Our original plan for getting to Memphis was to rent a car and road trip it down via St Louis, but it was the night before we were going to leave and we were only just looking up car rental companies. It was quite expensive to rent a car for a one way trip and it would have been very draining for Liz to have driven for nine hours. We decided in the end, for the sake of our sanity, to fly to Nashville, pick up a rental car there and do a round trip from there to Memphis. It worked out about the same price and the same length of time travelling (we had to fly via New Orleans), but at least Liz was spared so much driving. I was no help anyway, because I can’t drive.
If The Blues Brothers is the film I associate with Chicago, Mystery Train is what I associate with Memphis. I sent it to my Dad, a big Blues fan, for Christmas without having seen it, and then I stole it back off him so that I could watch it before I went to Memphis. It was great to watch it again when I came back and I was able to recognise so much of it. It’s in three parts and my favourite is the first part with the young Japanese couple who are travelling around the South on a Blues trail.
We arrived in Memphis in the evening, checked into our hotel, freshened up and headed out to Beale St. We wandered up and down it for a while as the sun set and the neon signs were switched on. We had a dinner of ribs that put us in a food coma, and we were wondering how long we’d be able to last that night, but we wanted to check out some of the live music so we went to see Dr Feelgood Potts and his band. They were really good and their bassist was a woman from Osaka, who Potts introduced as the Ice Lady because she was so deadpan. It was a Monday night, so really the only people who were out on Beale St were tourists like ourselves so we ended up hanging out with some cool people from England, Wales and some Americans who were actually living in Japan on a military base. It was a long and fun night and luckily our hotel was just around the corner so we didn’t have far to go when it was over.
We were somewhat the worse for wear the next morning, but we had a full day of stuff to do ahead of us so we got up reasonably early and went for breakfast at the Blue Plate Cafe. Liz got biscuits and gravy so I was able to sample that staple of Southern cuisine, and I got a waffle that was topped with a ridiculous mountain of cream. I scraped most of it off and when the waitress took our plates away she asked me if I didn’t like cream.
Because this was the only time on our trip that we had to stay in a hotel, we had treated ourselves to night in the Peabody, the most famous hotel in Memphis. It was pretty swanky and we also got to see the famous Peabody duck procession in the morning before we left. By night the ducks live on the roof of the hotel, by day they swim in the lobby fountain, and are brought to and from these places in an elevator by a special Duckmaster twice a day.
Back in the 1930s Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. The men had a little too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain.
Three small English call ducks were selected as “guinea pigs,” and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.
In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.
The original ducks have long since gone, but after nearly 80 years, the marble fountain in the hotel lobby is still graced with ducks. The Peabody ducks march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
I wish we had a little more time in Memphis, as we didn`t even have time to walk down the street to the Mississippi river or cross over into Arkansas, but after breakfast we had to get going on our Elvis adventure, which I`ll write about next. We were in Memphis for less than 24 hours, but it surely was a memorable trip.
Don’t put that thing on me, cos I’m going back to Tennessee.