The ‘misspent’ years of my youth were dedicated to sneaking into blues bars, underage, to catch the soulful music of Muddy Waters, Downchild Blues Band, and even B.B. King himself. I was hooked on blues, so the thought of visiting Memphis thrilled me. Beale Street was top of my list of ‘must sees’.
To kick off our visit, we set up camp at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, just across the river from Tennessee. While the road leading up to the park entrance is inconspicuous, once cresting the levee a ‘jungle’ appears: it’s like driving into the fictional world of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Set on the banks of the Mississippi (and subject to closing due to flooding) the park is a little slice of heaven and the inspiration behind the poem: Mississippi.
After searching things to do in Memphis, we settled on the Mojo Music Bus Tour, originating on Beale St. The plan was to arrive early, have lunch, visit the shops and then take the ninety-minute tour.
Beale Street, in the light of day, is shabby and I’d say a little seedy. Ric was charmed. We were a little too early for the live music and for the police presence that keeps the panhandlers moving along. As a slow-moving target, I soon discovered this would be a problem.
Both hungry, we decided to get off the street and find barb-b-que – one of the three things noted in all guide books as essential Memphis. Silky O’Sullivan’s advertised award-winning ribs, so we thought we’d give it a try.
There is nothing fancy about Silky’s interior – the tables are standard bar fare, set up around a center stage on which sits two old pianos. From where we sat, it was easy to see that the pianos are strictly for show as both had electronic keyboards replacing the original ones. The bar is dim, and as I was facing the street, the outside light blinded much of my view.
I ordered a rib sampler, and Ric got a combo plate, and I’m pleased to say that despite my anticipated disappointment, the food was amazing. The ribs, dry rubbed, were crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. Silky’s Bbq sauce was so good, we bought a bottle to bring home.
Full and content, we decided to wander again until bus time. When we checked in with the tour company, they said to meet outside the gift shop at 1:20 and we’d board the bus from there. It was now 12:30. Exhaustion was setting in. When I saw a group gathering outside the tour office, I asked if they were going on the bus music tour. A young man said they were, so when a guide came out, we trailed behind following around the corner and down another street. With every step my muscles shouted at me. I was overtired, and my energy was running out. Ric tried to keep pace with me, but his own knees were screaming, so I told him to go ahead, I’d catch up. Another man with hand out approached and blocked my way. Ric rescued me.
We caught up with the others only to discover this was not the tour we had booked. Our tour was not leaving for some time yet. We hobbled back to the starting place.
Despite the frustrating false start, the Mojo Music Bus Tour was delightful. I was grateful to be able to sit, and the young woman who hosted us was entertaining complete with a repertoire of blues hits. Silly, but as she sang old favourites, I found myself tearing up, unsure if it was nostalgia she was stirring or just a response to the crash I was experiencing. We learned a lot about the history of music and its famous players on this tour.
Sadly, our sightseeing started and ended on this day, as I was too done in to do anymore, even though we had allotted three days. Travelling with chronic illness has presented a whole new learning curve. I guess this just means we’ll have to go back.
Our experience in Memphis is the inspiration behind the poem: “Age and Obstacles”