The Coronavirus Pandemic is still not over but the world is learning to live with it. Traci and I are fully vaccinated and are happy for the opportunity to travel again. However, we still do not feel comfortable with leaving the country quite yet. Fortunately, there are many places in the U.S. we still have not explored. Traci's goal of running a half marathon (13.1 miles) in all 50 states, has been our vehicle for seeing our country. This time we were going to Memphis, Tennessee so that Traci could participate in the St. Jude Marathon Weekend with one of her running clubs. After all these years, I know my role for these runcation trips. They are take photos of Traci running and plan the sightseeing portion of our travel. I'm happy to do both - especially the planning task.
We had a 6:45 AM United Airline flight on a Thursday from Washington Dulles Airport. We had to change planes at Chicago O'Hare. It seems we always have a tight connection when changing planes in Chicago. Typical of our O'Hare experiences, it seemed like we had to walk the entire airport to get to our next gate. We landed at C Gate but our flight to Memphis left out of F Gate. Traci measured the distance on her Garmin watch. The distance we walked between gates was 0.57 miles.
Washington Dulles Airport decorated for Christmas
Pandemic travel - masks required on planes and in airports
The Memphis airport is relatively small. I appreciated the simplicity. Despite this, we had a few minutes of panic after it seemed all the luggage from our flight was collected from the baggage claim except for Traci's suitcase. It was nowhere to be found. People from the next flight had already begun collecting their bags. Just when we thought we were going to have to file a lost luggage claim, Traci happened to spot her suitcase on the other side of the room. We are not sure how it ended up there but whew!
We picked up a rental car (black Toyota Corolla). The plan was to stay at a hotel outside of downtown Memphis and use the car on Thursday and Friday to explore the attractions that were not in walking distance. The advantage of staying at a hotel on the outskirts is that parking is free. Overnight parking at a downtown hotel could cost more than the daily rental rate of the car. We would return the car on Friday and use Lyft to get to our downtown hotel where the running events and other attractions would be in walking distance. This plan worked well; however, we did have a snafu with the first hotel - more about that later.
Our first order of business was to find something to eat. I had already made a list of possible eateries. We decided to try Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. They have several locations throughout the country but not where we live. There was a waitlist to be seated when we arrived around noon mainly because of all the employees from local businesses taking their lunch break at the time. We left our mobile phone number with the host so that he could contact us when a table became available. In the meantime, Traci and I walked across the street to check out a Memphis institution - Gibson's Donuts. When I mentioned to the man behind the counter that it was our first visit to Gibson's, he went into the back and reemerged holding a glazed donut on a napkin in each hand. Suddenly, he tossed one of the donuts over the counter to Traci. Since she wasn't expecting a donut to be tossed at her, it bounced off her hand and landed on the floor. Having seen what happened, I was prepared and caught the donut tossed to me. The man got Traci another donut to replace the one she fumbled. They were delicious. We decided we would come back after our meal at Gus's.
As we were leaving Gibson's, we got a call from Gus's to let us know our table was ready. We had a nice meal of fried chicken, collard greens, mac & cheese, and baked beans. The chicken had a pleasantly mild spicy kick.
We returned to Gibson's to buy donuts. As Traci was about to pay for them, the nice man behind the counter told her not to worry about it. The donuts were on the house. What a nice beginning to our first visit to Memphis.
We made a brief stop to check into our hotel (Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Memphis I-240 & Perkins) and drop off our luggage before continuing to our first attraction - Elvis Presley's Graceland. We did not actually tour the property that day because when we arrived at the ticket counter, the lady told us that because it was after 2 PM, they were only offering the Christmas Tour which was $91/person. This was on top of the $10 we had already paid to park. The lady told us that if we come back tomorrow before 1:45 PM, we could do the Elvis Experience Tour which was $78/person and we could use our AAA discount for 10% off. We decided to go with that option. On the way out, I spoke to the parking attended about our plan to come back tomorrow. She did not hesitate to validate my parking receipt so that I would not have to pay for parking when I returned.
Since Graceland was off the table that Thursday, we decided to visit Stax Museum of American Soul Music which we had originally planned to visit on Friday. During the short drive there, I was starting to form my first impressions of Memphis. It seems people drive very fast. This was surprising given the amount of potholes we encountered. My other impressions were that of the people. Most of the people we encountered had a significant southern draw when they spoke. I also found them to be very welcoming and helpful - but back to Stax.
Stax was the location where legendary soul and blues artists such as Isaac Hayes, Ike & Tina Turner, the Dramatics, Sam & Dave, and many others recorded their hits during the 1960's and 1970's. The building is now a museum that tells the story of the rise of Stax and its bankruptcy by the mid 70's. Along the way, we saw plenty of memorabilia. Some of the most interesting items were those of the late Isaac Hayes. We saw his Academy Award for the "Theme from Shaft", his fancy Cadillac Eldorado, and even his elaborate office. There are plenty of items from other artist along with quotes and backstories - all this while constantly listening to recordings of Stax hits. Stax is an interesting museum but we were getting pretty burned out after an hour of reading all the information presented there. It is a place that would require several visits depending on how thorough you want to be. For us, an hour and a half was good.
Isaac Hayes won an Academy Award for the "Theme from Shaft"
Isaac Hayes' Cadillac Eldorado
From the Stax Museum, we drove downtown to the Renasant Convention Center so that Traci could pick up her race packet at the runners' expo that was taking place there. This was the first runners' expo we had attended since before the pandemic. Since we were still not out of the pandemic, all visitors had to show either proof of being fully vaccinated or a negative Covid-19 test. Traci and I had pictures of our vaccination cards on our mobile phones. We were then given a bracelet that we had to have scanned each time we attended any of the St. Jude Marathon events that weekend. Even then we still had to wear a mask to the indoor events. We browsed the booths of some of the vendors at the expo who were selling all types of fitness and running items. We ran into some of Traci's running friends who had come from all parts of the country. We had not seen them in almost two years. We made plans to hang out later.
The final attraction for Traci and me that day was a place called the Memphis Pyramid. It is a gigantic glass pyramid building at the river front. It houses a Bass Pro Shop and much more. It was the "much more" that made this place intriguing to us. There are restaurants and shops. There is an indoor water habitat with ducks, fish, alligators, and waterfalls. There is a large elevator that takes you to the top of the pyramid for an elevated view of the city. There is an admission price to take the elevator. We did not ride the elevator on this visit. We would actually get a great view of the city from the top of the Hyatt later that weekend when we hung out with some of Traci's running friends. But back to the Pyramid... What really caught our attention were the rustic cabins on the 2nd and 3rd floors. People pay to do overnights in them. We found the Memphis Pyramid to be an interesting stop. It made us start to feel like we were on vacation.
For dinner, we decided to try some barbeque. After all, you cannot come to Memphis and not try the barbeque. It was late and many of the places on our list were either already closed or were out of most of their meats. We ended up at the Blues City Café which is located on Memphis' famous Beale Street. Beale Street is the lively, touristy hangout of the city. There are bars, nightclubs, restaurants, stores, shops, etc... - all this in just three blocks. A sign is proudly displayed at the entrance of the street declaring it the "Home of the Blues". On the weekends, you can hear several genres of live music emanating from the clubs on the street. It was a Thursday night when Traci and I first visited Beale Street to dine at Blues City Café. The street was pretty empty at the time. As for our meal, we shared a half-slab of ribs and some sides. We finished off by sharing an apple dumping dessert with ice cream. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Blues City Café, I did not notice anything distinctive about our first Memphis barbeque experience when compared to other barbeque places we have tried around the country. Oh well, it was only the first night. There would be other opportunities to try some barbeque before we return home.
We were exhausted as we were leaving downtown to get to our hotel. It had been a long day of travel and walking. It was around 11 PM when we got settled into the Fairfield. This was the start of a rather eventful night. Traci immediately changed into her night clothes and got into the bed. As I was in the bathroom, I happened to notice two dead bugs on the floor. Fearing they might be bed bugs, I got my phone and Googled images of bed bugs to compare them to what I was seeing. Although they looked like they could have been bed bugs, I wasn't totally sure if they were. I decided to err on the side of caution. I woke Traci up from her deep sleep and told her about my concern. I could not find any evidence of bed bug activity in the bed but I was already psychologically freaked out. I showed the dead bugs to the hotel receptionist. She wasn't sure if they were bed bugs or not. She said that given I found them in the bathroom, they probably were not. Regardless, she took pictures of them, took down our room number, and offered us a different room. I thanked her but informed her that we would prefer to find a different hotel. She understood and did not charge us. In the meantime, Traci had gone online and found us a room at the Four Points by Sheraton Memphis East located about 4 miles away. It was inconvenient to get dressed, pack up our stuff, and drive to another hotel but I think it was my only chance of getting any peace of mind at that point.
It was after midnight when we checked into the Sheraton. Of course, I checked our room thoroughly before we unpacked. Not finding anything alarming, we hit the sack. Traci was sleep before her head hit the pillow. I, on the other hand, was having trouble falling to sleep. This was unusual for me so I guess I was still rattled by the bugs. I laid there trying to get some rest for what seemed like hours. Later that night, I discovered the walls were not very sound-proof as I began to hear the amorous encounter of the couple in the room next to ours.
Eventually, I began to see daylight through the curtains of the room thus putting an end to an eventful night. I did not feel like I had slept at all. We had a full day of activities ahead of us and I was concerned I would not have the energy to enjoy them. Nonetheless, I was determined to make the most of my day. Continue...