Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’
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.
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!
There’s a lot going on throughout the season, and therefore it can be tough to keep track of all the narrative threads that are dangling around me at all times (they taunt me, these threads). One thread that has been neglected since those halcyon days of late July is that which chronicled the non-baseball goings-ons of my MiLB.com-sponsored trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. The previous post in the series ended with this shot — the view from the hotel parking lot after I arrived in the city of Memphis (home of the Redbirds).
“Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple,” I wrote at the time, and I stand by this bon mot.
The Redbirds were in the midst of a ballgame when I arrived, but my plans with the team were for the next night (that evening is chronicled HERE). I therefore decided that my first order of business, as it so often is, would be to procure a meal. I began meandering about in downtown Memphis, and along the way got my first glimpse of AutoZone Park (home of the Redbirds).
My first choice for dinner was the very well-known and loved (and perhaps a wee bit touristy) Memphis institution known as “Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.” But upon making my way to the eponymous alleyway which houses this establishment, I made the disconcerting discovery that it was closed on Mondays.
It was getting late, and I was tired, and seemingly everyone I encountered on the largely empty streets expressed the desire to show me a “good time” of some sort. These claims were of dubious validity and possibly nefarious intent, and I was beginning to feel a little besieged. So I took the path of least resistance and headed to the tourist mecca that is Beale Street. By Beale Street standards, the vibe was positively sedate.
I chose to patronize this presumably iconic establishment: the Blues City Cafe.
Where were you on the night that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup? I was here, in full-on “awkward guy eating alone” mode, indulging in this meal at a rather desultory bar seating area.
Blues City Cafe claimed to have the best ribs in Memphis, but I cannot confirm nor deny as they were the only ribs I had in Memphis. Of more pressing concern to me, as I look at this photo, was the extent to which this meal was or wasn’t gluten-free (I adopted a gluten-free diet immediately upon returning from this trip, after being diagnosed with celiac disease). Eating in restaurants has become fraught with the unknown — what are the ingredients in the ribs? The baked beans? The cole slaw? The fries are gluten free, but what else was in the fryer? Who knows? Who cares? Why, in a blog ostensibly devoted to the business of Minor League Baseball, are you writing in hand-wringing fashion about a meal from nearly three months ago?
Time to blow this joint, but not before a little bit more narcissism. On the way back to the Sleep Inn, I noticed an alleyway which commemorated what happens to be the day on which I was born.
But why? The answer, courtesy of an article in Time magazine, is not one I would have expected:
[November 6th Street] commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphis, urged on by its utility-baiting political boss, the late Edward H. (“Mister”) Crump, voted against private power and for the Tennessee Valley Authority power system (it was the first major city to enter TVA).
In today’s political climate, such a resounding defeat of private enterprise would result in hysterical accusations of an impending government takeover by those secretly in thrall to Bolshevik theories. But maybe that was also the case in 1934? Who really does know? What I do know is that I had the entire next day to spend in Memphis. It began with some frenzied writing from the hotel room, which offered a great view for those seeking voyeuristic white-collar thrills.
The inexorable passage of time meant that another meal was in order, and I’ll write about this one sans-celiac hand-wringing. The destination was Cozy Corner, recommended by loyal road trip recommender Rex Doane. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew that it was gonna be good.
At this friendly and unassuming spot, one orders at the counter and then retreats to the dining area to await the comestibles that will soon be brought forth.
I ordered a Cozy Corner specialty, which was something one does not have the opportunity to order often: Cornish Game Hen. It was delicious!
After leaving the Cozy Corner, I made a pit stop at another Rex-recommended establishment: Shangri-La Records.
Record stores are my favorite of all establishments, and Shangri-La had an eclectic selection and very appealing sensibilities (with an emphasis on Memphis music, including that which has been released on their eponymous label). I was feeling a bit rushed, in that I had a ballgame to get to, and was therefore not on top of my record store game. But I did purchase the following:
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, that’s James Gang “Rides Again,” Bruce Springsteen “The Rising,” Rufus Thomas “Crown Prince of Dance,” Creedence Clearwater Revival “Mardi Gras,” and Oneida/Liars “Atheists Reconsider” split. I could discuss the motivations behind each purchase, but am already feeling a bit self-conscious re: the insertion of myself into this post.
So, y’know, I’ll just continue talking about myself. Inspired by my hotel bed record arrangement, I did the same with the road snacks I had accumulated. Three observations regarding this picture:
1.Despite being part of a snack food monolith, Doritos has become downright avant-garde in its relentless pursuit of new flavors and ways in which to present them.
2. Pork cracklins are far better than chicken cracklins.
3. When I am on the road and in a region in which cracklins are available, I quickly become addicted to them. As in, literally cannot stop eating them. (They are crazily unhealthy, so I am actually glad that they aren’t available here in the northeast.)
Finally, mercifully, it became time to head to AutoZone Park. This establishment was along the way, but I resisted from shelling out more of my cash toward the sort of food products I was already eating too much of. But, my goodness, it was tough to resist.
Also tough to resist: the urge to stop writing. This narrative thread has been pursued enough for today, but, as always, there’s more where that came from.
It’s time to end the blogging week by, yes, once again returning to the road. The last post in the series ended with a wonderful hamburger in Tulsa, and from there I drove on to Springdale in order to attend that evening’s Northwest Arkansas Naturals game. Perhaps you already read about it?
The next day, the plan was to drive from Springdale, AR to Springfield, MO — the home of the Springfield Cardinals. My lunch destination was the AQ Chicken House, which received a glowing recommendation from regular reader/grizzled Minor League traveler/esteemed DJ Rex Doane. The problem was that it was early on Sunday afternoon when I got there, and the place was overflowing with a post-church lunch crowd. I felt self-conscious waiting alone for a table amidst this rollicking social atmosphere, and scrapped my poultry-related plans.
I wish I had gotten to know thee, AQ Chicken House!
At this point it became time to improvise, and I settled on this unassuming Mexican place about 10 minutes down the road.
And you know what you get when you go to an unassuming Mexican restaurant? Unassuming Mexican food! This is never, ever a bad thing, especially when the salsa comes in a carafe.
I ordered a beloved old standby, which, in my new gluten-free reality, will only become more prominent. Huevos Rancheros!
Huevos rancheros gave me the strength I needed to complete the drive to Springfield, and I only stopped once along the way. I just couldn’t resist:
I found the items contained within this alleged village to be exceedingly tacky, and, coming from me, that’s saying a lot.
Upon arriving in Springfield, I checked into the University Plaza hotel. The following note was laid out on the pillow, and while some might be turned off by the overt religiosity I was impressed by its heartfelt and genuine tone. A real rarity in this day and age!
The business that brought me to Springfield did indeed prosper, as that evening I enjoyed a very well-attended Springfield Cardinals game. (And, again, you may have read about it.) The next day, my travel between the eternities included a pit stop in downtown Springfield. A reader had recommended that I check out the Springfield Brewing Company, and who am I to defy a reader recommendation?
This was a cool operation, as beer was indeed brewed onsite.
As for me personally, I felt a bit agitated. As I’ve mentioned several times before, this trip came after my celiac disease diagnosis but before I decided to strictly follow the gluten-free diet that such a disease requires. The menu of heavy beers and upscale bar food didn’t include many gluten-free options at all, and I felt bummed out that in the near future (as in, now) my options at such a place would be severely limited.
But, whatever. I was cheating. Therefore, I ordered an excellent dark beer (forget the name) and the “Brewben” sandwich ($7.95, a great deal!)
The Springfield Brewing Company’s website mentions that their establishment is “an anchor to the re-birth of downtown Springfield” and, indeed, this is a downtown area that is decidedly in flux. While there are many empty and dilapidated storefronts, there are also many creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs involved in a bona fide downtown renaissance.
I was just passing through, as I am wont to do, so I don’t know anything about the history of Springfield or the long-term goals of this ongoing revitalization project (if you do, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email). But I do know I enjoyed wandering around a bit, while sporadically documenting what I saw.
I wish I had done more investigating into this “Robert E. Smith” building (no, it was not named after the Cure singer). It turns out that Robert E. Smith is a “nationally known folk and ‘outsider’ artist.”
I heard that this establishment used to sell Philadelphia Hot Dogs:
This is the Springfield Little Theatre, over 100 years old and still staging live productions.
It took all of my will power not to go into this record store, my favorite type of store in the entire history of stores. But, alas, I was on a tight schedule and, therefore, unable to stick it in my ear.
And what a great entrance way!
Fortunately I was pretty well-stocked with new music as it is. I still buy cds (old habits die hard), and on each trip I give three recent purchases three listens each. Obsessive compulsive much? On this trip, the three honorees were:
– Neil Young and Crazy Horse — Americana
– Grinderman — 2 RMX (this song could not be any more awesome, the 2:20 mark is basically what I want all music to sound like always)
– Late Night Tales Vol.2 compilation, curated by Belle and Sebastian
(and, for my own enjoyment when I’m an old man reading this post, the three albums on the April/May Florida trip were Quakers self-titled, Nicki Minaj “Roman Reloaded,” and Unsane “Wreck.” If anyone ever wants to talk about music, you know where to fine me.)
But anyway! The ride from Springfield to Memphis was a long one, and was highlighted by some of the most low-hanging clouds I’d ever seen.
Pork skins and Mello Yello sustained me throughout, as did unexpected tributes to long-ago baseball greats.
And when I arrived in Memphis late that evening, none other than Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple.
And that’s where we’ll leave off for now. (Sorry for using the royal we, which, really, should be reserved for assent-giving French monarchs).
It’s time for another “Return to the Road” post, in which I, yes, return to all of the road trip content that I wasn’t able to get to the first time around. My previous post in the series focused on Oklahoma City; today we move on to Tulsa.
But after taking in the game on Friday evening, I spent Saturday late morning/early afternoon checking out the area surrounding the ballpark. It’s located in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, which was once known as “Black Wall Street.” There is some serious history here, including a sickening act of mass violence that every American should know about.
My hotel was located about a mile or so from the ballpark, and as I wandered over there Tulsa felt empty and quiet — sleeping in on a Saturday after another long work week, I suppose.
The purpose of my return to the Greenwood District was to visit John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, located directly across the street from ONEOK Field.
Dr. John Hope Franklin was a civil rights activist and scholar best known for his seminal 1947 work From Slavery to Freedom. The non-profit John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation was founded in 2007, and it was this organization that envisioned and secured the funding for Reconciliation Park.
The Park memorializes the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which is explained thusly (click to enlarge!):
Just the day before I had visited the memorial for the victims of the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, and now here I was contemplating another vicious act of violence. The motivations and methods of the two incidents are vastly different, but they are united in that they are both notable examples of domestic terrorism.
The park’s website explains that the following “represent actual images from the 1921 riot.”
“Hostility – A white man fully armed for assault”
“Humiliation – A black man with his hands raised in surrender”
“Hope – The white director of the Red Cross holding a black baby”
This is the “Tower of Reconciliation,” which “depicts the history of the African American struggle from Africa to America.”
The final word (again, click to enlarge):
Further memorializing can be found on the sidewalk outside of ONEOK Field, which pays tribute to the businesses destroyed in the riots:
Just around the block is North Greenwood Avenue, a quaint street filled with local businesses.
It was here that I found my lunch destination, one that was wholeheartedly recommended by several members of the Drillers’ front office staff: the self-explanatory “Fat Guy’s Burger Bar” (note the placement of the apostrophe; the place is named after one particular fat guy as opposed to a coalition of them).
This place is not for the faint (or weak) of heart, but the burgers were absolutely fantastic. From the website:
“We take two beef patties, put butter and cheese in between them, seal them up and then cook ‘em. When it’s ready you have a burger with molten butter and cheese filling the inside.”
As you can see, most of those who have attempted to take the “Fat Guy Challenge” have failed. This is probably a good thing. The challenge: two pound patty, pound of bacon, two hot dogs, eight slices of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, choice of condiment and a pound of french fries.
When I was there, no one was attempting such a suicidal endeavor.
And I wasn’t about to, either. My order, in words:
And, as it actually looked:
I’ve never been all that much of a burger guy, but this one was as good as it looks. In this new post-celiac disease era, I would have to order it sans bun. That seems a little absurd, but it would still be worth it. And the fries – those wonderful, wonderful “ballpark fries” — are okay! Not sure about which of the 16 dipping sauces are gluten-free, but I’m sure there would still be options.
And that’s about it for my supplemental Tulsa content. On the way back from the hotel I did take note of this notable piece of Tulsa architecture:
This trailer was parked in front of said building, and I would have liked to meet its owner.
The “I Believe Guy” is one Brian Jackson. From his website:
- Brian Jackson, a Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Native American, is a Nationally known motivational speaker who uses true stories of how he has turned struggles into success. Brian has blown up over 6000 hot water bottles in his career, held the Guinness World Record for “Fastest Hot Water Bottle Burst” for over 3 1/2 years and the Guinness World Record for Blowing up until bursting 3 hot water bottles in 1 minute 8 seconds! He has been known to break walls of 2″ concrete bricks, even on fire at times, has bent 1 1/2 ” of steel rebar over his head, torn a deck of playing cards in half in 3 seconds, and is known for making some awesome balloon animals! His most impressive feat to date, “Heaviest Vehicle Lifted with Breath” 2520 pounds!
Somebody book this guy at a Minor League ballpark!
Hey! Remember last month when I went on a road trip and visited Minor League stadiums in Oklahoma City, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee?
No? That’s okay. No hard feelings or anything.
But the trip did happen, and one only needs to scroll through the recent archives of this blog for proof. And, and is always the case, when I went on this trip I accumulated content above and beyond what occurred at the stadiums in question. So, starting today, I’ll “Return to the Road” with a series of blog posts highlighting some of my non-baseball “adventures” while on this trip.
It all started in Oklahoma City, home of the Pacific Coast League’s RedHawks. But before traveling to the “Bricktown” entertainment district where both my hotel and the ballpark were located, I stopped here:
I didn’t spend any time at the Stockyards proper, but the area surrounding them couldn’t have been any more evocative of the cattleman’s lifestyle. Some shots of the neighborhood:
It’s a sign!
But Flipper-referencing storefront tomfoolery was not the reason I visited the stockyards. It was lunchtime, and I was there to get a meal at the iconic Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Somehow I failed to get a shot of this establishment’s exterior, but here’s the view from the inside.
Just so we’re all clear on the chronology here: this trip occurred after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, but before I went public with it in a professional context. My decision on this trip was to keep it under wraps and eat whatever I wanted to. It was, in effect, my final week of enjoying an unrestricted diet. So why not go all out?
I ordered the euphemistically-named “Lamb Fries,” but let’s identify them for what they really are: fried lamb testicles.
I ordered these out of curiosity, and you know what? They were good! The lemon and cocktail sauce gave the whole platter a seafood sort of feel, and the taste was relatively mild. I can understand why people might be repulsed by such a dish, but my take on it is that if you’re going to slaughter an animal for food then you really should make use of as much of it as possible.
Still, in giving the final word on the dish I have to defer to this far more eloquent write-up that I came across on roadfood.com:
They are earthy-tasting inside their golden crust, the exquisite organ meat quivery and moist, with nut-sweet savor.
I didn’t want to over-do it on this, my first meal of the trip, so I paired the lamb fries with a simple bowl of steak soup. Gluten-free? Probably not, as wheat flour was likely used as a thickener for the broth.
So long, steak soup, it was nice knowing you:
After lunch I made my way to the Brickyard, and that experience is already chronicled (and linked to above). But the next day, before heading onward to Tulsa, I made a stop at a location that was imminently worthwhile and exceedingly well-done: the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial to the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
This was one of the most thoughtful, tasteful and deeply moving public spaces that I have ever been to, and an absolute must for anyone visiting Oklahoma City. The outdoor memorial is adjacent to a museum that offered a thorough multi-floor interactive tour, and I would have loved to visit that as well if time had allowed.
But, as it was, I still had plenty to take in. The outdoor memorial is framed by the “gates of time,” which are described in the memorial brochure thusly: “These monumental twin gates frame the moment of destruction — 9:02 a.m. — and mark the formal entrances to the memorial. The East Gate represents 9:01 a.m. on April 19 and the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate represents 9:03 a.m., the moment we were changed forever, and the hope that came from the horror in the moments and days following the bombing.”
In between is the reflecting pool — the brochure explains that a “shallow depth of gently flowing water helps soothe wounds, with calming sounds providing a peaceful setting for quiet thoughts.”
Over 60,000 personal tokens have been left on this fence through the years, in remembrance of the victims. It’s just heartbreaking.
Graffiti left by a rescue worker in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
A park ranger speaks to a tour group about the “Survivor Tree,” a 90-year-old American Elm whose message to visitors reads “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Again, I want to say that this memorial was phenomenal. I was deeply affected by it, and will not forget my visit. I hope to one day return and devote a full afternoon to it and the museum.
I apologize for the abrupt tonal shifts in this post, but what is life if not a series of abrupt tonal shifts? After visiting the memorial, my final task in Oklahoma City was to get some lunch. The night before, RedHawks corporate marketing manager Gary Olsen had recommend I check out a BBQ joint named “Leo’s.” I decided to follow this recommendation.
At first I ended up at a defunct location:
But if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again!
For future reference — Leo’s is located right across the street from Happy Foods.
Leo’s was, in a word, great. And, in another word, unassuming.
I got a small sampler platter, but in this case “small” was a relative term. Buried in here are brisket, ribs, sausage and fried bologna, with fried okra and cole slaw as sides. (And, yes, the plate is atop the Mad magazine that I was reading at the time. Old habits die hard.)
The ribs and the brisket were the standouts here, and coming in a distant last was the fried bologna (the version served at the Jackson Generals game turned out to be far superior). And as for my new $1,000,000 question — no, this meal was not gluten-free. But in the future I think I could still have meals here — no white bread or fried okra, obviously, but hopefully most of the meats would still be good to go. I’ll figure it out eventually.
Definitely not gluten-free, but definitely awesome, is the free cake that comes with each and every meal.
And with free cake I shall end this post. Perhaps I can make that some sort of new Ben’s Biz Blog tradition?