Two Kings of Memphis
There are no crows in Memphis. The only chirps you hear are callouts for extra hot sauce on your barbecue, or the ever faint chirp of a too big for his britches rock star that died on the toilet. It’s quite pleasant here, without the crows.
We have officially crossed over the Mississippi into the older subdivision of the United States. You know, the first draft. This is the land buried deep with the history of our beginnings, filled with horrid stories of a wild and rampant takeover of Native territory, fights between the North and South over whether people of a certain race should be kept as property, and other made to look triumphant tales. Although things seem different, the general approach Americans take to how to make a living, how have a good time, and live to tell about it is pretty much the same as from the first time we set foot on this large piece of land across the Atlantic.
We rode our bikes from the East of Memphis to the South, through both posh and humble neighborhoods on a toasty hot afternoon. We finally turned up to the super-bumpy-with-no-shoulder-road called “Elvis Presley Boulevard” en route to see the house of the King, humming our spirit song “Graceland” by Paul Simon all along the way. As we got closer to the heart of Rock and Roll, the density of souvenir shops increased. People setting up tents by the side of the road, presumably locals, sat selling rhinestone studded cowboy hats with a look of sheer disgust at the tourists invading their city to gawk at the holiest of show people. In death
As we passed through each distinctly different neighborhood, we received a solid wave and hello from every single person propped on a porch or stoop. We passed one guy with his back to us, and the second he caught sight of us out of the corner of his eye, he jumped up and hollered out “hey” and we returned the greeting by shooting our arms up to wave in his direction. Southern hospitality, it’s for real, and it’s mandatory.
The pilgrimage to Graceland was about the journey and not the destination. When we arrived, we parked our bikes in front of the gates, snapped a few pictures, sat and watched the hungry tourists leave with shopping bags full of souvenirs, commented on how working at Graceland would be the worst job ever.
We headed North towards downtown Memphis on a different route just to keep things interested through a ghost town of manufacturing businesses to enjoy some highly recommended barbecue. We passed by thebeautifully restored Lorraine Motel which sat isolated like a glamorous beacon separated from the nearby tallish buildings. On the balcony out front of one of the rooms was a large funerary wreath, brilliant white trimmed with red roses. We noticed a small line of people, and then saw that the motel had been converted into a Civil Rights Museum. Feeling a little behind on my US History, once I got around the corner I soon put two and two together finding the site of the physical demise of the the other King of Memphis.
Elvis’s first hit single was “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Although the brutal murder of a beloved spiritual leader ended his life before it’s time and is never to be forgotten, I prefer to remember Dr. King for his life. His death indeed marks one of many somber moments in our history, but his death is just one sad ending, and his life contains many great beginnings.
Morally, Americans do not always make the best choices in the interest of peace, love and harmony. We try to do “good” by defining a series of rules, but the rules are complicated and often seem unfair. And say for example in the interest of making progress, of “Having a dream,” rules will get broken and people end up killed or otherwise punished. It’s an incredible conflict of interest, and a heavy burden for Americans to carry to the next rung on the ladder.
But examples of this clash exist everywhere in the South. They are not hidden, as they are in the North.
I learned from Wikipedia about the origins of Shelby Farms Park, which was where we parked our Airstream. In the early 1800’s, the area housed a small commune run by a humanist named Frances Wright to help educate and emancipate slaves. The trouble was, even though the business of gradual abolition of slavery had great intentions, Ms. Wright lacked sufficient funding and there were rumors of interracial relations, so the commune ended up failing. Later on, the land was used as a penal farm to support the nearby Shelby County Jail, which is still located within the park. Recently converted to a recreational park, Shelby Farms Park is now a wonderful place to enjoy a multitude of diverse activities including fishing, biking, running, and picking strawberries. There is even a small patch growing bamboo for Pandas which I assume to be for Pandas in the zoo, not running wild in the park. I love when cities take a moment and make a solid investment in the future health of their citizens, and Pandas too.
And so tired from a long day of cycling Memphis in the early spring heat, I sit listening to the birds singing softly amongst the tall trees that sprawl along the gentle hills of Tennessee. I sit satisfied from the free dinner we were able to catch from sneaking in to a Taste of Memphis event that was happening right next to our RV Park. It’s quite pleasant on this side of the Mississippi.