Nashville and Memphis

Monday, 27 January 2014 15:30
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Nashville, the Music CityTwo points of the Mojo Triangle.


 After my morning of shooting video with the Nissan guys, I headed down the Natchez Trace for a bit, then decided I hadn’t seen enough of Nashville yet, so I swung around back north to hit the Music City for another evening. However, the weather had turned back to almost ‘polar vortex’ levels of cold, and it was in the low teens in Nashville, which made for some uncomfortable wandering around. Still, I got to listen to some music, have some more BBQ, and generally have a pretty good time in downtown Nashville.


Music City One of the many bands downtown Honky Tonk Heaven
Don't let the warm neon fool you; it was 15 degrees out They don't call it Nashvegas for nothing Boots and more boots

The next morning, it was back to the Natchez Trace, and I kind of alternated between the Trace and various backroads as I made my way toward Memphis to stay there for a couple of days. While traveling down the Trace, I met a couple of very friendly Australian guys who were “on vacation from University”. They had flown from Australia to Los Angeles, bought a pretty beat up Plymouth Voyager minivan, and were gradually making their way across the US to New York, where they planned to sell the minivan and then fly back to Australia. To me, this obviously sounded like an awesome idea, and we had a good time chatting about the ins and outs of the American backroads and various places to visit and things of that nature. They’d already hiked back from the waterfall I’d pulled over to check out, so after we parted ways, I hiked down to see all the icicles. It wasn’t quite as spectacular as the one I’d seen on the Little River earlier in the trip, but it was still pretty.

On the Trace Hanging out with Rosco and the Duke boys I did get down to Tupelo too, where I got a car wash and an oil change in the birthplace of Elvis
This is probably a more impressive waterfall in the spring Chilly More chilly
It was a bit of a hike into the woods There was a series of small waterfalls As well as a couple slightly larger ones

A little further down the road was the final resting place of Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis & Clark fame. Since I’d spent a pretty substantial portion of the trip following the Lewis & Clark trail already, I figured I should stop in and pay my respects.

The actual details of Lewis’ death are a little fuzzy, to say the least. He was traveling the Natchez Trace toward Washington in order to attend to some personal financial matters when he stopped in at the Grinder House Inn for the night. At some point in the hours before daylight, he died of a gunshot wound. He was only 32 years old. The mystery was not so much how he died, as the gunshot wound was pretty obvious, but as to whether that gunshot wound was self-inflicted or if he was shot by an assailant. According to some contemporaneous accounts, he suffered from what we’d call depression today, and many of his friends (including Clark) assumed that it had finally gotten the better of him. However, some think that he was murdered by assailants unknown. There were some forensic tests done in 2012 that seemed to point toward a murder, but there’s quite a bit of controversy over that, so the death of one of America’s greatest explorers remains shrouded in mystery. (The “murder” evidence was developed into an episode  of “America Unearthed” for the History Channel, so I suppose we should be lucky that they didn’t claim that aliens abducted Lewis and he was accidentally killed during an examination.)The monument that he’s buried under is a broken column to symbolize a “life cut short”, and the inscription refers to his “melancholy death”, so it looks like even at the time people didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Lewis' final resting place Closeup of the inscription about his "melancholy" death The original Trace, where Lewis was headed to Washington

On the way to Memphis, I made a quick detour through Muscle Shoals, a town that may ring a bell for some of you from the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Sweet Home Alabama” ( “now Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers /and they’ve been known to pick a song or two” ). I stopped by Fame Studios  , occasional home of artists like Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Paul Anka, and dozens of others. I also swung by the big TVA property Wilson Dam, but again was too late for the tour, so I just watched the seagulls and pelicans for a while.

Fame Studios. Note authentic Alabama patina on the quarterpanel of the car. Also passed through nearby Tuscumbia Wilson Dam, with resident waterfowl

After taking in a bit more of the countryside, I got to Memphis late in the afternoon and took a walk down to Beale Street to check out the scene. It turned out that the scene was pretty quiet, as it was an off-season weeknight, but there was still plenty of food and music amidst a small crowd of tourists. I grabbed my first try at Memphis BBQ at Alfreds, which turned out to be kind of mediocre, so that wasn’t a great start, but BBQ with live music on Beale Street beats a whole lot of other potential scenarios.

Interstate 40 heading over the Mississippi Beale Street is a walking mall at night, with extensive support from Memphis' finest Alfred's BBQ in bad lighting

I took a walk along the old cobblestone levee on the river the next morning, then cut east back into Memphis and walked around town a bit. I went over to Sun Studio, where artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison recorded in the early 1950s. It’s a pretty unassuming little building in a not-so-great section of town, but it’s definitely a neat piece of history. Like a lot of the southern and Midwestern towns, there were a lot of great turn-of-the-century buildings in various states of use. Memphis also has a good streetcar system that runs up and down main street, which is pretty cool.

Part of the cobblestone levee The only riverboat down there Water level marks, well up the levee
Visit Graceland! The Orpheum theater Down on Beale Street
The Gibson guitar factory/museum is also downtown Sun Studio, home of Elvis Presley I just thought this was a cool sign

After all that walking I was pretty hungry, and since it was lunchtime anyway, I went in for another shot at Memphis BBQ. I stopped in at a local spot called Central BBQ , and it was much better. I got a half rack of ribs, half dry, half wet, and they were really good. Not quite as good as what I had in Kansas City, but Memphis was making a comeback in the standings. (The car was also a big hit at Central, where a small parade of school kids took turns getting their pictures taken with it.)

Playing around with some black and white downtown More B&W ...and a little more
Rubber goods The old Hostess bakery It seemed like a good day for black and white
Streetcars Y-M-C-A! More streetcar
Central BBQ, best I had in Memphis Half wet, half dry at Central

I took a walk around Beale Street again that night to check out the neon, and it was still pretty deserted (compared to its busy times), but everything was open and rockin’, with lots of live music. In my last stab at Memphis style BBQ, I hit up Double J Smokehouse and Saloon. In retrospect, I probably didn’t really give it a fair shake as I was there pretty close to closing time, but it wasn’t great; pretty dry and not so tasty…so for Memphis, I’d have to recommend Central BBQ. (I was not able to get a seat at Charlie Vergo’s, which was recommended by several people. I did walk by and it smelled good, for what it’s worth.)

Nighttime on Beale Street Put some South in your mouth More Memphis neon
Some nighttime black & white   Another night B&W

The next morning, I made a quick swing by Graceland to check it out (although I was too early for the tour), then jumped back on the Trace to head down to Vicksburg, MS, my last stop before Louisiana.  

The car hanging out at Sun Studio The other side of Sun
In front of the Graceland mansion Closer look at part of the wall in front of Graceland


Postscript: I read back over this and realized that I’ve been leaving out a lot of the “…and then some people came up and started talking to me about the car…” stories lately. I think I may just be getting used to it or something; at the beginning of the trip it was novel and unusual, but now having a half hour discussion with somebody about the car has become a daily occurrence. Rest assured that this still happens all the time, and I easily meet half a dozen or more people a day just because of the car. It happens often enough that unless it’s a really weird or interesting meeting I don’t make a specific note of it here, but it has not slowed down one bit for the entire trip.

Next stop: Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Cajun country


#1 FairladySPL 2014-01-28 16:51
Like you said in the Nissan factory video -- it's like having a puppy alongside you, people want to stop and talk.

But the alternative is to suffer a coast to coast trip in a minivan. No daily comments, boring ride, poor resale value.

YOU and your trip were probably the best encounter these guys may have.

>They had flown from Australia to Los Angeles, bought a pretty beat up Plymouth Voyager minivan, and were gradually making their way across the US to New York
#2 Mom 2014-01-29 07:27
Sorry about the ribs…They looked relish !!
#3 lectacave 2014-01-29 09:22
Another great post. First of all, I love that you provided a link to the Mojo Triangle. Hat's off to you! What awesome signage! You've re-invigorated my love for Nashville. I'm really enjoying your trip through the south - thank you! :)

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