We woke up in Memphis and started looking for a diner.
The GPS yielded no results and we were reminded that the term “diner” is more of a northeastern one.
Just a short drive from our hotel, however, was the Blue Plate Café
They have the distinction of serving free biscuits before the meal — with sausage gravy: a small meal to eat while waiting for your selected meal. Three cheers for this. Sarah and I ordered Mexi [Breakfast] Burritos, while Tom selected the chicken fried steak — named as such because it is seasoned and deep fried just like fried chicken — and scrambled eggs.
With enough leftovers for another meal, we hit the road confident that we would not have to stop for anything but gas, and certainly not food.
This was until Sarah saw Lambert’s Café
This was the second time we spotted one of the three locations and the second time we were full upon arrival—it was only two and a half hours after our morning feast.
We were faced with a harsh reality: this was the original (and thus for our purposes most iconic) Lambert’s, and if we skipped this one, we weren’t going to see another.
We decided to go in and have a little something.
In reality, there is no having “a little something” here. The menu is set up so that the cheapest items are still big and filling, and plates cannot be shared between two. This is to prevent someone coming in and taking advantage of the free side dishes, or “pass arounds,” delivered by a constant flow of wait staff in funny uniforms (costumes?) offering, among other things, fried potatoes, black eyed peas, and the most notable: “throwed rolls.” This is a side that you don’t want to ask for when the cart it right next to you. It is much more satisfying to wait for the server to be across the room, so he has to fling the roll in your direction.
Soon after we caught our rolls, one of the servers came by with apple butter and sorghum, which begged the question “What is sorghum?”
“Why, it’s sorghum,” came the reply. She clarified: “Sorghum molasses” in a you-must-know-what sorghum-is tone of voice of disbelief. I know now; it is a topping for your bread that has a taste and consistency somewhat similar to honey. I ripped my roll in half and allowed her to cover half in a thick spoonful of sorghum and half in a dollop of the more familiar apple butter, I immediately wished the amounts were reversed: the apple butter was tasty but the sorghum was too much to eat. Had one bite and set it too the side.
Sarah ordered four sides as her plate, I ordered fried chicken and tom got kielbasa and sauerkraut. After adding to our “Styrofoam container full of leftovers collection,” we got back on the road and drove rest of the way to our campground in St. Louis.
We had selected a campground on the water, but the water turned out to be a small lake instead of a river. The campground was little more than some grass and very small plots. With a couple who were fighting camping next to us and several old campers that looked that they had not been moved in a very long time – possibly permanent residents. This was not the beautiful nature-oriented camping experience we were looking for.
We set up our camping gear and headed for the St. Louis Arch. The sun was setting. I was extremely excited to get to the arch during the end of the sunset. Tom and Sarah said that there was no way we were going to make it but going up in the arch would be fun anyway. We parked in a cobblestone lot that was tilted at about a thirty degree angle, causing the car to tilt toward the left (and towards the Mississippi river).
We got our Arch tickets and were lifted in egg shaped “elevators” that you sit down in. These were built to sit five but it was still pretty cramped for the three of us. Upon getting to the top, we were amazed. The sun was still setting (making me right and all of us excited) and the windows provided a great view.
The shape reminded me of the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but instead of just walking by, we were able to stand as long as we desired in front of any of the windows. We were all taken by the view and spent a good half hour in the large carpeted room at the top of the Arch snapping photos and watching the crowd assembled for the home run derby taking place at nearby, well-lit Busch Stadium. Here are a few photos, inside and out.
Afterward we went back to the campground and ate leftovers for dinner. And breakfast the next morning. And still had a little left over which we ended up throwing out. We had a lot of leftovers.
As our trip brings us further west, we're finding ourselves spending a lot more time of the road - due in part to the greater distances between cities. Certainly, after our initial week and a half trekking through the East Coast, from DC to Baltimore to Philly to NYC and finally Boston, it was a welcome change to get into Maine, and finally be able to hear ourselves think.
I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the best days away from home are the ones I spend with nature. Which, of course, is a fantastic outlook for the remainder of the trip, as we coast into places like Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone and Yosemite.
In that same spirit, the Huffington Post recently posted a terrific list of ten national parks that many of us aren't yet aware of. One of these parks (Olympic in Washington) is in our itinerary already, and after reading through the list, we just might have to make some room for one or two more. Click here to have a look
Today we were going to drive from Vicksburg to the home of the King - the one, the only, Elvis Presley. While we packed up the car we slapped on our “Blue Suede Shoes” and got “All Shook Up” for a little “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, but first we needed some brunch. We swung by some fast food places for disgustingly delicious fried chicken, corn dogs and tacos - but “Don’t Be Cruel,” we eat better than that usually (mom). We continued down Highway 61 - the Blues Highway - which was a fitting highway to bring us into Memphis where the birthplace of rock isn’t far from the bluesy tunes echoing from Beale Street.
We drove toward Elvis’ mansion and arrived around three o’clock in a WalMart sized parking lot able to handle large busses full of people on a rock pilgrimage. We jumped out of the car and the first thing I saw was a banner on a street light that read: What happens in Vegas started at Graceland
As we walked towards the main ticket counter and passed Lisa Marie’s tour plane we knew this place was going to be impressive. As it turns out this huge Elvis inspired complex was kind of like Disney World. You had to pay to get in, then, if you wanted to, you could pay to see the tour plane. And while you’re at it why not stay at the “Heartbreak Hotel?” You could pay to eat at the “Welcome To My World” ‘50s style diner and you could pay for any number of items with Elvis’ face on it or Elvis’ signature peanut butter and banana sandwich recipe cards if it struck your fancy. It did not so much strike our fancy so we just paid for the mansion tour and headed towards the tour buses. We each received our official Elvis Mansion Tour Headsets and were instructed to push start.
We rolled up to the famous home and headed to the front door. It was a little distracting trying to listen to the audio recording and the park attendants but with “A Little Less Conversation” our whole bus group figured out how to get in the front door and navigate from room to room. As soon as I saw the first carpeted ceiling inside the mansion I thought to myself: “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine,” this tour was going to be a good one.
Imagine “If Everyday Was Like Christmas” and you might get a sense of what life in this place might have been like. There was a Jungle Room that had green shag carpet from floor to ceiling and all over the walls; even the kitchen floor was carpeted. There was an audio clip from Lisa Marie who talked about how the kitchen was always open because there was always “A Whole Lot-ta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.
The “Big Boss Man,” Elvis, never entertained upstairs, so keeping with tradition, the tour did not lead up there. We circled around the downstairs walking around the dining room and past the living room where the portraits of Elvis’ parents were, (“Mama Liked the Roses” and Elvis loved his Mama). We headed past the kitchen and walked down shag-carpeted stairs to the basement. The first thing I saw in the basement was the game room. The fabric ceiling and rows of televisions screamed out “It’s Carnival Time” and the pinball machine in the corner seemed to be singing “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.”
Elvis had apparently been impressed by L.B.J. and his televisions. President Johnson prided himself on watching four major news networks at the same time on four different TVs. Elvis was not one to be upstaged and got himself four TVs also and made one heck of a TV room out of the whole situation. Like I said, this place must have been awesome to live in.
The three of us kind of hung back to let the other tourists by and took our time seeing the stables, the shooting range, and the hallway lined with Gold and Platinum Records. Elvis’ stage costumes lined the walls in glass cases, and a wedding picture with Elvis and Pricilla stood near their wedding clothes. The audio tape told us all about Elvis’ charity and how his mantra was “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” or, in non- Elvis lyric speak: empathize with those in need. We walked by a small glass case that showed several cashed checks Elvis had given to help out causes near to his heart. Everything near to his heart included buying a Cadillac for strangers on the lot at the same time he was though, so this charity business is under a pretty big umbrella.
We made our way down a somber cement path and towards the Presley Family grave site where Elvis lay with his mother, father, twin brother and grandmother. We snapped a few pictures then headed back to the tour bus which clunked down the road towards the parking lot.
We headed out of his historic site into downtown Memphis for some dinner and some Beale Street. We stopped at the Blue Plate Café
at the top of the street for a little Southern Barbeque. I “Got My Mojo Working” with some tamales, fried catfish, and delicious barbeque and then we headed out on the town.
As with New Orleans and Savannah, this certain street in Memphis - Beale Street - allowed happy customers of its establishments to walk up and down the sidewalks, drinking in public, as they listened to live music emanating from within. Following a few beers, we headed back to our hotel room to sleep after a long blue Memphis day.
“Aloha Oe” Elvis fans, and, until next time America!
By the time Saturday rolled around, three delightful days had carried on in New Orleans, leaving utterly satisfied but equally exhausted. The idea had been raised to stay around town, but in the interest of keeping our schedule (and our personal health), we got out of town and on the road.
On the road into town, we stopped unsuccessfully at a bodega-type grocery store, buying nothing and laughing to each on the way out. Before long, we came to a reliable-looking meat market near the highway and screeched into the parking lot.
Bingo. One of the beautiful things about small-town America is the price of homegrown food. We picked up just the basics - a loaf of bread, some sliced turkey, cheese, and at my insistence, a link of this mouthwatering smoked sausage pictured here. All together, lunch for three came to under $10 - always good news for folks on a budget.
We looked for a park and found one with no benches, and ate our lunch in somewhat uncomfortable fashion in a makeshift picnic. And few miles later, we parked again and got out to walk off the damage in nearby Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center
. Admission was minimal, which it had to be for us to endure the blistering heat rather than scurry off to more air-conditioned environs.
The nature center was fairly bare bones, consisting of a wooden walkway set overtop of a small swamp. The trail was short - under two miles in total - and as I mentioned before, the weather was unbearable, so we were just about the only idiots outside suffering through it.
Highlight: definitely the giant spiders. These things were absolutely terrifying, and they've established a firm foothold throughout this swamp. They didn't try to attack or anything, which was great, because I don't think we would have stood a chance.
Practically dripping with sweat, we panned over our website and tried to find something worth our time and what little energy we happened to possess. We had no strength for a museum and no interest in standing outside in any kind of natural attraction.
We did find our way to LSU
for a shot outside the university's Tiger Stadium. Those Hemchers are such big sports fans, I knew they'd appreciate it. However, with school on recess and practically nobody around, we found little reason to stay put.
Next on our plate was Memphis, which was not exactly a hop and a skip away. Baton Rouge to Memphis is a nearly six hour drive, and I'd insisted upon making the trip via the less direct Highway 61 - the Blues Highway - where scores of blues musicians began and nurtured their careers long ago.
No time to waste, we decided to start the drive early and drive north out of Louisiana and up through Mississippi. Along the way, we stopped for food at a Shoney's, a BBQ chain that I'd object to, if it weren't a regional thing. I'm a fervent opponent of chain restaurants that serve you the same food in Mississippi as you would get in Pennsylvania. But when you're down south, and someone in the car says "BBQ buffet," it's hard to say no.
An easy-going place, Shoney's bought into the philosophy that with enough selection, everyone will be happy. Indeed I was, as you can see by these two practically colorless plates (I hope my mom doesn't see this). I swear I ate a salad for dessert.
We got through half the drive to Memphis, and had to hit the hay. Priceline led us to the Jameson Inn, which, untrue to its name, served no whiskey. More importantly, they only had one room open and it had only one bed. Hence the setup you see here.
If we have any boring days, this was one of them. But for us, it was still just another in a blissful string of vacation days. Ahh, life.
Coming soon, Memphis, Elvis and much more.
After waking up and Ricky and Wendy’s and driving an hour, our last day in New Orleans started with a trip to Domilise’s
for some po’ boys.
A contraction of the words “poor boy,” po’ boys were likely first served to out-of-work folks in New Orleans as an act of charity.
Tom ordered a fried catfish and American cheese, and Sarah got a roast beef and Swiss.
I followed a random comment from a restaurant review and got a fried shrimp with roast beef (instead of seafood), gravy and Swiss.
We all got our sandwiches “dressed,” which means something similar to “with everything” or “in the garden.”
The attention to detail was impeccable for a location that does so much business.
Several times, I watched a fried shrimp roll off the toasted French bread on the counter.
Each time, the lady preparing the sandwich would retrieve the tasty morsel and find a vacant spot on the loaded loaf to act as a home for the escapee.
We sampled the local Dixie
beer to wash it all down; its taste was, to say the least, po’.
Our stomachs full, we decided on an attraction that we hadn’t seen the equivalent of anywhere else yet: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum
We wound our way up to the fourth floor of the Riverwalk
, an indoor shopping center in which each consecutive set of stairs was on opposite sides of the building.
This forced visitors to walk the length of each floor before ascending to the next, a little confusing to us for our first experience above the first floor. The museum
included quite a bit of interesting knowledge, including how New Orleans became such a party-centric city.
As it turns out, the city regulated all perishable foods and directed that they could only be sold in one of a handful of approved city marketplaces. These were big profit centers for the city but the regulations were presented to the general population as a measure to protect food safety and quality. Shops outside the designated marketplace turned to a very non-perishable commodity to generate income — alcohol. Couple this arrangement with the absence of open container laws, no observable liquor license requirements, and complete tolerance of public drunkenness and — voila — you have a city that parties every night.
The Museum of the American Cocktail
, which was more like a small wing of the Food and Beverage Museum than a separate museum unto itself, was also pretty interesting, with a medium-sized selection of cocktail history and artifacts, including literature, old bottles, and specialty mugs.
We gave the cocktail room about a half hour of our time before we stopped for a quick shopping break for Sarah and headed towards the frozen hurricanes bar on a lower floor of the Riverwalk.
Drinks in hand, we walked through the mall, an experience that only briefly felt like we were doing something wrong.
We had been looking for a café or shop to buy Beignets, a treat we had heard about from Kitty our first Day in New Orleans.
We found Café Du Monde
We were still full, but decided to split an order of three but didn’t follow Kitty’s advice to eat them with coffee.
They’re dough balls with a crust the consistency of funnel cake crust.
They were pretty tasty but didn’t complement the hurricanes.
We finished and left for the Voodoo Museum
The closest parking we could find was about five blocks away near a covered market. We walked along the market area for as long as we could, and on the way Tom found a generic phone charger to replace one that was lost in the depths of the car. We ran for cover from awning to awning and entered the museum.
Inside, we were greeted by the self-described only white Voodoo priest. We listened to his lengthy but interesting back-story and looked around. This was the second small but interesting display of the day. We read about a New Orleans priestess and had a look at some Voodoo alter displays and relics. There was nothing amazing, but the museum was worth the time we spent there—even with the rain.
On the drive back to Ricky and Wendy’s, we decided that we were definitely going back to N’Orleans that evening and would not be making the drive back to their house in Mississippi afterwards. We would be getting done too late and no one wanted to drive. We quickly booked a hotel and soon after arrived at our destination for some excellent shrimp scampi over buttered noodles, salad, and fresh pineapple. De-licious, especially the shrimp. Thanks again, Wendy!
Two hours later we had checked in to our new hotel and we were back on Bourbon Street. This night would be very similar to our first, and that was just fine by us. One notable difference was a Jazz band that we watched for an hour or so in one of the narrow bars where only three could sit abreast (creating a very good atmosphere). This night we knew about the dollar beers sold in shady alleys and spent much less overall. We brought Krystal Burger back to the hotel and once again slept like babies.
I buried my head under the fluffy white hotel pillow to drown out the noise of the alarm. Joey got up saying something about breakfast closing - I pulled the covers up to my chin and fell back asleep. The next time I woke up Joey and Tom each had their arms full of plates of breakfast food - eggs, fried potatoes, sausage. I decided it would be OK to get up now and slowly pulled myself off the sheets. Joey called to see about a late check out and we were able to stay at the hotel until 2:00 p.m. so we ate a little and napped a little and after all that felt a little bit more prepared for another day in New Orleans.
We packed up and drove into town to get some lunch. We saw the Crescent City Brewing Co.
and headed over for some samplers. Joey and I went in to order and Tom scampered off down the street to get his camera cleaned. Joey ordered samplers for him and Tom while I sipped on a Coke.
We got a bowl of gumbo and fried catfish to share between the three of us, for another taste of the local fare, and really enjoyed all of it. Our bartender told us about a free ferry that was right down the street so we headed off to see New Orleans during the day.
We wandered down the street past the Spanish Plaza and past a giant statue of a jester on our way towards the Rivewalk. The ferry was just past the Riverwalk and it was really hot out, so when we saw that the Riverwalk is actually an indoor mall we were all kind of excited. The blast of cool air hit our faces invitingly and we enjoyed our brief walk past colorful clothing and shoes inside the mall.
Back outside in the sweltering heat we found the dock and made our way through a building with Marti Gras murals painted inside it. We waited a few minutes on a bench to board the boat but we didn’t have to wait too long.
After we boarded and all the cars drove onto the lower deck the ferry shuttered to life and slowly dragged us across the river. From there we just stayed on the lower deck and waited to be shuttled back across, so it was kind of a silly lazy little attraction to ease us into the day.
Photo by Henrik courtesy Flickr.com
We wandered around a little bit more enjoying the colorful cheeriness of the city, but we had made plans to stay in Mississippi with my Uncle Ricky and Aunt Wendy who live about an hour outside New Orleans. I don’t know if we’ve mentioned this yet in any of our posts but we have had something of Ricky’s since we were in Athens, Maine visiting my Uncle Bob. Bob wrote a play and was able to perform it at a local theater, but it required a cowboy hat as a prop. And wouldn’t you know it, Ricky had just the thing - a real ten gallon Stetson cowboy hat. So he sent it on up to Bob, and Bob thought it might be fun to get it back to him by having us drive it all around the East Coast and having our little trio hand-deliver it.
So we did just that; there was only one setback though, it’s a real ten gallon Stetson cowboy hat and we have a very full car which is not fragile-item-friendly. That is a one full month commitment to not squish a really nice hat that belongs to someone who is willing to let us sleep in a soft bed and shower in a clean bathroom. At one point one of the boys joked that we were like the Fellowship of the Stetson only without throwing anything into molten lava at the end of the journey. Regardless we got the hat back to Ricky in one un-squished piece and ate some of Wendy’s delicious homemade gumbo and rice.
We were all pretty content to stay in Mississippi that night rather than driving the hour and a quarter to the city and then back to Mississippi to sleep. Ricky gladly loaded us up in his van with his youngest son Thomas and drove us around the town to see some leftover Katrina destruction, the sunset over the beach and a cool bar on the water called Shaggy’s
. Thomas’s brother Steven met up with us at the bar and stayed for half a glass of Ricky’s beer.
Tom and Thomas got a kick out of each other and Joey got an even bigger kick out of the two of them. Joey and I walked back to the car behind the group and Joey-giggling the whole time - kept pointing out how Thomas was exactly the same as Tom - how, theoretically, they were the same entity. Check out the picture for yourself - pretty striking, isn’t it?
When we got back to the house we were all pretty beat though we had, had a pretty tame day compared to the day before. We hit the hay after briefly talking about what our last day in New Orleans would entail and each fell asleep as quickly as our heads could hit the pillow.
Thanks Ricky, Wendy, Thomas and Steven - we really enjoyed staying with you all!
Until next time America.
Around 9:30 p.m., I rolled over in bed, my mouth dry and my heartburn in full force. Sarah and Joey were out cold, the room was shaded, the night was dark. The thought crossed my mind to just put my head back down and keep sleeping.
Until I thought, dude, you're in New Orleans. Wake the hell up.
I wrestled my companions out of their slumber, we got our heads on straight and got back out the door. The walk back to Bourbon Street did us well in coming back to life, and our geographical location was very safe and well-lit, unlike a handful of other sections of town.
Now, a tourist's idea of a good time in New Orleans apparently diverges greatly from that of a local. Bourbon Street is often referred to as a tourist trap, a long stretch of ill-behaved, unruly out-of-towners who are only here to behave like idiots. But if that's okay with you, which it certainly was for us, then Bourbon Street can be a lot of fun - so much so that small teams of police stayed essentially stationary at each block, carefully watching the swarms of drinkers move through the streets. If you look closely, a guy is getting handcuffed in the photo above. What a bummer.
The French Quarter in New Orleans features some gorgeous architecture, highlighted by elevated balconies on many of the buildings with great views of the street. These edifices assist greatly in the game of flashes-for-beads around Mardi Gras, but those folks weren't out tonight. I don't where you have to go or how much it costs to find your way onto one of these balconies, but we didn't care to find out. We were happy enough on foot, walking the length of the streets until we reached the end of the hubbub and then turning around to walk back.
One of our earliest stops was one of the most notable, a place called Pat O'Brien's
, where the house specialty was the Hurricane
and the price was a little exorbitant, especially after having lurched through several blocks of people selling $1 shots, 3-for-1 drink specials and, of course, "Big Ass Beers To Go." But we did take some time to sit down inside their open-air patio, where we enjoyed a light-and-fire show from the fountain next to our table and sipped away at our sweet, (strong) red drinks.
Indeed, O'Brien's was among the most hospitable place we visited all night. Just about every business whose doors were open was selling alcohol on some level, whether it was cans of beer in paper bags or chilled shots of Jagermeister. Even the gift shops seemed to see their business dominated by people looking for a drink. But as the sign would insinuate, they're not looking to make friends with you during your brief visit.
I'd be remiss to leave out a few other components of Bourbon Street. The loose rules with regard to drinking seems to have translated well for folks with even more mature priorities, too. A handful of places on the street, such as this one, offered some awfully adventurous outfits, displayed on some hilariously disproportionate mannequins.
Even further, a variety of strip clubs were dotted along Bourbon, most of which had been fairly quiet in the daylight. At this hour, each of them had scantily-clad girls standing on their doorsteps with feigned smiles, luring drunkards in from the street and shouting the accolades of their own particular place over the others. Needless to say, we abstained - but I wondered what the sign that read "Love Acts" was talking about.
This was on a Wednesday night, which was the price we paid for getting eager and coming into town a day early. The streets seemed fairly busy to me, but that's by my own standards and not New Orleans's. Bourbon Street's design is to allow as many people to be served alcohol as can be, in as timely a fashion as possible. That said, there were a lot of bars that had little or no traffic inside whatsoever - sometimes a little unnerving, but at least it provided chances to sit down and use a restroom - truly a necessity on a night like this.
The night wore on and we managed to get plenty of exercise, what with our incessant walks from one end of the street to the other. About half the drinks we purchased were from places with no visible title to their business - one guy was sitting on the ground with a keg selling beers for a dollar.
In New Orleans, the party ends at 3 a.m., an hour later than we were used to at home. But before we quite reached that threshold, a quick calculation of our B.A.C. led us to believe we should call it a night. We hopped into a cab for the short drive back, and laid our heads down for the second time. Tomorrow would be far more relaxed - more on that from Sarah very soon.