Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Day one began in the wee hours of the morning—at 3:00am. We passed through my old stomping grounds of Texarkana, Texas as the sun began to rise, on our way to our first stop in Hope, Arkansas. Hope is the birthplace of the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. We were able to take a peek into the house where President Clinton was born and drive by the second house in which he lived.
After our stop in Hope we continued on our journey to Memphis. Along the way we listened to the musical stylings of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison—artists with Memphis/Little Rock roots.
Around noon we made our way into Memphis, Tennessee, eager to stretch our legs and fill our tummies. Our first stop in Memphis was Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. I normally do not care for fried chicken (yes, I understand this should be punished by deportation according to some people), but I would recommend Gus’s everyday of the week and twice on Sundays.
I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time and they were wonderful. I was hesitant at first since I don’t like tomatoes, but these were surprisingly tasty. Along with the fried green tomatoes we tried Gus’s fried pickles. Now my stance on pickles is a complete 180 degrees from tomatoes. I love pickles and have never tried a pickle that I did not enjoy. These were wonderful, as to be expected after the fried green tomatoes.
Finally came our meal, which Jennifer, our lovely waitress, had suggested–a family platter served on an open tray. The 20-piece meal came with about a half a loaf of bread and two large sides (Cole slaw and baked beans). After giving our best efforts, only a few straggling chicken pieces were left and we were all satisfied. Jennifer was kind enough to join the Junior Fellows for a photo opportunity to mark our first official meal of the trip.
With our stomachs full we headed to our next stop just a few blocks away, The National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel (the site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination). During our visit I had a different kind of feeling in my stomach. The awful things depicted at the National Civil Rights Museum are hard to fathom from a country that boasts a love of liberty. Standing feet away from where Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered magnified that sinking feeling and the view from where James Earl Ray pulled the trigger was unsettling.
The trip soon took on a more happy tone when we made our third stop in Memphis, at Sun Studio, where many stars of the 1950s got their first breaks. Shortly after Elvis Presley graduated from high school, for example, he stopped by Sun Studio in 1953 and began his music career with an amateur recording done for his mom. At the time, Sun Studio offered a reduced-price service to amateur musicians, allowing them to record on their own without the help of professionals. For four dollars young Elvis Presley recorded his first track. The Studio is also home to music greats such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.
After we finished at Sun Studios we made a feeble attempt at a reenactment of a photo of Presley, Perkins, Cash, and Orbison titled “Million Dollar Quartet.”
We then headed to Graceland (the home of Elvis Presley). Unfortunately, Graceland was closed for the day but the Junior Fellows were able to snap a few photos and pay homage to the King of Rock-n-Roll.
We decided to top of the wonderful day with dinner on Beale Street, a Memphis landmark. Beale Street has been the heart of the Memphis music scene for the better part of the century, pulling musicians from all across the Mississippi Delta. King’s Palace was the location of choice, and it did not disappoint. Sticking with a theme of adventure and trying new things, I tried “Gator Chips,” deep-fried alligator meat. These were amazing. Christian and I split the Cajun Sampler for two, which consisted of two blackened catfish filets over a bed of rice, two “voodoo” grilled chicken breasts, a bowl of Jambalaya, a bowl of Gumbo, and side orders of “voodoo” potatoes and fried green tomatoes (yes, I had them again!).
The Beale Street environment lived up to the hype with live music flooding the streets from each doorway. My only regret for our visit to Memphis is that we did not have more time. This is definitely a place I would visit again!