On Sunday morning we drove to Memphis, Tennessee beginning our adventures at the Mud Island River Park. We rode a suspended monorail to the park and toured the Mississippi River Museum, which traces the river’s impact on U.S. history. This included information and artifacts from the earliest river people through today, the river’s role in war, particularly the Civil War, how the river influenced culture and how the culture shaped the music industry. Christina was a little bored until we got each of the girls an audio touring device; then she eagerly moved from exhibit to exhibit, looking for which number to press on her hand-held device. She especially seemed to enjoy that Jacquelyn had one too so they could experience it together.
After the museum, we went outdoors and waded through the running waters of a 5 ½ block, scaled model of the
Mississippi River. The model is made of sandy colored, rocky cement (the kind you might find in a designer, in-ground pool) and though it is wide enough for adult feet in some places, many sections are narrow and uneven. We got out and walked along the edge in those places. The walk along the mini-Mississippi seemed to take forever; just when we thought we were near the end, we would take a turn and see the water winding on before us again. For a moment, I felt like the European’s sailing on and on looking for passage to the Orient. The stifling Memphis heat and humidity made the walk seem even longer so we preferred to keep our feet in the cool waters as much as possible. I love how this relatively short journey helped me to appreciate the actual length of the mighty Mississippi. We followed the river to its end, where it fans out into a delta and pours into the ocean – or in this case, a 3 ft. deep man-made pool where people were paddle-boating.We then headed to Beale St. for lunch. Memphis is quiet on Sundays, even on Beale St. We welcomed the thin crowds and subdued atmosphere especially because our children were with us. We decided to eat at BB King’s Blues Club, which was everything one might expect of a Memphis blues club on Beale – dark, run down, seedy, cramped and cool as ice. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the atmosphere was not left to chance, but was carefully crafted through masterful design techniques, such as red tinted windows on the third floor, dark, sparsely decorated walls and metal railings painted to look tarnished. The “BB” shaped speakers were also a nice touch. (Blues lovers take note: BB King is playing a live concert at his Memphis club two night this September.)
While we chowed down a plate of fried pickles, a blues band took the stage. I’m not sure I ever saw the drummer but the bassist was a big, heavy African-American man in suspenders, and the lead guitarist was a skinny, white man, with wire-rimmed glasses wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. Only the back-up singer was younger than 45; he introduced the lead singer – a 60-something African-American woman in a black dress and heels. He escorted her on stage like she was Aretha Franklin. Gotta love it! But boy could she sing and man, could they play! We listened for awhile and watched a few people take to the dance floor before heading out to ride a Memphis River Boat.
I have always dreamed of riding the Mighty Mississippi and on Sunday I finally did it! We arrived just ahead of a tour bus (thank goodness!) and, per Christina’s request, sat on the top deck in the front row. We had a great view and, thankfully, the rain held off until the end of out trip. Our tour guide, an entertaining local, shared all sorts of historical facts with us. Did you know that the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history occurred on the Mississippi? I didn’t! Approximately 1800 people died when four boilers on the USS Sultana exploded and the ship sunk near Memphis. The tragedy was overshadowed by the end of the civil war and Lincoln’s assassination. More people died on the Sultana than on the Titanic!
We had the opportunity to see several towboats pushing massive (and I mean massive) barges up and down the river. I also learned that one towboat can move as much cargo as 700 tractor trailers! We also saw the towboat’s version of a riverside Wal-Mart and learned that fuel, drinking water and groceries are ordered by phone and then delivered directly to the tow-boat to save the crews time. Our guide informed us that each stop cost the shipping company $1000/hr. As they say, time is money. Overall, I genuinely loved our 90 minute ride along the river, but I would really like something longer – like a one week river cruise. (Doug, are you reading this?)
We arrived at our hotel a few hours before the torrential rains. Doug and I agreed that the thunder we heard in the middle of the night may have been the loudest to ever reach our ears! What a great day we had in Memphis!!!