Posted by: athike2011 | July 31, 2011

Day 19–Memphis to Mississippi

This morning started off with a visit to the vet. After my research last night I found what looked like the best vet in town, or at least had great reviews by locals and travelers alike. The staff was very friendly and even without and appointment it didn’t take long at all to get seen. It turns out Sierra has some sort of staff infection, which could have been caused by any number of allergens anywhere along our travels. Around $100 later they gave us some antibiotics and we went on our way.

When I asked friends and family what they would do if they were in Memphis, the one answer that kept popping up was “Graceland!”. I’m not an Elvis fan, not that I don’t appreciate or like his music, I just don’t really know any of it, or have any burning desire to go out and buy a bunch of Elvis records. Never the less, I am in Memphis, so why not? I had done some research prior to today, during which I learned if one would like to see Graceland, at least beyond the compound walls, it will cost you no less than $35, but up to $70 if you want the “VIP experience”, whatever that means. I had no intention of taking this tour, but was again caught off guard when I showed up and they wanted $15 just to park on top of that! It’s not as if this was in the center of a bustling downtown or busy community, or even an area with no parking and they had to specifically build this lot to accommodate the number of tourists. In fact, Elvis put his mansion right in the middle of the ghetto. I did a little research as I was curious if it had always been that way and Elvis just didn’t know how to be rich, or if the neighborhood had just deteriorated in the recent years. From what I can find it looks as though the neighborhood used to be a beautiful upper class area, but in the last 20 years or so it has fallen apart.

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Needless to say I parked a few blocks away and made the ten minute walk to save the fifteen bucks. There is a big stone wall which surrounds Graceland and across the street is where you go to pay your money and take the shuttle which drives you back across the street and through the gates into the compound. People have signed and written messages all over the surrounding wall. Some prayers, some claiming Elvis is alive and well in various obscure locations, some just signing their names.

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Back across the street is also the Lisa Marie, the airplane Elvis did most of his touring in. Once again, it’s not free, so the only view I got was what I could see over a wall.

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At this point it was around eleven and I hadn’t had breakfast so I was about ready for lunch. Interstate BBQ is a well known Memphis stop. They have been featured on the food network for their BBQ spaghetti and ribs. The place is in a fairly industrial area of town, not far from the big FedEx distributing center, right off the interstate, hence the name.

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They had just opened and there were already five or six tables of people eating, I guess it was good I got there early. I sat down and they brought me a menu, there were signs everywhere about not stealing menus. I guess this is a common problem? I figured if they were so sought after I might as well take a picture of them as well.

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I decided to go with an order of pork ribs with coleslaw and bake beans. Luckily they sell relatively small portions of their BBQ spaghetti, as I was curious, but not enough so to get more than a $1.50 order. The food came pretty quick, as is usually the case with BBQ. The ribs looked pretty good, not as good as in the picture on the menu, but that’s usually the case. The rest looked pretty standard or how I would have expected.

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First things first, the BBQ spaghetti. It was actually really tasty. Though I absolutely love tomatoes, I am not one for marinara sauce, so spaghetti is not something I get to enjoy. It was more than just some pulled  pork, BBQ sauce and pasta, there were some other seasonings in there that I couldn’t quite put my finger on which gave it that something extra it needed. Then  came the ribs. The first three were really delicious, tender juicy, full of flavor, however I was disappointed that if you want additional sauce you have to pay for it. Once the top three were done I could immediately tell the bottom ones did not come from the same day let alone the same rack. The next two ribs I ate were dry and overcooked, nothing like the first three. There was mild redemption with the last bone as it was a big step up, but I was still wishing I had saved one of the best ones for last.

After that it was a waiting game. Bad service is something most take for granted, but I’m broke, so anytime I have god awful service, I look at it as a blessing, they just saved me 10-15% of my money. Having worked in restaurants for a number of years I appreciate the respect and in some cases only source of income that goes along with tipping. I also appreciate what it takes to be a good server and can tell when a place is busy or the service is just bad. I sat for twenty-five minutes staring at empty plates while six servers helped about thirteen tables. I already told myself at that point that I would walk out if no one came within the next five. I paid my bill and left

I decided to just head towards Birmingham, but in the most backwoods, out of the way direction I could muster up. I only got about two blocks from the restaurant when I cam across a huge fire. A recycling places stock pile had erupt into flames. I called 911, but was not the first to do so, and before I could hang up the fire department was already there. I stood and watched until the crap in the air finally got to where I was, and I took off.

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Recycling Fire

When I was at the vet earlier I spoke with the receptionist while I waited, explaining I was traveling and from out of town. She insisted that as it was a unpleasantly hot day, even for a Memphis native, that I needed to go to Jerry’s Sno Cones before I left town. I worked it into my route and was very glad I did. I pulled up and there was a rather large line that never went away the whole time I was there.

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The way they did their snow cones it had an almost slushy like texture which was actually just what I wanted to help beat the heat. The only thing that would make the afternoon better was a lake Sierra and I could swim in. I looked at my map and found an national forest area “on the way” to Alabama with a number of lakes throughout.

We ended up navigating a number of random dirt roads in the middle of backcountry Mississippi. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. This was part of the south I really wanted to see. In the country, lots of big open lots, folks sitting on their porches enjoying the weather and the occasional smell of a BBQ or smoker running. Sadly, I have never seen a national forest with so much private property, and there was no getting to any of the lakes on the map.

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I drove through an old town called Holly Springs. It looked as if at one point it may have been a nice busting back country town, but that was not the case any longer. The poverty throughout the town was extraordinarily prominent. There wasn’t a new anything in sight. Well, that’s not entirely true, the one thing I found that parallels the bay area was that even in total poverty, there is no shortage of money to work on your car. A bay area fad that definitely caught on out here is turning it into a “scraper”. All this means is you lift your car, a regular sedan, not a truck, and put the biggest possible rims that can fit in your wheel wells, with really thin tires. often the wheel scrape on the wells, hence the name “scrapers”. I didn’t take this picture, it’s just for visual reference.

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I kept driving and found what was a college at one point but was now in shambles. I parked and took some pictures

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Following the “less fuel” option for routing on my GPS we ended up in the town of Tupelo, which I had no idea was the birthplace of Elvis. After seeing a sign for his house, I again figured, why not. The actual place was closed and wouldn’t open until 1pm tomorrow, so I gave myself a little walking tour. The house was painfully small, but I guess there was no reason to spend much time inside back then anyways. They had even transplanted the church he went to as a boy from down the street to the same property.

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It was around 7 and I noticed a sign for a park down the road. I drove over and found a beautiful man made lake with lots of picnic tables and some good areas to park. Most importantly, there were no “No overnight parking” signs to be found. I parked and was getting my things together to cook dinner when randomly an older black man walked up to me, having notice my Washington plates, and started up a conversation. His name was Dave Ross and he had lived in a town about twenty minutes away his entire life. He spoke of his travels to Las Vegas, which he loves, though he had only been twice. Told me about when he took the bus to North Carolina once, and had even been to Windsor in Canada. He told me even in his old age Mississippi was too slow for him, and that no one knew how to mind their own business and let bygone be bygones. We spoke for a while longer, and he thanked me for the conversation and headed on his way.

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I cooked myself some dinner and found a dark place under a tree to park the car for the night. Around eleven I met one of Mississippi’s finest, as my car was lit up by his spotlight. I stepped out of the car and we spoke briefly. I told him that I had not seen any signs saying I could not park overnight, but would be happy to move if needed. He asked if I was traveling and told me not to worry about it, they just want to make sure no one is smoking dope in the park, and that if anyone hassled me to tell them he said it was OK. I thanked him and went back to bed.

I also thought it was interesting to note that this is the first any only Starbucks (where I’m writing this) that is being run entirely by 40-50 year old men. Not exactly what I would have expected in Mississippi, but hey, who knows.

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