The Great River Road, Part 16: Memphis, TN to Petit Jean SP, AR

Up in Memphis the music’s like a heat wave

White lightening, bound to drive you wild

Mama’s baby’s in the heart of every schoolgirl

“Love me tender” leaves ‘em cryin’ in the aisle

The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true

Always wanting more, he’d leave you longing for…

– Alannah Myles, Black Velvet

September 20, 2015 – Day 22 – Memphis, TN

We awoke this Lord’s Day and headed to worship services at White Station church of Christ in east Memphis. While we typically don’t know anyone at the congregations we visit along the Great River Road, that was not the case this morning. Church members we know at White Station include Dwayne and Sheila Pettie, their son Hunter, and Larry Sisson. Hunter was our son Jason’s college roommate and remains a close friend, and we have been fortunate to cross paths with Dwayne and Sheila on several occasions. Larry was in the same social club (fraternity) with me at Lipscomb University. We enjoyed visiting with these friends and getting caught up on their lives. We had lunch with the Petties and Hunter’s girlfriend, and they invited us to dinner the following night. After lunch, we declared it a day of rest and returned to the RV to chill, play some cards, and rest up for our final day in Memphis.

September 21, 2015 – Day 23 – Memphis, TN

Not Sure This is What the Egyptians Had in Mind
Not Sure This is What the Egyptians Had in Mind

I can’t think of a more interesting store to walk through than a Bass Pro Shop. The one in Memphis is especially interesting, as it’s housed in a 535,000 square foot giant pyramid along the Mississippi River and features a cypress swamp with live alligators, a bowling alley, observation deck, restaurant, taxidermy museum, and a hotel. So our day began there, and we strolled by the fishponds, aquariums, shooting gallery, stuffed bears, and row after row of hunting, fishing, and camping gear. As a guy, it’s difficult to describe how much more enjoyable this store is than an IKEA. Ladies, if you’re looking for an idea for a Christmas present for your man, forego the tie and get him a gift certificate to Bass Pro Shop. Drop him off at the store in the morning when it opens, and pick him up just after it closes. He’ll thank me later. Although we typically do a lot more browsing than buying, we found a good deal there and are now the proud owners of a collapsible propane RV grill!

AT Thru-Hike Preview?
AT Thru-Hike Preview?

We then headed to ground zero in Memphis…Beale Street! The place oozes with culture and history, and with each step we encountered competing sounds and smells. It seems Memphis loves Elvis almost as much as Hannibal loves Twain. If you’re looking for a specific Elvis souvenir, you’ll find it on Beale Street.

Among many good options, we sat down for some catfish at the Blues City Café which features a large eating area and a separate bar and stage. We sat at a table surrounded by three tables with foreign customers. I asked the couple to my left where they were from and they said, “Ecuador”. Amazingly, from the recesses of my mind, I came up with “Quito?” and they smiled and nodded. Geography skills matter. To my right were two German couples. Sadly, despite living in Germany for a total of five years, the only German I remember is Stau (traffic jam), Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) and wie treu sind deine Blätter (how lovely are your branches)…from the song, Oh Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree). Behind us was a French couple. I didn’t talk to them, but did walk past them on my way to go oui-oui. (Sorry.)

We had a very sweet African-American waitress who informed us that the soda machine was broken, so all they had was water or tea. We then listened to her try to explain that to her non-English speaking customers from Ecuador, Germany, and France. Despite multiple attempts, they didn’t understand what the poor waitress was saying. One of the short German guys got irritated with her and responded, “Coca Cola? Coca Cola!” She explained, in words he could not understand, that the soda machine was down and he could have tea or water. Again, he raised his voice and demanded “Coca Cola! Coca Cola!” She was flustered and the situation was tense. I got his attention and, with my best German accent, leaned over and told him in German that he had lovely branches. He quieted down. Foreign language skills matter…and being 6′ 2″.

After eating, we walked around the restaurant and learned of the many famous performers who have graced its stage, including BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams Jr., and Kid Rock. Famous patrons who have enjoyed their grub include President Clinton, Robert Plant, Tom Cruise, Roberts Duvall and DeNiro, Woody Harrelson, James Earl Jones, Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, and Samuel L. Jackson.   We left the restaurant and headed down Beale Street passed several bars, each blaring jazz or rhythm & blues. We ducked into A. Schwab dry goods store, the only remaining original business on Beale Street. Their motto is “If you can’t find it at A. Schwab, you’re probably better off without it!” That motto seemed true until I lost Lil Jan somewhere in the store.

While she continued shopping, I stepped outside by the street and contemplated the beautiful weather, music, food smells, shops, and tourists. I thought to myself, “Memphis sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a pretty cool place.” Just then, an older man standing on the opposite side of the trashcan on which I leaned, started peeing onto the street. Had we been in a restroom, he would have been two urinals over. But we weren’t in a restroom…we were on Beale Street in the middle of the day. I felt relief knowing Lil Jan was inside, but not near the relief felt by the guy standing next to me.

Bison Herd, Shelby Farms
Bison Herd, Shelby Farms

We returned to our car with 3 minutes left on the parking meter (Yes!) and headed for some afternoon exercise at Shelby Farms in east Memphis, one of the twenty largest urban parks in the United States. More than five times the area of New York City’s Central Park, it features lakes with paddleboats, natural forests, wetlands, 10+ miles of hiking/biking trails, a BMX racetrack, an 18-hole disc golf course, horseback riding, a massive playground, and a bison herd! We arrived during a high school cross-country meet, and hiked as runners ran across nearby fields. Had I been in charge, I would have called their meet The Stampede, and would have designed the course to go through the bison herd. A great place to spend the day with family, Shelby Farms has clearly earned its ranking of #8 of 132 Things to Do in Memphis by Trip Advisor.

Feasting in Memphis
Feasting in Memphis

Our final stop of the day was…drum roll…dinner with the Pettie family! Wow! What a feast! Jason, our son, had eaten there before and told us we were in for something special. Boy, was he right. As we talked about our busy day in Memphis, Sheila kept bringing out food, including the best peanut butter dip on the planet. It was great catching up with them and we greatly appreciate their friendship and hospitality.

September 22, 2015 – Day 24 – Petit Jean State Park, AR

We broke camp and headed west across the Mississippi River and into Arkansas. Before heading to Harding University to visit Kyle and Laci and attend the Harding Lectureships, we decided to spend a couple of days at Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas. We’ll review that campground and park in a separate blog.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Memphis, the 3rd of 4 big cities we’d visit along the Mississippi River. Great history, tasty food, legendary music, exciting attractions, and some really cool friends. As Elvis would say, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Big Steve

If Only She'd Do This at Home
If Only She’d Do This at Home

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