Return to the Road: Just A Little Bit More From Memphis

This may be the first Ben’s Biz Blog post to appear in autumn, but the content remains rooted in the (seemingly) endless summer of 2012. Today we return, one last time, to the city of Memphis. I attended a game at AutoZone Park on June 12, and the following morning had a bit more time to explore before heading to the next destination of Jackson, TN.

One of the first sights I came across after departing the Sleep Inn in which I had been sequestered was this unorthodox art “battle.” Ghostly cowboy vs. tank-driving alien: who ya got?

From there, a bit of wandering soon brought me to this Memphis institution.

The Orpheum, 84-years young and (allegedly) haunted, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Also occurring in 1977 was the death of Mr. Elvis Presley — a nearby statue commemorates how he appeared in his prime, far removed from Me Decade degeneration.

I didn’t have the time to make it to Graceland this time around, but that remains a goal. (In the meantime I’ll just be hanging out here in New York City, looking for the human trampoline.) Walking along Main Street, I found a more recent example of a Memphis-based musical striver.

It’s easy to make fun of a dude named “Lil Wyte,” but he’s found a way to make a living as a rapper for 10+ years (largely via his own label) and that is something that takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. I’m not all that into his style of hip-hop, but he has my respect. (In a perfect world, my Minor League Baseball road trips would be coupled with profiles of local rappers and doom metal bands, as a way of more fully being able to capture the personality of the city in question. But, for now, you’re left with out-of-focus pictures of telephone pole advertisements).

These wanderings through the relative desolation of Memphis’ Main Street did have a final destination: the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated here in 1968, and the building has since been expanded into the National Civil Rights Museum.

Also part of the museum is this area directly across the street, which includes the perch from which Ray fired the fateful bullet.

I did not have enough time to tour the museum proper, but I did engage in a conversation with one of its biggest detractors.

That shadowy figure is one Jacqueline Smith, a former resident of the Lorraine Hotel who has since dedicated her life to railing against the museum. I went into the conversation with the intent of being receptive to her point of view — Ms. Smith is a life-long Memphis resident with a personal connection to the Lorraine Motel, and there is clearly much to be said about the mixed effects of gentrification as well as the mainstream co-option and subsequent neutering of radical modes of thought. But Ms. Smith has been on her single-minded crusade for so long that there isn’t any nuance whatsoever in her viewpoints (if there ever was). She told me that “black people who visit here are brainwashed” and that a “good white person is like finding a $3 bill,” and put me in a thoroughly no-win situation. If I agreed with any aspect of what she said, she’d berate me for my lazily acquiescence (“You don’t know anything, you don’t read anything, you just shake your head and say ‘yeah.’”). But if I disagreed, I was characterized as simply the latest deluded soul to wander by her quixotic encampment.

It was frustrating, to say the least, and I replayed the conversation in my head for hours afterward. (Being sensitive and overly-analytical is hard work!) My final conclusion was that her dismissive and oft-hateful viewpoints were a more substantial desecration of Dr. King’s memory than any aspect of the museum itself. But what do I know? She’s been camping out at that spot for 23 years. I wandered through during the course of an unfocused early afternoon.

Look, here’s a picture of a restaurant. I took it myself.

Did you know? The Arcade is Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and inside there is an “Elvis Booth” in memory of one of the establishment’s most dedicated customers.

The downtown walk continued to reveal locations both boarded up and still vital…

But, as always, my ultimate destination was a baseball stadium. The Redbirds were playing an early afternoon contest at AutoZone Park, so before heading on my way to Jackson I stopped in for the final few innings. This brief “fan mode” respite, I enjoyed it.

Campers

One last glimpse of the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball.

The RedBirds mounted a ninth-inning rally (three singles and a walk to start the frame), but in the end they couldn’t push across that crucial winning run. Final score Nashville 5, Memphis 4.

And with that, I left Memphis — but not before an attempt to find a meal on Elvis Presley Blvd. I ended up at Jack Pirtle’s, a Memphis institution that served up some quick and tasty fried chicken. (This would turn out to be the final time I enjoyed fried chicken, as upon my return from this trip I began a gluten-free diet.)

Livers and gizzards were on the menu, but I went with a good old-fashioned two piece meal.

You know what was in that cup, just beneath the fries?

Gravy. There was gravy in the cup.

Thus concludes all the odds-and-sods “Return to the Road” material that I have, not just from Memphis but the entire OKARKMOTN road trip. I hope you enjoy this sort of thing, because later in the week it’ll be time to “return to the road” once again. Next up, Pacific Northwest!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

2 Comments

Interesting content regarding the anti-museum character. I like the angle you took on her from a journalistic standpoint. From a personal standpoint, she sounds like she’s batsh*t crazy.

Yeah, in all honesty I don’t think Ms. Smith has a healthy or coherent world outlook. The impulse, for me and I’m sure many others, is to want to be supportive — to understand her motives and venerate her unyielding commitment to a cause. But what is that cause? To spread a message of close-minded contempt? To judge those she interacts with based on superficialities? To distort the teachings and intent of the man she is supposedly speaking on behalf of? In doing a little research on her, and others who have written about her, I noted that she is too easily portrayed as a hero and I think this is because its easier for the targets of her wrath to respond with condescendingly vague superlatives instead of calling her out as someone with a hate-hardened heart who long ago faded into incoherence and, therefore, irrelevance.

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