Friday, March 27, 2009

southern sojourn 5: walking in memphis, driving along the natchez trace



Big Ass Beer
After Stax, Amy and I headed into downtown Memphis. After parking next to a dead mall, we strolled along Beale Street and quickly determined it was the place to indulge in "big ass beer."

Giant Can of Whup... Too Much Monkey Business
A. Schwab Dry Goods
A. Schwab Dry Goods has been in business since 1876 and smells as if the opening day air was trapped inside. Still, who can resist monkeys and a giant can of whup a**, as shown in Schwab's window?

We ultimately decided Beale Street was ideal for an evening bar hop, but not for strolling on a sweltering afternoon.

Lorraine Motel (1)
Lorraine Motel (3) "I May Not Get There With You..."
Lorraine Motel (5)
Though time didn't allow us to have a thorough look, we wandered around the perimeter of the National Civil Rights Museum. Built around the shell of the Lorraine Hotel, this was the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated in 1968.

I-40 Bridge
We wandered down to the Mississipi River but didn't linger long due to the oppressive heat and haze, which didn't help our depleted energy levels. This was followed by an accidental trip across the river into Arkansas when I made a wrong turn on the freeway. All I learned during our 10-minute stay in "the Natural State" was that drivers turn into maniacs upon crossing the state line. We beat a quick path back into Memphis.

After dinner, I noticed a light on the dashboard that shouldn't have been on, followed by a sluggish feeling coming from the front of the car. This required a trip to a dealership the following morning and a change in plans. I had intended to head south along the Mississippi to Clarksdale to see the "crossroads" of musical/Robert Johnson sells-his-soul-to-the-devil legend before heading east to Nashville. While sitting comfortably in the waiting room enjoying several court shows and Maury, I decided blues sites would have wait for another trip. We would drive across northern Mississippi then take the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway up to Nashville.


***

Kudzu (1)
As we crossed the Tennessee/Mississippi state line on a back road, we passed more kudzu. The way it grew over anything in its path and created such smooth forms creeped out Mom. I thought of two things: my childhood fear of plants/"meteor s**t" growing over human flesh as in some horror stories I had encountered (OK, maybe it was just a nightmare or two I had after flipping through the comic book adaptation of Creepshow on a trip to Toronto), and the cover of R.E.M.'s Murmur.

Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center
We joined the Natchez Trace after a shopping stop in Tupelo. The highway stretches 444 miles from Natchez to the outskirts of Nashville. Based on a historical path mostly used in the early 19th century, the current highway was built between 1936 and 2005. Close to our starting point was the official vistor centre, where I picked up a guidebook and Amy played with some skulls.

Pharr Mounds (1) Pharr Mounds (3)
We pulled off at various points along our 200 mile stretch of the parkway. One stop was Pharr Mounds, a series of native burial mounds north of Tupelo.

Tennessee River Bridge on Natchez Trace Parkway (1)
One of the most beautiful sights was the Tennessee River, which we crossed during our brief time in Alabama. It was hard to pull ourselves away from the small park on the north side of the John Coffee Memorial Bridge, as we took in the scenery. The parkway was a relaxing, easygoing drive that we imagined would be spectacular during the height of fall colour. We also suspected this would have been a road Dad would have loved every moment of.

Meriwether Lewis Grave (1) Meriwether Lewis Grave (2)
Meriwether Lewis Grave (3)
About 40 miles into Tennessee, we stopped at the Meriwether Lewis memorial site. The explorer, one half of the Lewis and Clark duo, met his end at this site under mysterious circumstances. The wording on his monument ("melancholy death") sounds suspiciously like one theory usually trotted out, suicide. Erected in 1848, the monument is designed to look like a broken shaft to symbolize Lewis' untimely demise.

Next: Nashville a Go Go 

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