Arm Chair Road Trip Day 21: Meltdown in Memphis

September 27, 2020 — 2 Comments

tenn sign

After New Orleans we stopped over in Jackson, Mississippi for the night, then headed up to Memphis the next morning for Day 21. This would be a mix of history and fun: our last stop on the Civil Rights Trail and music on Beale Street!


Piggly Wiggly historical sign in Memphis

I didn’t know Piggly Wiggly started in Memphis. I’ve never been in one, but always loved the name.




I expected Memphis to be a more bustling large city, like Atlanta. But it’s small and looks a bit tired. We took a trolley through the old downtown shopping area. Many storefronts were vacant and there were few people; it was sad. The decline of old shopping areas in any city depresses me. Surely this stretch of Memphis was a bustling place full of life at one time. Malls were one of the worst ideas of the 20th century.



Lorraine Motel sign, Memphis, Tennessee


We got off the trolley at the Lorraine Motel, the site of MLK’s assassination. It was chilling and sad and a bit surreal to see the balcony, thinking of that famous photo. I have vague impressions of the event — I was seven and a half. I have more memories of RFK’s assassination two months later. It was the first time I understood that a big world existed beyond my backyard swing set. 1968 — what a year. Similar to 2020, adults must have been wondering what the hell was going on. 


Balcony at Lorraine Motel, in Memphis Tennessee

Like a moment frozen in time, the end of one man’s path toward a dream shared by many.


rooming house

The rooming house where James Earl Ray took his shot is just across from the motel. Such evil in an unassuming place. Chilling.


Having seen MLK’s birthplace in Atlanta, churches he preached at, and the site of his “I Have a Dream” speech, it felt like we had come full circle, tracing the arc of his life. I’m glad Mtuseni was interested in all of it. When we were in Cape Town we saw the balcony where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison. Locations of historic events like this just give me goosebumps.


am a man

A fitting last photo for the Civil Rights Trail leg of our road trip.


We passed up going in the Civil Rights Museum; the line was long and the heat was cranking up. Luckily a woman downtown told us about Central BBQ, right behind the Lorraine. I’m not a huge meat fan but ate every bite of a pulled pork sandwich the size of my head. Mtuseni polished off a rack of ribs; the bones looked like they’d been bleached white in the desert when he was finished. When in Memphis, you gotta do BBQ!


central q inside


central q sign

Thanks to the woman on the street for the tip on this place. I didn’t have to do BBQ research!


After lunch we walked past the entrance to Beale Street. It was mid-afternoon and I knew it would be more lively at night. There didn’t seem to be much else to do, so we headed over to a park along the Mississippi River. And this is where my big meltdown occurred.

We’d had three weeks of temps over 90 degrees… every freakin’ day. You know it’s bad when Southern weather forecasters talk about record-breaking heat! There was no respite in the park, not one tree. I sat in a thin strip of shade next to a wall of the visitors center — which was closed for a wedding. I was tired and cranky and done. I wanted to cancel the hotel that night and immediately head for Texas in the air-conditioned car. I was like a four-year-old having a whiney tantrum.

Mtuseni found another shady place to sit, away from my bitching. At home he doesn’t have air conditioning. Or heat. Or electricity. If it’s cold, he’s cold. If it’s hot, he’s hot. Not that he doesn’t complain when he’s home. (I’ve heard it so many times over the years!)  But in his community, you just live with stuff.


river boat

The view from my heat stroke induced meltdown… the mighty Mississippi.


After a while I snapped out of it and we headed over to Beale Street — and had a blast! We checked out BB King’s store, people watched, and marveled at all the neon. We were so full from Central BBQ we didn’t want dinner.


beale st mtu day


B.B. King's Company Store in Memphis Tennessee

Cool store. I could have bought a ton of stuff but didn’t want to carry it all night.


stax shirt

I really wanted this t-shirt but it was sold out. I wanted to see the Stax Records Museum, too, but it was a drive from downtown and had odd hours.


beale neon crowd2


We ended up watching the Redemption Day Band in a small park for free. The band was so tight, playing blues and funk and R&B. The leader and singer was in his 70s, and he never stopped. We watched for over two hours, had some beer and wings, singing along. (Well, I did!) And they just kept going. The guy’s probably still singing! 


band dancer

This old guy had a good ol’ time dancing much of the night, sometimes convincing a young woman to join him. Music keeps people young!


The vibe was so happy and mellow, everyone enjoying music and laughing and dancing on a late summer night. When the leader asked people putting tips in the bucket where they were from it was all over the world! Then a woman who’d been dancing up front by herself for much of the night dropped in her dollar. The guy asked, “Where you from, darlin’?” She said, “Up the street.” Everyone laughed. By then it felt like we were all part of the neighborhood.

Check out our Instagram for a hello from Beale Street!

I’m so glad I didn’t bail and leave Memphis early. We had such a fun time. It was a great send off as we set out for a trip milestone the next day — crossing the mid-point of the country. And thankfully leaving the southeastern heat and humidity behind. 


blues sign pair

So long from Memphis!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Arm Chair Road Trip Day 45: Farewell to the West « Long-Distance Dad - May 1, 2021

    […] it felt like a shift had occurred. The first days of our road trip — day after day after frikkin’ day — we trudged through stifling late-summer heat. Now we were scraping frost off the windshield […]


  2. Arm Chair Road Trip Days 46-48: We’re On a Road Through Nowhere « Long-Distance Dad - May 29, 2021

    […] afternoon we crossed the Mississippi for the last time. We’d seen it in New Orleans, then in Memphis, and now here, way up north. We stopped at a strange, deserted rest stop on a bluff overlooking the […]


What do you think?...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s