Monday, October 13, 2008

May 2008 Memphis

Chapter Two


May 16,2008

I made an effort to provide ambient mood music but neither Robert or mama were enthusiastic about cds 2 through 5 of a collecor set of Elvis master tapes from the 1960's. Ten years ago during the week it opened I noticed Heartbreak Hotel while passing through Memphis to see Graceland. Today was a disappointment. Nothing matched my description on the way there. Parking used to be free but now a guard at the gate charges admission. When it was new the lobby was an expanse of leopard print carpet with burgundy runners. It is now a third of that size. The gift shop no longer carries materials referencing the Pink Ranch, a hideaway 5 miles from town, first anniverary gift from Elvis to Priscilla where they went to get away from it all. Neither does it stock items from the Nixon White House that Elvis liked such as bath salts & closet sachets. The hotel still has a guitar shaped swimming pool, futuristic 60's furniture with lava lamps on the end tables, console televisions playing Elvis movies & fried peanut butter banana sandwiches in the restaurant.

Souvenir of the day was worn by a short haired tourist sporting tattoos on his right arm: fake black hairy sideburns attached to movie star sunglasses. I walked across the street to photograph things fans had written/ drawn on the brick wall surrounding the perimeter of Graceland.

Last time there was this poem: "Your hair was dyed black, your shoes were blue suede. I liked to pertinear died when you went away."

"Elvis, your music wasn't that good but your house is nice"

Robert maintains that Elvis & Graceland will be popular about 10 more years until all the people who were alive when he was a star are dead, that afterwards the public will lose interest. I don't know about that. I think his music is timeless, especially the gospel songs.

I thought the front room & dining room were pretty. I liked the shirred fabric coverd walls by the pool table. I was surprised to see how many outbuildings were on the property. Some had basements underneath containing a museum of trophies & costumes. There was a scale model of Elvis's Tupelo, Mississippi birthplace.

Elvis & Priscilla's wedding clothes were on display as well as their clothes for the night Elvis was presented 1967 Memphis Jaycee Young Man of the Year. I didn't realize Priscilla was so petite.

It was interesting to see all Elvis' costumes, his many awards, not just one award but a dozen of each kind. RCA even gave him a console television in recognition of his contribution to their bottom line.

When Elvis had a platinum record that was due to cassette plus recored sales the tape plus the record was on display on the trophy.

The country music entertainer award was a small gold cowboy boot on a plaque; the national asssociation of record manufacturers was a 3D musical note.

Robert checked on the internet using his cell phone, noticing a deal for Marriott. He sneaked away, called them on his own and got a good rate for that night. got their revenge later when we used them to book a room at the Millenium hotel in St. Louis. The service charged his credit card right away but when he checked with the Millennium 4 hours later as we got closer to St. Louis the place still hadn't received our reservation. Upon arrival we learned his name and address had been misspelled in spite of spelling out each letter when he secured the booking, i.e. 'R' as in rat, 'O' as in other, 'B' as in bat & so on for his entire name/ address. As a result he couldn't use internet hookup in our room nor a printer in the hotel business center due to the misspelled name which was totally the error of We needed to use the printer when getting tickets for the arch & had to have the printout when we showed up the next morning to get times assigned for our selections. arranged for the payment. This indicates it is all the same company, probably an afffiliate of Travelocity as well.

After Graceland we headed toward the river because of a promo on the local morning news about a world championship barbeque cook off.

Championship Barbeque

We parked as close as we could to the festival site in a temporary lot manned by a Dixie Parking attendant charging vehicles $20. We got there before 2 pm with 15 minutes to spare or we would be also had to pay an $8 per person gate fee.

The cook off was for serious competitors. There were 258 booths with corporate sponsors arranged in a figure 8 on 33 acres along the river bank. Booths were landscaped with gardens, resembling hospitality suites. They were equipped with premium liquor wet bars, dining tables & fine linens, but there was no admission without an invitation from either the teams or the sponsors.

We talked to one group of competitors who were coworkers at a Birmingham, Alabama steel mill. They created a barbeque pit out of an air compressor cylinder, had several big trophies from previous wins to attest to the success of their innovations.

A barn-sized People's Choice tent in the middle of it all charged $4 a plate for random competitor samples. Diners got to vote on favorites. We opted instead to sample barbeque from McCormick's booth, "Bring It Tong". We later purchased a Corky's pulled pork sandwich ,roasted ears of corn & lemonade. Other vendors were Cowboy's and Leo's Fried Chicken.

We heard a talk in the College of Pig Knowledge tent by two barbeque judges about what to look for in good barbeque & about tricks some competitors pull to try to win a cook off. Entrants are whole pig, shoulder or ribs. There is a side category for baked beans, for exotics such as javelina or emu. Barbeque sauces were vinegar, wet or dry rub. Judging is two-fold; on-site live & 'blind box'. Blind box is worth half the score, including meat plus sauce. Criteria are appearence, tenderness & flavor. Whole pigs are cooked 18 hours whereas ribs were started at 5 am today, judging day. On-site judging is on neatness and appearence of the booth plus taste of the food.

Memphis is honoring the country of Turkey this month. There were Turkish themes in booth decorating. Belly dancers lounged about the midway. Top 3 teams in each of the 3 categories win $3,000 each; grand champion takes home $22,000. 4th place winners are guaranteed a spot on next year's roster along with the other 9 from today.

Top competitors included It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere, Curly Tail Smokers, Sweet Swine O'Mind, Barnyard Roasters, Whirling Pigishes, Killer Hogs, Red Hot Smokers, Notorious P.I.G., Pork Fiction, Pork Illustrated, the Good the Bad & the Piggly, Spider Pig, VooDoo Barbeque.

There were bags of corporate sponsor giveaways; toothpaste, dental floss, Tums, Greased Lightning cleaner, can wraps, sipper cups. had a t shirt for anyone who would agree to make a short video complaining about a bad boss or worse job. Our favorite was the Sensodyne toothpaste tent with a massage chair for 5 minutes while a dental technician discussed tooth care trends.

Winners were announced from the sound stage where there were concerts in the evening.

Peabody Hotel and Beale Street

We left in time to see the ducks swim in the fountain of the Peabody Hotel at 5 pm. They also do this daily at 11 am. Mama & I watched it from the 2nd floor balcony with a good view. We counted a crowd of 450 people waiting to see the show. The hotel rolls out a red carpet for the ducks to march to the fountain in the center of the lobby. At least a dozen ducks live up on the hotel roof in a room-sized cage with a wading pool in the back of a blonde brick mini penthouse.

The fountain is huge, ornately carved with requisite animal figures. After half an hour the duck wrangler, a bald employee wearing a black suit with grey vest looking not unlike Uncle Ben on a box of rice, waves a black cane topped by an elegant told duck head handle over the fountain. This is the signal for the ducks to hop out, proceed to the elevator &d return to their quarters upstairs. On this day two lucky cousins around 10 years of age assisted him. They boys received a certificate to mark the occaision before reminding the ducks it was time to go.

The Peabody is elegant, built in 1937. Mama & I tagged along with a tour group being shown the premises. We saw what is referred to as the 'junior' ballroom. It had a massive chandelier & was 5,000 square feet. The other ballroom was 16,000 square feet.

Robert took us up on the roof to see the duck pen. The roof is open 24 hours. It had cocktail tables, floor length linen table cloths set up with candles & flowers. There was an elegant supper club behind a blue curtain between the elevator & the roof. There was a droppped circular dance floor, a raised dais for the band. It was being prepared for a wedding reception later that evening. What a great place to see the sun set slowly in the west!

From the Peabody we walked down Beale Street. Beale Street is bounded on one end by a blues museum that has a Gibson guitar exhibit. It ends with a song; a park with apitheater for al fresco concerts. It is a mix of bars, restaurants, music clubs plus Schwab's Dry Goods.

Schwab's sells general merchandise from the 1960's to some indeterinate time in a past decade. There was no way you could walk by an not go in. Prices on merchandise in alluring bay windows did not seem to have been changed since the goods were received. The displays brought to mind things we used to have but lost or some gadget we sure could find a use for. We're from New Orleans. After Katrina we had a significant emotional need to replace lost things over & above the desires of an average person strolling past the store front. Glory hallelujah, it had an upstairs too! The only thing stopping me was that it closed at 5 pm. I made a vow to return.

We were able to purchase souvenirs from Memphis Music next door. It was open late to accommodate crowds in town for the barbeque party. The store was blessed with a friendly, polite man in white 3 piece suit singing from his heart, perhaps something he himself composed, helping people find selections in the impressive music department. I couldn't decide if he was an inebriated passerby, wandering in with the crowd or if he was an employee. Memphis Music is the grandfather of all good record stores; an old fashioned purveyor of music memorabelia, music themed clothing, home furnishings, art, expensive harmonicas, accessories such as blown glass guitar slides, recordings by all the greats of the Memphis sound in gospel & blues.

The interesting part of Beale Street is 5 blocks long. W C Handy lived here once. In every block at intervals of 3 per block the sidewalk had brass musical notes with blues musicians' names such as Bobby Blue Bland. There were bands playing on every street corner. The lead singers all wore a fedora. Bars and restaurants set up temporary ramshackle booths on the sidewalk leaning against their door jamb constrtucted from two pieces of lumber with a flimsy roof, selling 'Big Assed Beers', 32 oz Coors Light. It was hard to determine which was leaning more, the walls of these stands or customers who had purchased beers there.

A gabby, diminutive singer in a hat and 3 piece suit, hollering into a microphone plugged into a building stood in the middle of the street. He wasn't talking because he couldn't hit the high notes; he clued the listener on all side issues, haranging passersby for change. It was a verbal receipt. He told you all the things he needed the money for & what he would spend it on when his guitar case got full of tips. The name of the group written on the drum kit was Big Jerry. Big Jerry was very fat and was murdering a depressed wooden cafe chair playing electric guitar next to the drummer. Never did catch the lead singer's name.

Situated between two buildings across from Big Jerry inside the entrance to that park at the end of the street was a four and a half piece combo, the Juke Joint Boys performing on a small stage. An appreciative crowd draped themselves on park benches or against the marble courtyard fountain, some couples dancing to the music, some women dancing in tandem like Dianah Ross and the Supremes, only with laryngitis.

The lead singer told us he was from South Side Chicago. He sounded like Lou Rawls. The 'half in 4 1/2 piece combo refers to a sidekick wearing a 3 piece suit & hat circulating with 5 gallon tip buckets, hawking cds.

After we left the park you could still hear them at the end of the block. Mama said the farther away we got the better they sounded. We left before dark. Although the mood was festive increased police presence & growing crowds plus hangers on watching the crowds made us wary.

We had barbeque for supper at Logan's. Robert & I had been to another Logan's before when we stayed at a different Marriott in Louisiana.

May 17,2008

Lunch was at Lambert's in Sikeston, a country restaurant specializing in southern cooking where the waiters throw rolls at customers. Those hot yeast rolls might be the best thing on the menu. One of the young men throwing rolls said they recruit the local high school baseball stars for this position, that you have the arm or you don't.

Periodically during the meal waiters come along with big bowls of food such as macaroni & tomatoes or fried okra. For atmosphere a woman played the piano from memory in player piano style. It would be easy to imagine her day job was church organist at the largest sanctuary in town. The other locations of the business are in Foley and Branson but it all started here.

I would say the food is not that great but there is alot of it. This business was probably the model for the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Lambert's opened in 1947.

They are able to accommodate a huge crowd of diners even if they show up as a group or just a crowd of them individually but nearly simultaneously.

Greyhound bus of seniors on a day trip to the outlet mall, no problem. Mormon family reunion arriving in separate cars, no worries. Herd of bikers, Rolling Thunder revue, come on in all of y'all.

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