Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 28: Down in the Delta

Holy nation wide coverage Batman!
I awoke to a fairly decent day in Nashville; thankfully the rain I had driven through the entire length of the state so far had subsided. After breakfast I went on a driving tour around the city. There is far more to this city than I was able to really explore in one day, but the impression I had from that day was mostly positive. Even though it is the country music capital, Nashville really wasn't the city I was expecting it to be. Yes, the country and southern elements are there, but it is also quite urban. This, no doubt, is helped by the universities in the city.

I had quite a bit of ground to cover, so I fueled up and headed out on the road. Between Nashville and Memphis I completely avoided the interstate, as per usual on this trip. In doing this I was better able to see the transition in landscape from the lush and hilly forests in the east to the more flat, farm oriented lands in the west. It was, for the most part, a pleasant and enjoyable drive (apart from being stuck behind trucks on one lane highways).

I rolled into Memphis in the early evening and I checked into my motel. From what I had read about Memphis, there are a couple distinct districts just like in most other cities. Along the Mississippi river is the "downtown" area; with the skyscrapers, most of the popular bars and restaurants, etc. To the east of downtown, is "Midtown". Apparently you don't walk around in midtown day or night, and you only really want to drive through it in the day. My motel was in midtown, a fact that I had missed when booking it as it was labeled "Downtown Memphis". I dumped my stuff in my room, promptly latched and deadbolted the door, and did some work for a while until I got hungry. Upon leaving I made sure to leave the lights and TV on to give the impression that someone was still in the room (a technique I learned from my dad).

I had the address of a popular brew pub chain in the region, but had trouble finding it. Either it had closed down or my address was wrong. No worries, I thought, I'll just head to one of the bars and get some pub food there.

Beale in the morning. Not pictured: passed out patrons
between the buildings.
For those unfamiliar with Memphis, it fancies itself a blues town; in fact it is quite celebrated for its blues music. In this vein, there is a street downtown called Beale street; where every night it is closed to traffic and people wander the streets, beer in hand, going from bar to bar to watch live music. Every night. I was there on a Wednesday night, but it felt like a Friday. It was an amazing atmosphere. For about four blocks there is bar after bar, most cover charge free, offering live music; some dive-y, some upscale. Even between the buildings in the alleyways and the streets there are bands set up on makeshift stages performing.

It seems I picked an interesting night to show up; it was Bike Night, so once again on this trip I was thrust completely into the biker culture. Which was fine, it made for a lively scene. After walking up and down the street soaking it all in, I ducked into a bar at random to grab some food. The one I picked was probably the only one without a live band inside, offering karaoke instead. So there I sat, eating a BBQ sandwich, watching what turned out to be some fairly decent karaoke (at least compared to what I had witnessed the night before).

Off topic: I just read that McCain chose his running mate: Sarah Palin, the governor from Alaska. She's young and fairly inexperienced in politics other than the Alaskan executive office. Interesting choice. My first thought is that she was chosen because Hillary Clinton was not chosen to be the Democratic VP, in a play to win some of the Hillary supporters over to the McCain side. Other than that it's hard to see what she could really bring to McCain's ticket, having little or no experience in nationwide politics. Yes, when people point this out there will be the obvious comparison to Obama, saying he has little experience as well, but I feel that his experience is more relevant to the position he is running for, and his choice in running mate really complements his weaknesses rather than just pandering to political games. It'll be interesting to watch the vice president debates.

Anyway, back on topic. After eating I walked around for a couple of hours, watching various bands perform; from blues, to rock, to a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar playing covers such as Hotel California and Hendrix songs. All in all a definite must see for anyone who enjoys music, large amounts of crappy beer (they sell something like 44 ounce beers on the street), and a slightly debaucherous atmosphere. My only suggestion would be to stay at a hotel nearer (or have a DD), as I only had a single beer on account that I had to drive back to the shady side of town.

You can just make out the wreath hanging on
the railing where Dr. King was shot.
In the morning, I headed over to the South Main district and had some coffee at Bluff City Coffee, and nice local joint with decent coffee and free wifi. The main reason I was over in the area, however, was to go to the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum is actually built out of the hotel that Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in and was subsequently shot outside of during a stay in Memphis. It only cost $10 to get in (lets hear it for student discount), and I spent the better part of four hours walking through. The exhibits start from the Civil War era, and cover everything through reconstruction, the world wars, the depression, and the rise and eventual (at least legislatively) success of the civil rights movement that culminated in the sixties. It ends with the assassination of Dr. King, with his hotel room as part of the display. Across the street the museum continues from where it is believed his killer stayed, and fired the shot from. The evidence and timeline for the case is laid out for the patron to draw their own conclusions from, as the case still has many unanswered questions (although they did catch and convict the man believed to do the actual killing). It is interesting to see everything laid out side by side, especially the government's actions in trying to spy on and discredit Dr. King. Conspiracy theorists go nuts for this kind of thing (and it does give the average person pause).

Museums seem to be the bane of my existence; I never allow myself enough to time to thoroughly enjoy them and read everything they have to offer. Regardless, I did get a chance to experience the majority of the Civil Rights Museum, and thankfully so. It was extremely powerful and educational, and quite engaging through videos, pictures, quotes, and real artifacts from each era. I cannot recommend this place highly enough to anyone visiting the Memphis area, especially for those without a deep familiarity with the subject.

By the time I left Memphis it was past six. My initial goal was to make it to New Orleans immediately after Memphis, but the distance between the cities is far greater than I originally realized, so I decided to stay in Jackson, Mississippi for the night. I started off traveling south on highway 61, hoping to get some nice views of the Mississippi River which it ran along. Unfortunately there were two problems with this:
  1. The highway actually runs about 2 or 3 miles from the river at any time.
  2. The sun promptly began to set not long after I departed from Memphis.
The drive was still pleasant, the landscape was definitely beginning to change and take on the characteristics I had in mind for the area. Eventually, when it was too dark to see anymore, I jumped over into I-55 and completed my journey into Jackson.

My plan was from here to head down to New Orleans for the night, then begin around the gulf coast to Texas. However, there seems to be talk of a little hurricane brewing off the coast which is already causing problems for some of the island nations. It's not expected to make landfall in the New Orleans area until Monday, but already there is talk of a mandatory evacuation of the area. This is quite unfortunate, but really I'm not sure what I was expecting at the height of hurricane season. I'm still evaluating the situation, but I'm leaning towards heading down and checking it out. I'm still a good few days away from the Monday target, at which time I should be in Austin anyways. We'll see how things pan out.

Weather status: Holy hell, I am now beginning to get a better understanding of what true humidity is like. Also it seems to bring out the insects in Biblical numbers at night. Gross.
Distance conquered: ~7200 miles
Recent listenings include:
I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody's Business - Self Titled
The Kooks - Inside In/Inside Out
The Starting Line - Based On a True Story
More Science Friday podcasts (I'm beginning to see why my iPod is full, I have hundreds of these things, each one upwards of 40 minutes in length)


g said...

dude! that hurricane is some serious business. cnn has a picture of everybody evacuating on the highway today. i dunno if you want to be there man... that place is ghetto enough when all the people who can afford cars ARE there... when they all leave.... oy. haha.

i might suggest checking out vicksburg and going on the natchez trace... its a pretty drive and you will see some nice antebellum homes. i dunno what to do about driving to avoid the hurricane though... its supposed to hit somewhere between LA and TX, which screws up your plan of attack significantly, eh?

memphis sounds cool, i wanna see it now.

Stuart said...

Another trick with hotel room security is to check under the bed... and watch out for highly polished reflective bed frames

Rory said...

What are you supposed to do if there's someone under your bed!? Beyond messing yourself.

g said...

holy crap dude! stay out of New Orleans! They are evacuating the whole town!

colin douglas said...

Hahaha...oh man I remember that particular bed. Hilarious. And don't worry about the new orleans thing, read the new blog forthcoming.