I'm not much of a traveler. With two small kids, a husband that works weekends, and a budget so tight it squeaks, traveling is a luxury. But to my surprise, all the stars aligned and I arrived in Memphis on Monday with eight-women from my book club, varying in ages, all ready to experience some rock and roll. It was an adventure.
I didn't know much about Memphis. Well, I knew it was in Tennessee. I knew it was once home to Elvis. I also thought it might be kind of hot in July. All true. In some ways, Memphis is something extra special. In other ways, it scares me.
The best part about traveling is that you get to experience it all for yourself. I'm not sure if you've been or if you'll ever go, but here's a few trip highlights. Go ahead. Soak 'em in.
1. Beale Street, the place of all food, music and debauchery, is pronounced "Bill" street by locals. It's fantastic all lit up. Every stop had amazing musicians that dazzled me.
2. The bus tour was really needed, if you want a good history lesson about music in Memphis. Sun Records. Stax. Sam Phillips. Did you know that Elvis and his mama lived in government housing and only two blocks away was BB King's home? All on the same street, all at the same time.
3. Panhandling is an art form in Memphis. Kids, adults and crack heads all want your money, or your cigarettes, or your soul. They will steal it, if you let your guard down.
4. The lottery is not just for winning millions. Apparently, Memphis loves the Broadway production of "Wicked" enough to pull names each night for a $25 ticket in the front row. Sign up, wait 15 minutes and pay with cash if they call your name. Twenty lucky winners, including me. It was the best show I have ever seen. Thank you, Memphis!
5. Good food can be found at a place with a really pretty, ornate sign out front. GREAT food is in a dive so bad that you start questioning the legitimacy of health inspectors.
6. Priceline works. $160 a night hotel for only $80. Grab that deal.
7. Trolley systems are still transporting people down Main Street. For only $1, you can rest your feet and soak up some history.
8. Cotton was huge in Memphis because of the river. There are all different grades of cotton from pure white to gray. Cotton is so big, they still hold an annual parade with a cotton queen.
9. If you want to survive in the tourist industry in Memphis, you must be an entertainer. It doesn't matter if you're singing, waiting tables or cleaning the floor, people with personality are the only ones that make it. Find yours.
10. I love me some Elvis. I love me some Johnny Cash. I wish I had known them when they were young and hungry for music in Memphis. It must have been so exciting. Being rich and famous will kill you. It's too much pressure for one small soul.
And, my last lesson in Memphis.....when I was taking a photo of the historic First Baptist Church building, which is only a block away from the famous Beale street, a man stood up from the stairs and started unbuttoning his pants while I was snapping a photo of the sign.
"I got something free for you, girl. You want my picture," he says. "Girl, girl....where you goin'. I said I got something for you."
It felt good to visit, it really did, but I wasn't tempted to stay (even with all that free stuff that nice young man at the church was giving away). Amidst all that solicitation, and rocking and rolling, and great food, Memphis is really a happening place. It's alive. Enjoy at your own risk.