Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Road Trip Days 7-9: Natchez-Trace to Memphis

with 3 comments

And on the seventh day, we departed Nashville and headed Southwest on the Natchez-Trace parkway. Originally an Indian trail, later employed by immigrant traders that had dismantled their barges after travelling down the Mississippi, it is now a scenic parkway going from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.

Natchez-Trace Parkway

It was a lot more down to earth than the previous two parkways (Literally as well as metaphorically; we weren’t in the Appalachians anymore), but with many ‘sites of interest’ along the way. Tobacco farms, indian burial grounds, remnants of the original trail. Some of these were more interesting than others, but it was an unusual suspect that proved most interesting of all. Coming back from a disappointing site (nothing of interest, except a decent view), we found our path blocked by the strange object you see below. We naturally had to stop the car and inspect it more closely: what could it be? a fossilized alien brain? The egg of some cryptid? A newly emerging life form? Unable to ascertain its true nature, we decided to take it with us (and in fact brought it all the way to LA).

Strange Fruit

An aside: at this point we’d been doing pretty well sleeping in the tent whenever possible (to save $), but our camping stove had been mostly neglected. My partner had brought his set from home, but it was meant for denatured alcohol, which doesn’t seem to be used here in the US. So, we tried to make do with some bizarre Jello-fuel. Tried, and failed. Well, not entirely, as the below image shows, we did eventually succeed in making pancakes. The problem was that it took more than an hour because our heat source was too weak. We did make another attempt later on, but for all intents and purposes, this was the end of our camp cooking. No great loss, in my opinion; there were so many dishes to try, filling up on halfway decent camp cooking would have been a waste.

Everyone loves pancakes. And bokeh.

But enough of these inane accounts, get to the highlights! To me, the highlight of Memphis was the barbecue. We’d had a taste in North Carolina, but this was the first real BBQ destination on the trip. So, the first thing we did as we were rolling into Memphis was to stop at Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue. In brief: biker gangs, rude waitresses, fantastic barbecue, unconvincing BBQ spaghetti and a revelation in the form of beef ribs. Why didn’t anyone tell me about these?! Never had them since, but from that one encounter I’m almost ready to hail them as the king of BBQ meats. I’ll postpone the interludes and skip straight to dinner, at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous. This place was great. It was literally down a dark alley, and the basement you (eventually) enter was chock full of cannon walls, signs, diver’s helmets… most characterful. The ribs we had were dry rub, and not at all bad. More expensive than at Neely’s though, and personally I prefer wet ribs. Two good experiences so far, but I wasn’t quite ready to call it a day (thank Ohrmazd for intermittent fasting). So, we bravely walked out of the downtown area, aiming for the Cozy Corner. This place was out in the middle of nowhere, and looked like any other trashy restaurant. We got there just before closing time, with just the owner and his family around (plus some guy DJing in a back room, ?). And so we (well, I) had my third helping of ribs that day, which had rather too much pepper in their sauce for my taste, but were otherwise very well cooked.

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous: A light in dark places?

A good day in food, but didn’t you..? Yeah, we went to Graceland. At first we weren’t quite sure that it would be worth the $35, but something I learned in China is to consider what that money would get you back home, and then consider whether the purchase in question will be more memorable/useful/exciting than the restaurant meal or whatever it would buy you back home. And how often do you get to see the home of the world’s (second) biggest artist. I’m not sure if I was expecting anything in particular, but one thing I can say is that Elvis was not a man of what you would call refined taste. Fully mirrored staircases, a different striking color scheme for each room and of course the ‘jungle room’ with its green floor-to-ceiling shag carpet. He did seem like a heck of a guy, though, fun-loving and eager to share. We had an audio guide telling us about both his personal life and his career, which was pretty good really. A little sugar-coated perhaps, e.g. when describing his untimely death as the result of ‘a dependence on prescription drugs’ (among other things). There were a number of exhibits of his costumes, gold records etc., as well as his cars and planes. Plus a few ridiculous ‘extra exhibits’  that came with our platinum ticket (one of these turned out to be the gift shop). Fun to see, and something I’d recommend unless you’re on a tight budget.



Aside from Elvis and BBQ, we spent our day in Memphis on Beale street. Roughly equivalent to Broadway in Nashville (the main honky tonk bar street), Beale had the dual advantages of being bigger, with a resulting increase in variety, and of being a pedestrian street where you were allowed to drink in public (finally!). The music was somewhat different: Beale is known at the ‘home of the blues’, and there certainly was a lot more of it than in Nashville, often being played by a band on the street or in the opening of an alleyway. The lack of cars also meant an increase in street performers, such as the (universally black) acrobat/breakdancers doing flips and handstand pushups for donations. A nice evening here was supposed to have been the conclusion of our Memphis experience,

Finally we could drink in public.

but we were a bit bummed out that we’d missed the marching of the Peabody ducks. So in the end we decided to go camp just outside of town, and then drive in to see the ducks before heading on the next day. But alas, this was not to be our fate either. As we were rushing into town, slightly late, we made a bit too much speed at a railroad crosses, and promptly blew a tire. So, once again, we missed the ducks, and ended up spending a couple of hours getting to Walmart to have the tire replaced (surprisingly cheap, only $65). Not to be pushed around by mere destiny, we decided to catch the second marching of the ducks at five o’clock, and in the meantime went to Sun Studios.

If you’ve seen Walk The Line you should recognize this self-proclaimed legendary studio. Self-proclaimed, but rightfully so. Artists that released under Sun Records include Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, B.B. King… and mostly that was before they got famous. While they do still record here (for anyone who’s willing to pay, just like Sam Phillips originally did it), during the day it is left to the tourists and music lovers. Our tour guide was great, enthusiastic and engaging; while the locale and exhibits were much humbler than at Graceland, his stories totally made up for it. Plus, there’s a certain something to be said for standing in the spot where Elvis first broke out in That’s Alright Mama (our guide told us that Bob Dylan came and took the tour, and when he got into the studio bowed down and kissed the floor at just this spot).


Legen (wait for it) dary

So in the end we spent two full days in Memphis, and I can’t say that I regret it. When we finally got to see the ducks it wasn’t nearly the momentous occasion that events had conspired to demand, but a second look at the Peabody’s interior wasn’t half bad. But now it was time to move on; while Beale street might well have been the home of the blues, we wanted to see its cradle. So we headed South, down on Highway 61.


Written by Martin

2010/12/01 at 14:05

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Brain Fruit they grow in Ft Greene park-someone once told me they are good against cockroaches actually it was Spike Lee’s sister-not sure what they are really called?
    I am glad you adopted it and brought it to the west coast.


    2010/12/01 at 14:51

  2. Your mystery fruit is an osage-orange. Native Americans used the tree’s branches to make bows.


    2010/12/01 at 16:37

  3. See, I COULD have googled my way to the answer, but this way is much nicer. Thanks!


    2010/12/02 at 12:17

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