So I am back from the IA Summit in Memphis. The conference itself was not your average conference, and I'm still trying to get my thoughts together about what I want to say about it. So, for today, just Memphis the city.
By the time I got to my hotel from the airport, I had about two hours of time during normal museum hours to go and see something. My friend Norah was in town for a separate conference (what is it with Memphis and conferences lately?), and we had talked about trying to make it to Graceland. But she was swamped at her conference, and I decided Graceland would not have been nearly as fun by myself, plus it looked like a haul to get there. So I ended up going to the Civil Rights Museum.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew that it was connected to the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. It ended up being one of, if not the most, emotionally moving museums I've ever been to. The museum takes you through slavery, through separate but equal, through Rosa Parks and sit-ins, a very detailed account of the history of the civil rights movement that still works well if you only want to skim some of the extensive text. All of this takes place in what looks like a warehouse more than an old motel.
But when you reach the end, April 4, 1968, there are two restored rooms from the motel, one of them Dr. King's. Looking into those rooms, and out on the balcony, you feel a sense of place and a power that wouldn't be there if the museum was located anywhere else.
It's not an easy or a fun museum, but I would definitely recommend it. It has a second half, following the motel side, that takes you through the boarding house across the street and the hunt for James Earl Ray.
After the museum, I walked around taking pictures to kick off the massive glut in my Flickr account.
I found Memphis really interesting in that there didn't seem to be distinctive "bad" and "good" neighborhoods. I'd walk past a newly renovated industrial building, turned into condos, and immediately next to it would be a boarded-up building. There were gated communities within a block or two of piles of broken beer bottles and ramshackle loading docks. And later, during a walk to midtown (more on that in a bit), we would encounter a block of thriving bars and other businesses, immediately followed by businesses that could have failed anywhere from last year to 50 years ago. It really seems to be a place where things survive on their own merit, not because they're located in a hip neighborhood.
On Friday evening, after some delicious deep-fried burgers at Dyer's on Beale St. (so worth it until I get my next cholesterol test), fellow Kent grads Roger, Carrianne, and I started the walk to a blues club in midtown Roger wanted to check out. It was a two-mile hike, which should be totally doable, right?
Well, there are short two-mile hikes, and long two-mile hikes, and this one definitely fell into the long category. We walked through quiet neighborhoods, past soulless strip malls, and then into some of those odd thriving/abandoned areas I talked about earlier. We never made it to the blues club, but I'm glad we went -- it was a chance to really see Memphis, and take some weird pictures of the abandoned and the amusing. We stopped for some delicious martinis at the Side Street Lounge, so we were still rewarded for our effort.
We stuck to Beale Street on Saturday night. Beale Street is interesting in that there's such a range of things you can do. Want to have some beers and listen to really good blues? You can do that. Want to drink hurricanes from a bucket and listen to a cover band? You can do that. Want to wander the street drinking beer and/or frozen rum drinks until you have the courage to go sing karaoke? Yep, you can also do that.
For me, the highlights of Beale Street that night were wandering the A. Schwab museum/store and taking pictures of all the floors of bizareness there, and wrapping up the night at the hole-in-the-wall Juke Joint, with some really, really good blues up on the stage.
All in all, I really enjoyed Memphis, and wish I had built in more sightseeing time. I'll admit I got pretty startled the first day by one panhandler -- apparently I've become desensitized by DC's aggressive panhandling laws. Once I got my hackles back up, it was totally fine, though.
At some point in my life, I want to ride the City of New Orleans train from Chicago to New Orleans, making stops along the way. A stop for some more time in Memphis will definitely be warranted.
After all, I still have to see Graceland.