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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Middlerun Does America, Days 26-29: Memphis


On Tuesday I went to Memphis. Luckily there's an Amtrak line that goes from New Orleans through Memphis (and finishes in Chicago), so I didn't have to take the dreaded Greyhound again. I was pretty impressed by how much nicer the Amtrak trains are than the shitty CountryLink trains used in Australia. The amount of legroom is huge compared to any train, plane or bus I've been on and the chairs tilt back enough that you could comfortably sleep. There's an observation car where you can hang out and watch the scenery, and a dining car with actual tables like a restaurant (albeit an overpriced one), not like the take-away dining cars on the CountryLink. Overall a pretty nice way to travel.

The train got to Memphis at 10pm. I had to get to the hostel by 11pm or I wouldn't be able to check in because there's nobody on staff after 11. I stepped off the train having no idea where I was, and not able to look up a map on my phone because the battery was dead and the charger was missing. It took me a confusing couple of minutes just to figure out how to get out of the station. Once I got onto the street and got my bearings I headed toward the street where I thought I could get a bus to the hostel. I found where the bus stop was supposed to be, in an empty and desolate area surrounded by boarded up or demolished buildings, not entirely sure that a bus would even be stopping there at that time of night. I was hoping there would be a timetable posted. A reasonable thing to expect at a bus stop, right? Well, as it turns out, Memphis bus stops give you nothing but the words "bus stop", a phone number and a URL, which I guess is technically better than nothing, but not by much.

So I stood there alone under a street light, in a part of Memphis resembling an apocalyptic wasteland, carrying my huge backpack, considering the equally likely possibilities of catching a bus or being murdered. At a time like this, one sentence naturally floats to the forefront of one's mind: "Fuck this, I'm getting a taxi." I started walking towards what seemed to be the more active part of downtown Memphis and eventually ended up at Beale Street. I got a taxi and headed off to the hostel.

The taxi dropped me off in the carpark behind the building, which is actually a church, but the hostel is in the same building for some reason. The door of the hostel was locked, so I tried the buzzer. No response. I couldn't call them either since my phone battery was dead. As my brain processed this I started imagining having to sleep outside in the carpark until I could check in the next morning. Luckily I spotted some people who'd just come out of a different part of the church so I went over to talk to them. One of them called the hostel for me and it was all sorted out.


I spent most of Wednesday just wandering around downtown Memphis exploring. Getting there was my first actual experience with the epitome of terribleness that is Memphis's bus system. The bus I needed was scheduled to come every hour and a half, which I guess I didn't bother to check before I went to the bus stop, and I ended up waiting for maybe 45 minutes before one came. I probably could have walked downtown in that time. While I was waiting I met an old Irish guy who was catching the same bus. He was carrying a golf club, which he explained was necessary for self-defence in Memphis. After we got on the bus he pulled out a harmonica and entertained all the other passengers for a while.

After I had some lunch (a huge plate of nachos) and took some photos, I went to Beale Street, where the concentration of bars with music exceeds reasonable levels, and spent most of the afternoon/evening there listening to bands.

The last buses in Memphis leave at 11:15pm, so I couldn't stay out as long as I wanted to. I got on the trolley (one charming thing about Memphis is the trolleys that run up and down Main Street. Some of the stops are pretty impressive, considering how little purpose they actually serve) and went up the the terminal, where people wait for the bus and wish they had cars.


I had lunch at IHOP. Then I regretted having lunch at IHOP.

I forget what else I did on Thursday, but it was probably pretty cool.


On Friday morning I went to Mud Island, which as far as I could tell is neither muddy nor an island. Mud Island is accessible by a monorail from downtown Memphis and is home to a half-mile-long scale model of the Mississippi River and a museum about said river. The museum was pretty extensive and interesting. Mud Island also provides a great view of Hernando de Soto Bridge.

After that I got the bus over to Elvis Presley Boulevard to visit Graceland. I'm not even really an Elvis fan but it would be ridiculous to go to Memphis and not see Graceland. It was a bit confusing because you have to go to the visitor centre across the road to buy a ticket, and then you get on a bus and they drive you across the road into Graceland itself. They give you a headset which gives you an audio-tour as you walk through the house, which works pretty well. My camera battery went flat towards the end but I managed to turn it back on for long enough to get a photo of Elvis' grave. There are more photos in my Flickr stream. The tour ticket also included access to a bunch of other exhibits back at the visitor centre, including Elvis' cars and his two private jets.