, I looked on a map and West Memphis AK is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. Our hotel was about 5 minutes from downtown Memphis. In my defense, Mr. Kim hadn’t actually noticed that it was in Arkansas and freaked out a little when I told him. Driving into our hotel (a Ramada), we were a little unsettled by the neighborhood behind it. Lots of boarded up houses and derelict buildings. To say nothing of the seedy casino just across the interstate from the front door. But the hotel was very nice – swimming pool and a big, clean room. The first thing that we did was find my Aunt Mildred’s house:
It turns out that her neighborhood is in an up-and-coming, newly trendy area called Cooper-Young. The houses are adorable and there are lots of cool little shops and restaurants in the area. Some of the houses:
Down at the end of Aunt Mildred’s street was the Fairgrounds. This was a fantastic place at one time. Here’s a link to a wonderful website with all the details:
I remember the amusement park best. And my Granddaddy had a wonderful story about my mom when she was a little girl. It seems that he took her down there a lot when she would come to Memphis from Washington DC to visit him. He taught Momma how to swim in the public pool there one summer. One time, she wanted to ride one particular horse on the carousel. He told her “no” because it was too tall for a little girl. He put her on a smaller one and got off to watch. Now, stubbornness is a strong trait in that family. Granddaddy had it, Momma has it and it is rampant in The Child. As soon as the carousel got going, Momma climbed down from her little horse and got on the one that she’d originally wanted to ride. Granddaddy, scared out of his mind, jumped on the twirling ride, grabbed her off her stallion and jumped off. Then she got a spanking. Probably one little swat (my Granddaddy talked tough, but was a softie). She was highly insulted and wouldn’t talk to him all day. But later that night, when they’d gone to bed, she slipped her little hand into his giant one and said, “I do love you, Daddy”. When my Granddaddy told this story, he always had to take his handkerchief out and wipe his face (told you he was a softie). The fairgrounds are gone, but the area is still open land and home to the Liberty Bowl:
We ended up NOT eating 3 meals a day. I’d picked out about 13 restaurants and a half dozen bakery/doughnut/snack-type places for our five day trip, but our aging stomachs couldn’t take it all. Especially not with all the cookies and goodies we kept buying and squirreling away in the hotel room. So today, we opted for late lunch/early dinner at The Cupboard:
Just beyond it was some enormous George Rodrigue Blue Dog murals:
I’ll be posting a food-centric post at eGullet.org soon and so I won’t be putting all the food on here, but here’s a taste:
That would be chicken and cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, field peas and in the separate bowl – the best fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had. Mr. Kim chose catfish:
Again, the best we’ve ever had. Agreed – I have never tasted catfish this good. Corn meal coat, not a speck of flour, and light and fresh fish. If I was a regular it’s about all I’d ever need to order. This was a regular family restaurant, but there was one thing I’d never seen before in a place of that type – produce for sale in the lobby:
If we hadn’t been breaking our trip in NC, I’d have gotten some on our last day! Leaving the restaurant, we passed a couple of interesting looking buildings. The first was this all white place that looked like it was empty:
I’d love to know what it was used for originally. The next surprised my grandmother when we showed it to her. She said there wasn’t anything like it in Memphis when she lived there:
I bet not! This temple was on a side road near The Cupboard. Next door was an old apartment house with chickens in the yard. The old couple that was sitting in the yard waved and called hello and said “take a look!” The grounds and statuary were amazing:
Here, I have a confession to make. I know that we committed heresy, but we went to Memphis and didn’t tour Graceland. I know, I know. But we had so little time and there was so much we wanted to see (and EAT). Graceland can take a long time, depending on the crowds and I just didn’t see spending two hours looking at a tacky mansion with a bunch of crazy people. Besides, Elvis wasn’t even home. I know that lots of people will be shocked, but we are the same people who went to Paris and didn’t see the Louvre or Versailles, so we can take the heat.
We did, however, go TO Graceland. It’s odd – the road the Graceland is actually is really rundown. And I’m not talking about all the Elvis-oriented shops and sites. It’s just a lot of empty lots, junky stores and businesses and closed places. Insert a mental image of a commercial area where even the pawn shops, title loan shysters, and check cashing stores have given up and boarded the windows. But the neighborhood just behind Graceland is really nice, well-kept homes. Anyway we got to see his plane:
MUCH bigger than we expected. The gates:
All along the front of the property is a beautiful fieldstone wall (Mr. Kim in front of said wall):
the entirety of which is COVERED in crazy-fan graffiti. Even from France:
This was the best picture we could get of the house. It is actually a lovely looking house (at least on the outside) and the setting is beautiful:
We walked from the gates back to our car by way of a gift shop. Needless to say it had all things Elvis. But it also had a surprising array of Wizard of Oz items, which thrilled Mrs. Kim to no end. The shop owner chatted me up as we paid for the post cards (after we spent 30 minutes looking at everything she had) and all was cordial and calm until we walked away from the counter. She asked casually “Where are you staying?” And Kim replied that we were in West Memphis Arkansas. Well, the next few minutes can only be described as a tourism intervention. The lady bolted from around the counter and stepped between us and the door, her face expressing genuine alarm and concern. She needed to know how we had come to be staying in such a place, and Kim told her with a laugh about me using a travel site and not noticing the state, etc. The lady suggested with a little force that I should consider calling the travel site and asking for a refund and moving ourselves across the Mississippi into Memphis. We were cordial but what do you say to that? Anyway, she began telling us all the great things to do in Memphis, like Stax and Sun records and of course Beale Street. When she got to this last bit, her voice got quiet, and she told us that Beale Street wasn’t really as dangerous as its reputation suggested, that it is probably one of the safest places in the whole city to be. Her tone was apologetic, like she had to justify the city’s existence or culture to us. It seemed mildly strange (I hadn’t heard anything about crime on Beale to this point) but we thanked her and left.
We were ready for a snack and, thanks to our dear neighbor, Courtney, we knew where to go:
She texted me to let me know that Alton Brown said that their glazed doughnuts were one of the best he’s ever had. So we had to try a couple:
What do you mean, that’s not a couple? I meant a couple of the plain glazed!! Fat boys do NOT order just two doughnuts. The other four are filled with various things. Here’s the glazed:
It was good. Really good. But you know what? Country Style doughnuts – within walking distance of my house is every bit as good – maybe better (certainly bigger). Nice to know, huh?