John Lennon said, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” We rolled into Memphis on Elvis Presley Boulevard, took a right on Lonely Street, and parked the bus behind the Heartbreak Hotel at the Graceland RV Park and Campground. Seriously, all true. You can’t come to Memphis, birthplace of rock n roll and the blues, without visiting the place Elvis called home. Well, I guess you could but why would you? Although it is often referred to as his “mansion,” it’s actually quite modest by today’s standards. Yes, he had room for horses and built a racquetball court out back, but it really felt like a warm, inviting home. On the tour, we were struck by how much Elvis loved his friends and family, and how much they all loved him in return. Bridger said, “Elvis just seems like he would have been fun to hang out with.”
We asked the park manager for a barbecue joint recommendation; he told us, “There’s a layer of smoke over Memphis this weekend from the International Barbecue Contest being held down by the Mississippi River, but you can’t go wrong anywhere in the city!” At the fest, which was unfortunately geared more toward the contest than to hungry tourists, we had delicious ribs and pulled pork sandwiches from Central BBQ. The next day, we made a trek out to the edge of the city for A&R BBQ, which was well worth the drive. We’ve decided BBQ is the American food, and we love it.
In New Orleans, Bridger pointed out that we had not been to a zoo yet on our trip. A quick Google search for “best zoos in the US” turned up the Memphis Zoo on almost every top ten list, so we put it on the list. Good call! The Egyptian motif throughout the zoo seemed odd until we remembered that Memphis was named for the ancient Egyptian capital city on the Nile River. We saw feeding time for polar bears, grizzly bears, and gorillas. Memphis is also one of only four locations in America to have giant panda bears! The sea lion show was also remarkably well done – funny, informative, and clever. We know that in many ways the Stuttgart zoo has spoiled us, but this one was excellent.
Ayrril and I took advantage of our evenings, heading down to Beale Street just a few blocks off of the Mississippi. It was a lot like Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Duval Street in Key West (i.e. packed with people, a lot of them tourists) but seemed to have a lot more locals and a lot more music. We looked into a few places, had a drink at one or two, but ultimately just enjoyed spending time in B.B. King’s Blues Club. The house band, The B.B. King All-Stars, played a soul and funk mix that was so fun we came back the next night. Music is clearly such a part of Beale Street, there was a live band behind almost every door. It’s easy to see how the soul of Memphis music was such a tremendous influence on Elvis and everyone who came after him!