Monday, March 27, 2006

"It's hard out here for a pimp..."


Hola tout le monde! So, now is a good time to open up iTunes and start playing "Walkin' in Memphis", "Pride", or "It's hard out here for a Pimp"...cause I'm about to give you the rundown on our long weekend getaway!

First, I need to give a shout-out to my friend Molly, who told me about www.site59.com, which is by far the best last-minute/low-fare vacation site I ever have gone to.

Now, back to the matter at hand. Over Spring Break, I was stuck in Austin for various and sundry reasons (procrastination being by and large the main one). I didn't think I'd be bitter about it at first, but the more into Spring Break I got, the more annoyed I became that I wasn't somewhere exciting on vacation like everyone else.

So Raul and I decided we may as well beat the airport craziness from SXSW and Spring Break vacationers, and take a long weekend somewhere the week *after*. Thus began spending hours on the internet, trying to figure out where to go and what to do. We tossed around Seattle, we tossed around Boston, we tossed around Washington DC and Albuquerque...and finally, grace à site59, we decided on Memphis.

Memphis is suddenly getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to that little film Hustle and Flow, whose theme song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (sung by Memphis natives 3-6 Mafia) won an Oscar.

I also have somewhat of a history with Memphis. Here's a brief background:

We went there for a couple of swim meets when I was a kid. I remember going to some mall with an ice skating rink and feeling bitter because my mom wouldn't let me skate.

During another memorable Memphis swim meet trip, we went to visit some of my mom's old friends from back in the day. Her friend Jan gave me a Moon Pie, which I gobbled up with sheer delight.
Then, Jan's ex-husband Jose came over to take us to Graceland. Jan told me I could go with them, or stay with her and eat more Moon Pies.

I chose the Moon Pies.

It wasn't until later that I regretted this decision. True to her word, Jan fed me Moon Pies, and later, Super Bubble gum. But when I saw a picture of the music notes on the Graceland gates, I knew I had made a huge mistake.

Damn you Moon Pie, and your tempting marshmallow-y goodness!

Another Memphis memory is from high school. We stopped there on a band trip my senior year. We ate some BBQ and walked around Beale St. Some kid on the trip went to the Peabody and bought champagne glasses, which he immediately broke as he got back on the bus.

Finally, I have driven through Memphis numerous times on my way to and from South Bend, Indiana. I always passed the Graceland exit and, with the Moon Pie/Graceland memory still raw, I was always tempted to stop and take a look, but never did. Don't ask me why. Instead I chose to play "Pride" as I crossed the Mississippi River (which became a tradition every time I passed through Memphis).

So there's the background. And now, here's the breakdown. For your convenience I'm going to break it down by day, 3-6 Mafia style:

Day One: It's deserted out here for a pimp.

*After an uneventful (but safe, and DIRECT flight), Raul and I set out to claim our bags. We follow the sign, only to see we are leaving all physical signs of a baggage claim. So we turn around, ignore the sign and go downstairs to what looks like a baggage claim...only to find out that this area is for Delta passengers. We finally decide to follow the signs to Northwest, and end up walking through a really creepy deserted hallway. Just as we begin to think this is all a trap, we find the baggage claim. We get our bags and hop on the shuttle to Hertz.

*Fill out the rental car paperwork. The Hertz agent informs us it's an extra $9/day if both of us drive. I'm too cheap to pay that, so we decide I'll be the primary driver and save the money. Even though we were down for a compact car, the Agent tells us we'll be getting a "baby SUV."

*My heart quickly fills with hope and delight as I see a shiny black Toyota Matrix sitting in the parking lot. My heart just as quickly shatters into a million pieces as someone drives it away. Then my heart doesn't know what to think as we realize our "Baby SUV" is actually a big pink Ford Escape. I begin to regret not paying the extra $9/day to have Raul drive.

*We arrive at the Memphis Hotel Plaza and Suites, and brace ourselves for what is to come...happily, all is well.

Background: The hotel had gotten about a million shady reviews on TripAdivisor, and one good one, saying it had recently come under new ownership and was now ok. We chose to put our faith in that one review (yikes!).

*We decide to get the Memphis party started and head to Sun Studios...only to find out it is closing early for some sort of something. As a consolation prize, we ask the guy working there to recommend a good BBQ place, and he sends us to The BBQ Shop. I highly recommend it.

*After dinner we head to the FedEx Forum for a little Memphis Grizzlies action. Because we're so early, we decide to walk around downtown a bit. Oddly enough, the whole area seems completely deserted:


The whole experience is pretty eerie, and even though we're reminded of the streets of London in the movie 28 Days Later, we chaulk it up to people staying at home to watch Memphis play in the NCAA bball tournament. We hope so anyway.

*After walking the deserted streets, we head back to the FedEx Forum and ascend the steps to our nosebleed seats. Since the arena wasn't too crowded we hope they'll ask everyone to move down a section, but alas que non.

*We become totally overstimulated by a variety of music, trivia, games, a crazy announcer, and...oh yeah, a basketball game. God bless the NBA.

*Hooray! The Grizzlies win!

*Get stuck in crazy traffic on the interstate. I do something I despise (not on purpose, mind you) which is to pass everyone in another lane and then try to butt in front of them. (I think it was the SUV that made me do it.)

*Finally get back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Day Two: It's musical out here for a pimp...
*We start the day off early, heading straight for Graceland. Again stimulating our 28 Days Later fears, we park our pink SUV in a deserted parking lot:

*Make our way inside, buy our tickets, and board the shuttle for Graceland. To our weird surprise, Graceland (in addition to being located in a shady area) is located right next to the highway. And is totally nondescript. Weird.

*With our audio tour guide, make our way through the house. One word can sum up most of the items on display: TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACKY! (Although I have to say it was pretty cool to see a real live Grammy.)

*Finally arrive at the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his mother, father and grandmother (?) are buried. I'll refrain from any redneck buried-in-the-backyard jokes. Hee.

*Return to the Ticket Office and hit the gift shops. Sadly, nothing is sufficiently tacky or cheap enough for me.

*Leave Graceland and head to Sun Studios, where music greats such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis once recorded.

*Our tour guide ends up being the same guy who recommended the BBQ shop. Sadly, I don't think he recognizes us.

*During the tour, some eager tourist (who had evidentally been waiting like a kid with a good show-and-tell story) blurts out, "My dad's friend went to high school with Elvis!"

*To which the cool tour guide responds, "Great" and continues with the tour. Hee.

*The tour culminates in the tiny one-room studio. Highlights include a demonstration of Johnny Cash's "percussion" in "Walk the Line" (created by a dollar bill in the guitar strings), standing on the "X" that marks the spot where Elvis once stood, and pretending to lick the same microphone just like Elvis did back in the day. Sigh...

*Leave Sun Studios happy, content and HUNGRY.

*Alas, there does not seem to be any place around to eat...literally.

*Finally decide to turn around and go back to a sub shop I had spotted earlier. As we pull into the parking lot, I notice it serves "Subs and Chinese food". This reminds me of those "Cajun/Chinese" food places they have in every mall across America. I get a little concerned but am too hungry to care.

*Order some food. Sit down and watch a gigantic big screen t.v. that's playing karaoke and music videos. Excellent. We also enjoy the lovely view of a pile of rubble from a knocked down building across the street.

*Food is...not so good (for me anyway).

*Leave with a stomachache and head to STAX, aka Soulsville USA.

*Take a trip through the history of soul. Highlights include gettin' funky with the dancers from Soul Train and checking out Isaac Haye's pimped out ride.

*Take the Memphis "scenic route" down Mclemore and head to the Lorraine hotel, where MLK was assassinated. Today the location houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

*Get a kick out of the poor high school students who are evidentally having a marathon history lesson whilst sitting on the cold hard ground in the bone-chilling wind ("Turn to page 264!").

*Head home. Get stuck in the crazy traffic jam again, but this time I decide not to assert my SUV power à la Marge Simpson.

*Still reeling from the sub/chinese food experience, we decide to have dinner near the hotel. End up at Perkins, where I relive my memories from the Midwest, but sadly we miss the early bird special.

Day Three: It's literary out here for a pimp...
*Get up, head for breakfast. Raul has his first unforgettable Cracker Barrel experience. Sadly, he turns down the opportunity to buy the "Big Dude" hat available for sale in the country store.

*Head down I-55 to Oxford, where William Faulkner's Rowan Oak home awaits.

*Tour the home.

*Putter around downtown Oxford.

*Drive around Ole Miss. I decide to count the number of Rebel flags I spot around town, but keep forgetting.

*Head back to Memphis for dinner. The night before, Raul miraculously found an article about 3-6 Mafia, in which they discussed their favorite BBQ joint, Interstate BBQ. We decide to check it out.

*Get a table next to the t.v. so we can catch LSU vs. UT basketball, and have some good eats. I order the BBQ sandwich, as recommended by 3-6 Mafia, while Raul samples the BBQ Spaghetti, also a 3-6 recommendation.

*Leave Interstate full and happy but a little tired of BBQ.

*Decide to check out the Memphis burbs and head to the mall, where we see the new Denzel Washington movie, Inside Man. Pretty good.

Day Four: It's gospel out here for a pimp!
Background: So, when Raul and I were planning our little trip, we learned that Mr. Soul himself, Al Green, was a minister and had his own church. All the info we read said that tourists were welcome to attend services, but there was no guarantee the Reverend Al Green himself would be there.

And, so:

*With both of us being Catholic and used to the one hour system (shorter, if you leave right after communion), the thought of having to sit through a 3-hour service and not even getting to see Al Green makes both of us queasy. We decide to bite the bullet and take a chance anyway.

*Arrive at the Full Gospel Tabernacle. Lo and behold! Reverend Al Green is there!

*For the next three hours we are treated to an energetic gospel concert, followed by the story of David and Goliath. The hell, fire and brimstone surprisingly is kept to a minimum.

*Raul is brave enough to attempt a photo of Al (after he gave permission to all the tourists to take one), but sadly my camera does not want to cooperate.

*After the show, erm, I mean church service, we head back downtown for a quick jaunt up Beale. This time, there are plenty of people around and live music in the streets.

*We decide to run to the Peabody hotel to see the infamous ducks in the lobby fountain. I manage to take a couple pictures before the little kids chase them away with their grubbing and grabbing.

*Eat a sandwich.

*Drink some Starbucks.

*Head back to the pink SUV for our last ride of the trip: Destination Airport.

*Arrive safely in Austin.

********************************************************************************
And thus concludes our trip summary. Here are my final thoughts:

*While Memphis appears on the outside to be a pretty run down city, it's actually pretty awesome. The music history alone makes it worth the visit...I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner.

*It really is hard out here for a pimp.

And now, sadly, I must get back to reality (Thesis? What thesis?).

2 Comments:

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Looks like it was a tad sunnier at Rowan Oak during your visit than mine... how'd y'all like it?

 
At 11:00 PM, Blogger Court said...

Oh yeah...beeyoutiful weather...

It was pretty cool! Very country designish...

 

Post a Comment

<< Home