Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Memphis

Memphis was an experience to say the least. Matt Josh and I cruised into the city steering from the top with the newly reinforced sweep steer. The first one broke, but the new one is guaranteed. As soon as we landed in the marina on Mud Island, the sun was just above the herizon. We were greeted by the locals with open arms. This was the first marina that we had seen since the St. Louis area and we were glad to hear of the laundry and shower facilities. We tied up, cleaned up, and socialized with the workers and anyone who happened to walk by. This marina has a nice outdoor lounge area right on the dock. There was always someone there relaxing and glad to have some good company. Naturally, we go caught up for a while with all of the chit-chatting.

After getting situated, one of the workers gave us a ride across the bay into downtown on his pontoon, Gizmo. We had been seeing little more than trees and water for a few days and the inner city was a bit foreign. We were dropped off right by the levy and only had a short walk. Sandy recommended the Bardog to get some greatly needed grub, so we didn't hesitate to make the stop right away. The air conditioning was more than relieving and the food was just as good. What a treat to be on dry land, and in civilization.

We hit Beale Street in the early evening. I was dead set on finding some live blues. It was a Thursday so there wasn't a ton of commotion. We'd been running long hours so we didn't mind calling it an early night even though we hadn't found any blues music. Somewhere along Beale Street, we got split up, but it's a pretty safe street so we weren't overly concerned. A driver of the horse and buggy, Glen, was waiting to bring home a crew, but it was getting late and he wanted to head home just as I was walking in his direction. He offered me a ride. I opened my wallet to find no cash but he said he was going toward Mud Island anyway and was glad to give me a lift. Glen knows Memphis. I could barely squeeze in a word because he was rambling about every historical point that we passed. I never realized there was so much history in every corner. Glen even let me drive the carriage, but the horse knew where to go for the most part. I wished I had a few bucks to throw to him but all he asked is that I didn't tell his boss about the free ride.

The security gate to the lower part of the island wasn't a problem for me because the workers at the marina had told them we would be coming through. Earlier no one was there when matt came through so he crawled underneath. Josh came in a little later and the guard was sleeping. Josh woke him, and walked right through where we all met up again and hit the hay.

On Friday morning, in the blistering heat, I went for a run through the park on the lower end of the island. In Mud Island Park, the city put together a scale model of the lower Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Golf. It stretched a half mile. It twisted and wound around the park and the water ran continuously from the head waters to the pool at the end. I couldn't help but stop and see the places we had been and what we have up ahead. There were interesting tidbits on various mile markers. My favorite ones told about the disputes over land between states. It usually happened after a flood when the river had changed positions. Some of the displays described the river as a living organism, always changing and challenging mankind along the banks. There was a burger joint by the pool that we stopped at later. It was overpriced but had great tasting food.

I made my way back to the marina to chat with some locals. A few of them were from New Orleans and gave us some good advice. Mostly, "Be careful." But they say as long as a guy sticks to the open streets, he'll have no problems. Chuck, the manager of the marina, gave us two tickets to the tram that ran from the island over the bay to the downtown area. By the time we made it to the tram, it had been closed for only 15 minutes. Kind of a bummer, but we got some good aerial shots of the Sea Monkey and the river model from 5 stories up. We were about to leave when we found two untouched baskets of chicken from the burger joint. With not a soul in sight, we gobbled them down. No need to stop for dinner right away. We took a cab into the city instead of the tram.

Memphis is not short on homeless guys. They really stick to tourists, hoping for money and/or beer. One followed us from the ATM for a few blocks until Josh tossed some change to him and he left us alone. Later I realized that the best way keep clear of them is to ask them for money and beer. They quickly realize I've got nothing and move on.

The first stop we made was in a fancy blues cafe with mellow music. The drinks were too much for our budget and the bar tender told us about a deal on "BIG ASS BEERS" from the restaurant's outdoor bar. We each got a drink and headed back in. The bouncer at the door said only drinks from inside are aloud in there. "Finnish those first" he said. We called his bluff and walked away. He quickly chased us down and said we could go right on into the cafe for the show. That's another trick that came in handy more than once. Beale Street likes tourists.

We wondered to the end of the street to find a guy who looked our age playing some classic blues on the sidewalk. He played the guitar and three drums using all of his limbs. Did I mention he sang too? We watched for a while but left because he was only warming up. We got a bite to eat and went back to the show. I stubbed my toe, not thinking much of it at the time. It wasn't long before my sandal was covered in blood and I was leaving footprints on the concrete. A nearby carriage driver spotted me a few Band-Aids and I washed up in a hotel fountain. Problem solved! A man promoting his resteraunt was yelling as we walked close. "My bbq ribs are so tender you don' even need teeth. You can gum 'em!" As we walked by he saw the three bearded Northern Euros stick out like a sore thumb. "Hey, Sweeden! Norway! Come eat my ribs, you'll be glad ya did." We told him we were just too full but were looking forward to it tomorrow.

We headed back to the street performer a few songs into his set. I got a lot of pics and video that we can hopefully post soon. The crowd slowly loosened up and it wasn't long before everyone in the street was tapping their toe, singing along or showing off their elvis-wiggle. We were having a blast on that street corner for most of the night until the cops finally shut down the show. I realized that in the midst of all the mingling, the three of us had split up again. I asked a few cops how to get to Mud Island. They told me I had quite the hike, but they gave me a safe rout home.

I was stopped by the security guard at the marina. I told her I only wanted to get to my boat at the marina. She lectured me on the security policy. I told here that it sounds like a miscommunication between the marina and the security gate. I think she felt bad for barking at me because she gave me a ride through the gate and the rest of the way through the marina. She also gave me the same deal as Glen: "just don't tell my boss." I was glad to make the deal. She mentioned there was a band playing on Saturday at the amphitheater just a stone throw away from the marina; Journey!

We had planned to leave on Saturday, but we just had to stay to hear Journey. They weren't on stage until 8pm so we had some more down time to explore. Josh found some an air conditioned cafe to blog while I checked out the river model again and found a Mississippi River Museum near by. They had everything on display from show boats to the Civil War. I walked back to the boat to see Matt chatting with some folks with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a voluntary branch of the USCG. Hoping to go into the Coast Guard myself, I was more than pleased to sit and chat. They were glad to hear it too. By the time I'd gotten there, they had already given the Sea Monkey a full inspection and a sticker of approval to let the Coast guard patrol know we had already passed, even though we didn't have the registration paperwork handy (it's in my car in Minnesota). Thanks to my dad and Captain Ken, we have an electronic copy if we need it.

We figured we'd better run through Beale Street one more time. The tram was still open, but the ticket booth was closed. We didn't get it either. We still had two tickets from Chuck the manager and we swindled the workers to let us through. Despite the language barrier between the two dialects, we made it to the tram. All three of us stood under the air conditioning on the ceiling until the doors shut and the A/C turned off. Another puzzling instance.

Once in the downtown area, we worked our way through a heard of homeless guys. Sleeping on the pavement in the middle of the day, talking to themselves... you name it. We made it to the BBQ restaurant where the guy said "you can gum 'em,"
and he wasn't lying. They were some of the most tender rips I've had at a restaurant.

We hung out on Beale Street for a while longer. Before heading to the concert, we picked up some supplies from a nearby gas station and were once again swarmed with homeless guys, but our taxi finally came and we were off. We asked the driver to drop us off at the gate. We pulled up and as we were unloading, the security guard told us that we can't walk through the gate. "Nobody be walkin' through, you need a ride to get in." We tried logically explaining to the guard that we had a ride there and he saw us get out of the taxi... the taxi was there the whole time. I asked him why we couldn't walk it and didn't get a sensible answer. He just wouldn't budge. After we argued and tried to reason with the guard, the driver offered us a free 20 foot ride through the gate. It was unnecessary but at least kept everyone happy.

We didn't buy tickets, but people said you could hear the concert from the water just behind the amphitheater. A lot of other boaters had the same idea. Billy from the marina brought us out in his bass boat, but we figured if we're gonna do it, we'd better be in the Sea Monkey. So we went back to the marina and swapped. We ended up tying up tying up to a giant house boat, that was tied to a giant speed boat. Almost all the boats on the Mississippi are bigger than I've seen. There were a few couples on board that were glad to treat us and hear our stories. It's always nice to chat with southerners because they see the world a little bit differently.

Memphis is a great town to visit. I still want to go back someday. But I wouldn't ever want to live there. Some of the locals even say they want out. For me, the biggest problem was the heat. In the cold you can always put more layers on, but in the heat, you can only get naked. and most of the time that's not even an option. One of the locals said that everyone thinks southerners are lazy because they usually sit around and chat all day if they aren't working. Well, I can see why they don't want to move around much in that blazing heat. That could be why they have such a relaxed and social way of life, in Memphis anyway.

6 comments:

  1. each time i read a new post it only makes me more angry with myself for not jumping at the opportunity to travel alongside you guys. it sounds like the most rewarding experience of a lifetime. if you get the chance again, drink a big ass beer for me.

    skogs

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  2. You guys are making great time these last few days. Not meeting anybody to talk to on the river? Is there nothing to see aside from the cities? Stick together in New Orleans, and stay alert. Congratulations on a great achievement! Who's going to write the book?

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  3. If you haven't already scooted past Natchez (I suspect you have) see if the "Cock of the Walk" is still there. They have good catfish and great catfish. Period. Oh, and fried dill pickles. When you make it into New Orleans (besides being careful and sticking together as Uncle John says) look up Cafe du Monde. Best beignets and cafe au lait EVER. Can't wait to see you all safe and sound and yes, who IS going to write the book! Love you all and safe travels the rest of the way.

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  4. It is so much fun to read and see the pics and videos. I feel like I am on the trip with you! I am so proud of you guys - WOW! Josh, Ben and Matt making history! Please do take care of one another and New Orleans is not a place to be alone. Love you and can't wait to see you home and hear all of the stories. Auntie Lori

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  5. YOU MADE IT!! So proud of you! Now get back home safely!

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  6. Congratualtions for New Orleans but I say- Keep going!!! See if you can make it to Cuba:)

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