Youngest son and I went to Memphis for a couple of days this week. Memphis would not rank up there as one of my favorite cities. My memories of the place are framed with waves of uncomfortable, inescapable heat (and I like to be hot) and a downtown area that doesn’t know what to do with itself, except the part that does know – Beale Street – which is short, touristy and self-conscious.
Hey! Great idea for a trip!
Well, see..here it is. Bigger brother is at camp this week, and so a day trip was in order. Memphis does have a zoo which is fairly well-regarded, so Animal Guy up and went.
Memphis is only three hours from here now (since they finished I-22) and it could be done without an overnight, but considering A) I wanted to do the zoo in the morning because of the heat which makes both us and animals less comfortable and B) there were a couple of other sights I wanted to see – I opted for an overnight.
I used Priceline for the first time in years, and did pretty well. The Crown Plaza in Memphis East for $94, taxes and breakfast included. It’s not downtown (I didn’t want to spend $200) and after I won the blind bid, I looked at the reviews…which were terrible. Oh. Great. Well, it’s only for one night, and all we are going to do is sleep there.
(But to save you suspense…it was fine. The room was a bit dated and things were a little scrungy, but the staff was great, the breakfast was fine, and the area was not nearly as sketchy as the reviews indicated. In fact..not sketchy at all. I thought I had honed my review-reading critical skills to read behind the lines of reviewer’s expectations, but I failed this time. Bottom line: it was fine. Especially for under a hundred dollars, free parking, internet and breakfast.)
First order of business was…the Bass Pro Shop. Yes, we have one here, but for those of you who don’t know, the Bass Pro Shop in Memphis is in an unusual location:
It’s the Pyramid, built in 1991, with sporadic and varied useage from that point until the store was opened in 2014. Interestingly enough, the idea of erecting pyramids in Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi had been around since the 50’s.
Michael remembered it from the last time we popped through Memphis a couple of years ago, and really wanted to go. So, since that was easy to find – sure.
If you’ve ever been to a Bass Pro Shop, it’s pretty much the same experience, except bigger and with a hotel and a couple of alligators.
Well, it’s free parking (not free elevator to the top – $10/adults $5/kids) and cool inside. Not a bad first stop. And it provides me, one more time, to wander around and think…if a visitor to our country wanted to see something quintessentially American…this would be the place to take them.
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We then went to lunch at Central Barbecue, which M had remembered from our last trip, and wanted to revisit. It’s probably not the best barbecue in Memphis, but it’s famous, and he likes it. It’s also right across from the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum. We didn’t go into the museum (we have our own excellent Civil Rights museum here which he’s visited at least three times…plus the MLK museum in Atlanta fairly recently) – but we did go over to the site, read the placards, and talk about the event.
Image from Snapchat – amywelborn2
The rest of the afternoon was music centered. We did the Sun Records tour and the Gibson Guitar Factory Tour. Both were excellent and well worth your time and money. (Which wasn’t much – I think the Sun Records tour was $13 for me and Michael was free. Gibson was ten apiece).
The tour guide at Sun was lively without being awkward – sometimes a hard balance for tour guides to pull off – thoroughly comfortable with what he was doing and of course deeply knowledgeable about the music. You begin in an upstairs space which holds displays and where he talks about Sam Phillips and the origins of the studio/label. You then move downstairs to the studio, and move into Elvis/Cash/Perkins/Lewis etc. The studio is still used, which I didn’t know. The actual piano that Lewis and all would have used is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but this is the same model.
The Gibson tour involves a bit more walking! In the shop I saw that most guitars were priced for a piano that I’m currently shopping for, and touring the plant, you see why. It’s all hand-crafted, meticulously. We took the 4pm tour, and there was still a lot of work going on at almost every work station, but I would say that if you wanted to see the place operating at a peak of activity, go earlier in the day if you can.
Again, great guide, who could talk to the purists and experts in the group with ease.
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After that, we headed to the river – to Tom Lee Park. Tom Lee was an African-American man who, in 1925, despite being a non-swimmer, rescued dozens from a wrecked riverboat. You can read more about him here, in this excellent article.
We then drove over in the direction of the hotel, with a stop at Overton Park, where we drove around, walked a bit, and mostly spotted Pokemon Go players…
Dinner was more barbecue at this place – better than Central. Great ribs.
We survived our motel stay, got up the next morning to see..clouds. Heavy ones. Okay. Perfect zoo day. Well, it turned out fine. We scoped out the enclosed exhibits before we went and were ready to dash from one to the other in the storms.
It’s a very nice zoo – the entrance being Egyptian-themed, naturally, and very impressive. Their new Hippo exhibit is pretty good, and Michael was particularly impressed with the “Creatures of the Night” exhibit, which was, indeed, excellent, even though each of the three times we went inside, I initially felt as if I were going to fall over, the contrast from bright sunlight (by that time) to the darkness being so sudden and strong. But yes – it was interesting. Lots and lots of bats. Various African and Latin American mammals I’d never heard of (but of course Michael had). An aardvark. Armadillos. Sloths.
I had wanted to do one more barbecue meal, but by the time we were done with the zoo, it was three, and I was just ready to get that 3-hour drive back home over and done with.
Back by 6:30…all is well.
Oh, and always something Catholic. This is a sign in the China exhibit regarding Pere David’s Deer. So interesting.
See..missionaries did some good back in the day. It wasn’t all just imposition of European cultural and spiritual norms. Whew. Good to see.
Remember, to follow along… stay tuned on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for that.
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