A DAY IN THE HOME OF THE BLUES | Darrin Henry
Memphis, Tennessee! It just rolls off the tongue with the warm familiarity of a favourite song – even though this is my first time here. The very name is as iconic as the people and music associated with it: Elvis Presley, obviously! BB King and Johnny Cash spring to mind as Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ plays around in my head. But, now that we’re here, I’m surprised to learn these three aren’t from Memphis at all! The most famous of Memphis’s children are actually actor Morgan Freeman, singer Justin Timberlake and Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.
The Memphis Pyramid
We only have one full day in the city; arrived last night, leaving tomorrow morning. Early bird parking ($10) on the ground floor of a multi-storey in Monroe Street at 8.45am on a Sunday and we’re all set.
Out on the streets the light is great for photography; early morning in June and a clear summer sky. Along Front Street we go. It feels like we have the whole city to ourselves; it’s quite deserted but something we’re fast getting used to in the US, although I had expected more foot traffic in a big city like Memphis, Tennessee.
On the drive in we had spotted, of all things, a silvery blue pyramid! A little online research as we walk back in that direction reveals it’s recently become a large Bass Pro store, specialising in fishing and outdoor goods. Built by the city in 1991 the original purpose was as a 20,000+ seat arena for sport and entertainment functions, however, after local sports teams moved to other premises the building stood empty for a decade. Hopes that the Memphis Pyramid would become a major tourist attraction are still to be realised.
After some difficulty reaching the store (US infrastructure is designed for road travel not walking) we eventually arrive at the front door, having almost slid down an embankment and crossed some railway tracks to get here. The gigantic metallic pyramid looks out of place, something you’d expect to see in Las Vegas, but it’s spectacular for sure. Sweating from the heat, even at 9.45am, we go inside for some air-conditioned respite. We had planned to get a picture from the viewing deck near the top of the 98m pyramid, however, the $10 each charge puts us off. Travelling on a budget we’ve been searching out free excursions wherever possible.
Hernando De Soto Bridge
Out we go again and head along the Mississippi River bank. The city’s Hernando De Soto Bridge, affectionately called the ‘M’ bridge because of its shape, catches my eye. We climb onto a maintenance gangway that straddles a flood wall and discover a great view of the bridge. The light is awesome and we make a note to come back in the evening to try a night shot from here. (check out Part 2 for the night shots)
A few hundred metres along the riverfront we run into three Memphians, chilling on the walkway in the shade. They are instantly curious about who we are and comment on the ‘big’ camera. We spend half an hour chatting; they tell us about Memphis and we tell them all about St Helena. The three of them promise to try find our blog although admit they are not internet savvy.
Elvis Presley and BB King
On the riverfront we dropped in to the Elvis and BB King Memphis visitor centre.
Continuing our stroll along the river front it is quite noticeable that unlike towns and cities we’ve visited in other parts of the world, waterfront type property in America seems to hold little appeal for development of recreation areas. Walking perhaps a mile, there is plenty of prime space but no coffee shops, refreshment stands or souvenir sellers.
We stop to eat our pack lunch, marvelling the whole time at how deserted the place is. In the UK, on a bright summer’s day like this, this area would bustle with rows of restaurants and cafes with parasols shading outdoor seating; the grassy slopes would be filled with sun bathers and ice cream vendors would make a killing.
Perhaps the crime rate has an impact. More online research reveals Memphis has one of the highest crime rates in the US. Violent crime figures were over 12,000 in 2008. Maybe that’s a factor here. Or maybe it’s just because it’s Sunday? I don’t know.
The tide on the river is low. We stroll along the river’s edge where floating debris has become trapped near a few steamboats that are tied up waiting for tour customers, including, as the sign told us, the Memphis Queen II. By now it is nearly midday; it looks unlikely the steamboats will be going out as there is no one around.
END OF PART 1 – Click Here to Read Part 2