10 minutes in Memphis

We’d spent the day in Arkansas — hours on a hypnotic tunnel of golden trees known as Highway 40. I had begun loving the fall foliage in Oklahoma, but I was almost over it after a state-and-a-half of seeing the solid wall, with the occasional yellow Waffle House sign popping up. The trees created an orange barrier, and I wondered what was beyond them that I couldn’t see. And I wondered if any of the other drivers were floating in and out of the same autumnal trance.

My carrot, my goal to get through the state, was Memphis, Tennessee. Graceland, baby — home of the rock ‘n’ roll king in all of it’s glorious gaudiness — was all I wanted to see. But we were in traffic, sandwiched between big rigs and those flipping trees. It was getting dark. Would Graceland be open? I was on the phone with Maggie as we sat still on the freeway. “I don’t think you can see Graceland from the street,” she said. Disappointment. Not having showered since California, we didn’t really feel up to doing a tourist thing; we just wanted to see it. A picture, please?

We didn’t make it to Memphis until after 9 that night. There would be no Graceland in 2011. But after traffic and trees and the entire state of Arkansas, I fought my sister for a detour. Maggie had told us about historic Beale Street in Memphis, and I was determined to stop. I needed neon lights if I couldn’t step on the king’s lawn.

It was a quiet night on Beale, but the jazz music still blared from every door and a man played his horns in a courtyard. Thank you, Memphis. We tried to find parking — a tough task when you’re pulling a U-Haul in a busy city. I rounded a few blocks and pulled into a $10-a-spot, pay-at-the-machine lot. I only had one bill, though, one $10 bill. Problem, because, um, we took two spots. The sister, who was annoyed by now and not willing to contribute to my parking fund, had no intention of getting out of the car (crazy, I know) … she had her mind set on three hours north, our first hotel room in Nashville. I paid for one of the spots, switched my sweatshirt for a sweater (yes, sweatpants and flip-flops stayed), and promised I’d be back to the car in minutes.

Minutes was all I had. I snapped away with digital and film (coming soon), and had to rush back as the sister’s texts started buzzing my phone: “A cop keeps flashing his lights at me — hurry!” Seriously. Doesn’t $10 get me at least 10 minutes in Memphis?

So this is what I saw as I rushed around land of blues that jams until 5 in the morning. One day I will go back. One day I will sit in one of these clubs. I will drink beer from one of those bars. I will try the gumbo. And on that same trip, I will get my picture of Graceland.

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8 Responses to 10 minutes in Memphis

  1. cindy deluz says:

    Oh Man, this place deserves more than 10 minutes! Love the neon lights and the jazzy energy. I’d get a 5 oz. beer here any day of the week! Very cool! Love your pics, really captured the energy of the place.

  2. A fun read and gorgeous pics . . .

  3. adventures says:

    You captured Beale street’s flare and draw. The music is beyond compare and the bustling of people going from joint to joint is energizing. I loved Beale street. I always said that when I went back, I’d take my girls with me 🙂

    Graceland is a wonderful place to meet new people that have a common bond. Everyone visiting will be the biggest Elvis fan alive 🙂

    I do hope you get to go back soon 🙂

  4. Steve says:

    Great photos and article! This would be a grand adventure for many music lovers. Hope you get to return very soon, and see Graceland like you wanted to.

  5. Love the neon glitz. Has an Art Deco reminder to it all and certainly a unique charm. If you think it is charming I suppose. Well it is for me anyway.

  6. Maggie says:

    I’m so glad that you got to at least see Beale Street. I think old dark wood lined bars are one of the many charms of the Midwest and the South.
    When we drive across the country, we will for sure stop and see Graceland! It is way cool!

  7. Went there about 5 years ago. Spent many hours on Beale Street, Sun Recording Studio, Graceland, The Rock & Soul Museum and The Stax Records Museum. Met several musicians in Memphis. Rode one of the paddle boats along the Mississippi River. Went twice that year. February and then August. Very humid in August. Feb weather similar to Lodi in Feb. Was stationed at Blytheville AFB, Arkansas 1969-1971. Lee F. You took beautiful pictures of Beale Street.

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