“Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane, touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain…When I was walking in Memphis, I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale…Walking in Memphis, but do I really feel the way I feel.” – Marc Cohn
Miles traveled: 6.0 (estimated)
It’s day 2 in Memphis, so I took the liberty of sleeping in until 9am. Craziness. Once I read a chapter over a nice hot cup of coffee, I planned my route for the day. Today was a walking day and after all was said and done, I ended up walking about 6 miles round trip. In flip-flops. Because I am Southern and I can. Also because my other shoes were in the Jeep and I didn’t feel like asking to hotel to pull it around for some sneaks. But mainly because my feet prefer the flop. What an obnoxious opening paragraph.
Anywho. This was another educational day, so my apologies to those who thought this blog post was going to be about how I walked into a studio, cut a new single, and formed a new band. My first stop of the day after having a nice walk along the waterfront, was The Cotton Museum off of Union Avenue (see what I did there? Bringing in another lyric of “Walking in Memphis” – subtle). Now as a Southerner, I have always been educated on the importance of cotton with respect to the history of the South. On the bluffs of Memphis along the Mississippi river, there was a large plant as Memphis was a pretty major shipping port for both cotton and the slave trade. This is dating back to the early 1800s. Cotton was a significant part of this city and the economy and the Memphis Cotton Exchange played a big role. The museum walked you through the early history of cotton, including the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, the history of the land and the blues, and the people who worked the land. It also showed the evolution of technology in the cotton industry (don’t normally put technology and cotton together, but hey). So all in all, pretty neat. A nice, tame way to kick off the day. Fun fact #1: Between 114 and 123 million cotton bales are processed annually around the world. Fun fact #2: one full-sized bale of cotton can produce 215 pairs of jeans. You can thank me later when you win jeopardy off a cotton question.
I continued my walk through downtown and made my way over to the Gibson guitar factory. My entrance to Gibson was perfectly timed with the torrential downpour! The “Walking in Memphis” lyric at the header is making more sense now, isn’t it. Commence the coolest behind the scenes factory tour ever. EVER. I have walked several manufacturing facilities in my days of Corporate America, and I’ve seen some pretty neat products and processes (hello unmanned air vehicles and the 787 Dreamliner fuselage), but this was beyond cool. I mean I was watching Gibson luthiers, behind the shield of some pretty saucy safety goggles, essentially hand-craft some of the most sought after and finest guitars in the world. Such an awesome opportunity to get a inside look at the intricate process of binding, neck-fitting (in which the guy hand-sands, by look and feel, each neck – so no one is exactly the same), painting, buffing, and tuning that creates these incredible musical instruments.
The Memphis plant, strictly crafts semi-hollow bodied and custom guitars, which includes the famed Les Paul model. Now if you have ever seen a Gibson, you’ll note that most have a natural wood ‘trim’ (I forgot the technical term for it, but it’s mostly cosmetic according to the shop floor gal, but you can see what I mean in some of the pictures). This design feature happens post paint, and the guitars are literally hand-scraped by a group of ladies with small razor blades. Not kidding. Perfectly straight and hand-scraped. Crazy. Major kudos to those ladies. Unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed in the plant, but I did grab some shots of the finished products in the shop. And no, I did not buy one. The beauty of my not being musically inclined is that I saved myself a couple thousand bucks today! If I played, I just cannot imagine walking out of there empty handed – they were stunning instruments.
Next I headed over to the National Civil Rights Museum, south of Beale Street, which is actually built within the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated back in 1968. Kind of surreal to walk up to a place as historically impactful as that. This was a really well set-up museum. You first walk through the history of the transatlantic slave trade, which lasted 366 years and moved roughly 12.5 million Africans across the Atlantic making it the largest forced migration in history. The you step through a very comprehensive exhibit on the politics of the civil war, post civil war, and the civil rights movement, including many of the significant Supreme Court decisions around segregation and voting and the sit-ins lead by many students and activists. There were many great exhibits highlighting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the significant march he led into DC (where he makes his famous “I have a dream” speech), and the well known march from Selma and the events that followed. As you walked through the Selma piece, you literally marched up a path into the next part of the museum, which discusses the reasons Dr. King was in Memphis in 1968 and the days leading up to his death. This particular part of the museum is actually in rooms 306 and 307 of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King spent much of his time in his last days. Surreal.
I really enjoyed the museum, learning about the history, and how long it took to get where we are today. It is certainly not a pleasant part of our history, but as you walk through it you realize the strength of those who fought for what was right, and that was empowering. When I first walked into the museum, a kind young man greeted me by the name of William Y. He was a student at a historically black college and was working at the museum during his summer break. While we waited for the security guard to return, he asked me where I was visiting from. After learning I was from Charleston, he simply said, “You come from a strong city, and I sure hope you are proud to call it home. Seeing how Charleston came together after the shooting gave me hope.” William Y, you are a class act and it was my pleasure to talk with you today, even if it were only for a few minutes.
The reality is that we still have a ways to go and there is progress that needs to be made. I am proud to call Charleston – Charleston Strong.
The only way I could think to end today and say cheers to William Y was over more Memphis BBQ. I flip-flopped over to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (a recommendation from William Y, in fact) and I was a little skeptical at first as I turned down a questionable alley, and proceeded down into a basement. This place has been around for ages, and you can tell. You can smell the smoked meat as you walk down the stairs! I sat at the bar, mainly because I’m learning it is less weird to sit at the bar when you are solo versus the table for four, and was greeted by another kind gentleman named Lenny. I asked Lenny for his recommendation for a non-rib loving person and he laughed at me saying, “Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a rib person either!” I was in good hands! I ordered a local brew, a Ghost River Golden Ale, a glass of ice water, and Lenny’s recommendation with a potato salad starter. The hands-down, best potato salad I have ever had (and I have eaten pounds and pounds of it in my Southern lifetime for sure) is made by the one and only Granny Price (my brother-in-law’s granny) in Batesburg, SC. So I’m a pretty tough tater salad critic. This potato salad was excellent, not as good as Granny’s, but quite tasty. Next up was the main event of dry-rubbed, chopped chicken (dry rub is their specialty at Rendezvous) with sides of slaw and beans. Great and delicious bbq chicken and very good slaw, but let’s talk about the beans. You know the sides are likely going to be pretty good, when they only have 3 – potato salad, slaw, and beans. The baked beans were like heaven on a spoon. Ah-mazing. These baked legumes of luxury are proof that not all beans are the same. Absolute bean perfection. Excellent way to close out my stay in Memphis!
Tomorrow I am off to a new state with a visit to a National Park, so stay tuned for more. Looking forward to returning to Tennessee at the end of the trip with a visit to Nashville!
Until next time…