Arriving late at night and confused by the barricades containing construction, I was ready to pass out and try Memphis by the fresh light of dawn. Though my time there was brief, my agenda was packed. After checking in to the Peabody, I woke the next morning to discover the early morning beauty of the city. Beale Street goes to bed late and the soft silence that surrounds a breaking dawn in the Blues Capital is something special.
I started off my first day meeting up with Brittney Adu of Memphis tourism. Young, innovative, energetic, with the ability to captivate her audience, Brittney is everything one could hope for in a tourism representative. While we had the staples planned for the team at large, we also carved out some time on the side to do a few relaxing activities just the two of us.
After coffee at Cafe Keough, we made our way back to the construction site that holds the Amtrak station to do an interview for local TV and tour the new hotel attached to the station. For the neigh-sayers of rail, those who would never condescend to take the train. This hotel is an enormous investment proving that for Memphis, the rail and the streetcar are here to stay. It will be a gorgeous property when it is open, including a full service bar, boutique rooms overlooking both town and track, as well as a restaurant and house DJs spinning local, regional, and classic vinyl. For anyone planning to take the train into town later in the year, stay here. I plan to as soon as possible.
With the midday heat rising, we ran to the refuge of cold beer and smoked meat over at Central Barbeque. New to me were the Honey Gold Smoked Chicken Wings which Brittney insisted I needed to try. Paired with a High Cotton Mexican Lager, I was in heaven. Sweet heat cut with smoke, the whole wing snaps apart with tender meat sliding right off the bone. Followed by sausages, ribs, pulled pork, and an array of sides, it was a bbq scene completely its own. Having lived in Austin, I have to watch my bias on barbeque. Each flavor and region contains its own beauty and I am here for it.
While Jim and TJ from my team headed back to the hotel to get some work done, Brittney invited me to take a trip to one of her favorite places in town Muddy’s Bakery. I fell in love as soon as we walked into the bustling store front. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I do love a well made cupcake. From flavors like the Prozac (Vegan Chocolate on Chocolate) to Cherry Limeade and Grasshopper, this adorable little shop stole my heart. We parted with treats for the team and matching iced matcha lattes. Over afternoon tea and a drive back to the Peabody, Brittney and I had become fast friends. Sharing a lot of similar feelings on transit, intersectionality, inclusion, and a matching sense of morbid humor. After saying my see you soon to Brittney, I headed into the the Peabody to find the Duck Master and bear witness to the infamous duck march.
Low and behold it was a sight to see. Keenan the residing Duck Master is a breath of fresh air and optimism. He and his ducks raise money for St. Jude’s as he puts on the twice a day show marching his squad of five from elevator to fountain each morning and vice versa each evening. I sat down with a mint julep and took in the show. He is a great orator, espousing his love for the historic property as well as his love for the ducks.
My next day in Memphis brought a destination I’ve wanted to visit for years – The National Civil Rights Museum. Everyone residing in the states should make a point to visit this museum in their lifetime. It is so very important to where our future is headed. We owe so much to those who fought for the rights of all people in this country, those who fought for freedom, those who died fighting to end segregation. Especially as a transit advocate, seeing the vast wealth of information and documentation in regards the the Freedom Riders and March on Birmingham was incredibly impacting.
I think it’s easy for some people to allow these events to fade into history, but it really wasn’t that long ago and if we turn a blind eye to the worst for our country, it will not get better moving forward. At this time of turmoil is it so pertinent to step back and listen. To evaluate and internalize the historical material conditions that have brought us to our current place in existence. This experience will stay with me for a long time to come. I’ve always been fascinated by history and politics but to see a living history from 1400s to 2010s, a history that affects many people in my life and in our country… It is an enduring truth and we must do our best to craft a better future, all of us.
Lunch was at the Four Way. A historic destination tied to the legacy of the Civil Rights fighters, this Memphis hot spot serves sit down soul food at affordable prices with menu staples spanning its eight decade run. The original owner had passed earlier this year so I invited the team to come with me and pay tribute to this community stronghold. While we sampled flavors from Fried Green Tomatoes to Pickled Beets, Smothered Cabbage, Fried Chicken, and Midwest Spaghetti, we talked to Brittney about the streetcar, Memphis history, and how it felt being new to the workforce in a city with a culture all its own.
The last destination for our little team was the Stax Museum. Originally home to the vastly popular Stax Records, this site is dedicated to the amazing music that comes from the city and region. Within it’s walls there is a performance center, dance floor, wall of fame, revolving superfly Cadillac, and some of the original recording equipment used by greats like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and Mable John. As y’all know, I love all forms of art. Music is such an important one and has bridged so many gaps in culture and community. Much like food, music can speak to the soul, it can heal heartbreak and bind itself to memories. Getting to take in this beautiful experience paying homage to the greats was a fantastic way to round out my time in Soulsville USA.