Walking In Memphis

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August 24th 2017
Published: August 25th 2017
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We are in this area to visit Memphis, but the Shack Up Inn is 80 miles south of there, so we have treated our visit as a day trip.

Our main target in Memphis was the National Civil Rights Museum, built in the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. It was superb. When we bought our tickets we were told it would take around 2 hours. We took almost 5!!! And still didn't read everything. It traces the struggle for equality in the USA from the early days of slavery to approx year 2001, so could do with a little updating.

Naturally a prime focus was on the life, preaching and assassination of MLK, which was really well done, with a detailed display showing three main 'who done it' lines of investigation. This is the USA after all, so there has to be one or more 'conspiracy' theory that knocks the official line. The room from which the deathly bullet was fired is open to display (behind a glass wall). James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin, was actually captured in London, probably heading for Rhodesia.

The two rooms behind the the door from the balcony on which MLK was shot are also opened up behind glass walls.

This really was one of the best museums we have been to.

When we got back to the car the temp was 108°F. We walked to downtown Memphis and found Beale Street, and a stutue of Elvis - Presley, of course, not Costello. We also found a local tourist security officer, and they are known as the Blue Suede Brigade, complete with blue suede (ette) shoes.

It was still too hot out so we went early to our next stop, the Peabody Hotel, for a quirky piece of American whimsy. The Peabody as a hotel is way out of our budget, but we figured we could get a cold drink whilst waiting for the attraction for which the hotel is known - The Peabody Ducks.

Back in the 1930s France Schutt, General Manager of the Peabody, and his friend Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. They had with them their live duck decoys as it was legal for duck hunters in those days to use live decoys. Egged on by the third friend, Jack Daniels, they decided to leave the ducks in the hotel's fountain overnight. When they got up in the morning, instead of the chaos and mayhem they expected to find the ducks were happily swimming in circles around the fountain. And so the whimsy of the Peabody Ducks began.

They have their own $250k duck house on the roof and come down daily at 11pm, by elevator, to the hotel lobby where the fountain is. As they exit the lift a red carpet has been laid for them to waddle along to the fountain. There they stay for 6 hours before the route is retraced at 5pm each day. There are 4 ducks and 1 drake, and a new set are installed every 3 months. At the end of a stint the ducks get to live free range in the country. There is a 'Duck Master' to control all this, and we had a Fuzzy Duckling cocktail to drink.

One final point about the ducks. Soon after they were installed the hotel's owner decreed that 'Absolutely NO DUCK will ever be served in the Peabody Hotel!'.

In the lobby of the hotel there are retail opportunities and we were able to buy Simon a birthday present shirt, with guitars patterned all over it, from the tailor that used to dress Elvis and BB King.

Beale Street was heaving with life, music and atmosphere, and what we took to be an anti-Trump rally focusing on 'Immigrants are great for our country'. We ate at 'Pig With An Attitude'. Great ribs!!

The following day we left the Hopton Plantation / Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale and headed along Highway 61 towards around Memphis and on to Nashville. Just south of Memphis we passed a direction sign for Moon Landing. Curious we looked this up and it turns out not to be the location for all those 'fake' photos from 1969, but a small community established in 1859 by an African-American settler.

Still a lot of cotton to be seen in the fields. All the plants are in flower. There are white and pink flowers on the plants. We read that the pink colour comes after the white flowers have been pollinated. The cotton bolls will not be ready until Sept/Oct so we are unlikely to see that stage on our travels.

We are most definitely in the God Belt, with so many churches of many denominations, and many huge billboard adverts. One of these even had a large cross through the 'evolution' image of man evolving from an ape.

On this leg we found a great music station - hitting the retune button on the radio is a common occurrence as we leave and enter different station's catchment - called 'Music From The Isles', playing Irish / Celtic folk. Every half hour during the week they play a bagpipe tune followed by a whiskey song.

We were booked into a Days Inn at White House, about 20 miles north of Nashville, and almost dead on the eclipse centre line. But before that we have tickets for a gig at the Grand Ole Opry, the epicentre of Country in Nashville. The show began as a radio show in 1925, and showcases a mix of country music greats, new stars, superstars and legends. We had 7 acts in the 2 hours show. Jeannie Seely, age 77; Darius Rucker, lead of Hootie and the Blowfish, and one of a minimal number of African-Americans to win a Country Music Association award; The Sisterhood, with Ruby Stewart, Rod's daughter; Riders In The Sky, a fun filled performance from 4 aging cowboys; Wynonna; Charles Eston, one of the stars of TV series Nashville; and Little Big Town, a 4 piece that are currently 'hot' in Country. Between them there are many Grammy, Emmys, CMA awards, platinum records etc. Although we didn't know any of them they had obviously put a very high class country programme together for this 'Eclipse Show Special'.

ECLIPSE DAY - The lunar shadow crosses the estate coast at 9.05am Pacific Time and totality starts there at 10.16 am. It leaves the States at 4.09pm EDT in S Carolina.

Here near Nashville the eclipse will start at 11.58am, with totality starting at 1.27pm Central Time and lasting 2 min, 39 seconds where we are. Would we have clear skies for the eclipse?? We had been checking the weather reports daily for the last week, and it looked good for where we were. When we got up the sky was practically cloudless, but as the morning progressed there were some worrying towering clouds around us. Paul had some thoughts about driving to somewhere else but we didn't really think we would necessarily be any better off. We were also heartened by TV reports that as the temperature dropped during the eclipse, clouds would tend to disappear.

We stuck with the grassy area in the motel grounds, along with around 20 others, several of them with various telescopes and equipment. As it went dark someone was playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. The traffic stopped. Birds flew in small flocks as if to roost. And yes, the, by then very few, clouds disapated and the sky was totally clear for.......

The Eclipse. This is the second total eclipse the 3 of us have seen together as a family, and nothing really compares to it. We saw the corona, Baily's Beads, the Diamond Ring. Really, really spectacular and well worth the effort. Some places in Nashville didn't lose the clouds and had no view of it. That's nature for you.

In the evening we went into downtown Nashville, a last meal with Simon and then to a bar for some more country music.

Tuesday, after the eclipse, we had a long drive to Atlanta as Simon flies out on Wednesday. We did, however, fit in a small detour to Lynchburg, Tennessee, for a visit to a certain whiskey distillery. Jack Daniels was founded here in 1875 by a certain JD, and is the top selling American whiskey in the world. ALL of JD is made on this site, and nowhere else. An irony is that the county that the distillery is in is still dry - it went dry before prohibition and has never changed. There are some exceptions, bought in to help JD specifically, so they can sell 'commemorative ' bottles on site, and include tastings in their tours.

The process has never changed since JD perfected it all those years ago. Ground corn, rye and malted barley are fermented with yeast and water. The liquor is distilled in copper stills to produce 140 proof white spirit. The two processes that then turn this into the bottled whiskey are firstly it is slowly allowed to filter through 10 foot deep stacks of sugar maple charcoal. The charcoal,is used for around 6 months before being recycled as 'Easy Light BBQ Charcoal'. Easy light! We should think so after having neat alcohol dripping through it. The next distinctive feature is that it is stored in made to order new oak barrels, burnt/charred on the inside, and then stored in Barrel Houses for at least 12 months. The speed at which the drink develops depends on where in the Barrel House the barrel is - those at the top of the multi story stores develop more quickly, where there are greater temperature fluctuations, than those at the bottom. The top shelf barrels are particularly prized and are bottled, and sold as 'single barrel' and ae supposed to be the origin of the expression 'top shelf' meaning the best.

Every employee gets a bottle a month as a perk.

The guide was a right hoot. Lots of jokes about her being 90, and the drink kept her young.

We pressed on to Atlanta where Simon had arranged to meet a friend from his time in Canada. We though we had made it just to the arranged time, only to find out when he messaged us for pick-up that we had forgotten the time difference and he was actually an hour late.

The following morning we parted, Simon to the airport, we to continue our journeys, next target Dallas, 800 miles to the west but mostly on Interstate 20.

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