On previous Southern road trips, my schedule was pretty tightly fixed and I hadn't really had the chance to visit Memphis. I'd been to Graceland in the past, but was keen to head downtown and have a look around. On this trip, we were leaving Vicksburg, Mississippi and heading for a few days in Nashville. Given the location, we took a little detour on our way and motored on up to Memphis.
Memphis has always been on my radar and it's just been lack of time and so many other things on my itineraries that has kept me from it before. I knew how much it had to offer and had a few specific sights I wanted to check out. Our time was pretty tight to get to our apartment in East Nashville that night, so we only had a few hours to spare.
I managed to earn myself a speeding ticket and Dukes of Hazard type police chase in Tennessee in 2006 and the memory's still burned in my head. If avoiding another ticket meant keeping to the limit and spending less time in Memphis, then a short afternoon would have to suffice.
Arriving in the midst of the afternoon heat, the sun was bright and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. Hailing from Scotland, I was thrilled to be able to bust out my moth-eaten and rather elusive summer wardrobe, particularly since it was October. Clearly, no one had bothered to tell Memphis about the whole 'changing seasons' thing. Praise the Lord! It's the little things that make me happy. We parked up on the square across from UT, slathered on some sun block and popped over to pay a visit to Sun Studios.
Historic Sun Records Sign
I'm a huge country music fan, so seeing the studio where Johnny Cash got his first break was a real draw for me. Over the years, I'd heard and read much about Sun and knew it was quite a small studio, which had to rapidly expand when it had artists of the calibre is seemed to find.
It was a lovely moment to recognise the exterior from all the photos I'd seen and then stand outside striking my favourite pose (smiling awkwardly and pointing at stuff) and, well, point at the building while getting LT to take a snap. I have spared you that particular joy, you'll be pleased to see. I do it a lot, though, so I'm sure one or two will slip through the net at some point. I apologise in advance.
Aaaanyway, you can take a tour of Sun and hear loads of stories about its famous artists, which are recounted by brilliantly knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides. There is plenty of encouragement to sing along with the music, but I do my singing in the privacy of my car and it's best not heard by other ears. Still, if you're not completely socially awkward like me, you'll have a ball.
One of the highlights of the tour, for me, was checking out the tape on the floor, which marks the spot where Elvis and his band stood to play. It's a bit like the crosses on the road in Dallas where JFK was shot, but way less horrifying.
After a quick visit to Sun, we reset the sat nav and drove to 450 Mulberry. The Lorraine Motel, like Sun, was something I've seen pictures of in books and on TV footage, but a memory that stays with me was a framed snap of Martin Luther King's balcony that was shown as part of a photography exhibition in a gallery in Glasgow, Scotland. It was just a just a simple shot of a now world famous site, but it was really striking. I had a feeling that seeing it for myself would be equally so.
The area surrounding the Lorraine has obviously expanded over the years and now includes the National Civil Rights Museum, which has recently seen further upgrading and renovation and opened to the pubic in its most up to date form in April of 2014.
There is so much to see that our quick stop didn't even scratch the surface. Standing beneath the balcony of Room 306 is a pretty sombre experience, as it should be, but it has been wonderfully maintained as a lasting tribute.
The Lorraine Motel
Lorraine Motel signage
The balcony where Martin Luther King was shot
National Civil Rights Museum
A quick 9 mile drive from Mulberry Street is Graceland. I have visited previously, but as this was LT's first visit to Tennesee it seemed wrong to bring him so far from home and not take him round for a nosey. That would make me The Meanest Girl In Town, wouldn't it? Quite. You can easily spend a full day here as the site is massive.
It's not the cheapest day out (around 76 bucks for the full works), but there's a variety of differently priced packages, depending on what you want to see. If you're short on time, the Graceland Mansion and associated exhibits are a great place to visit. I'm not a fan of Elvis, but even I'd heard of The Jungle Room and Meditation Garden and, as well as the house, the outbuildings (his father's office, the trophy and racquetball buildings) give great insight into what life was like behind the scenes at Graceland.
If you have more time to spare, the private jets and automobile museum are also fantastic. If you're short on cash and still want to get a feel for the place, you can park up and wander round the shops or eat like The King and indulge in a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.
I managed to resist that particular temptation, but walking into the 50s style diner is like stepping back in time and is a great place to grab a milkshake and get your photo taken. You can also cross the highway and check out all the fantastic graffiti on the perimeter walls and write your name next to all the others (Note: Please don't write your name anywhere else!)
Even if you don't experience any of the paid attractions, it's still a great place to swing by and the sheer size of the overall complex is quite staggering. If you have visited before, there's always a new temporary exhibit or two to check out. I'd be stunned if anyone was disappointed with even a flying visit to Graceland.