Road Trip to Memphis

An Impromptu 10 Day Road Trip Adventure

Living, I mean real living, are these moments. Moments where the world slows down enough for you to notice and sometimes even appreciate. I’m always on the lookout for those moments. They are what drive me to do the things I do. It’s also pretty amazing to watch a friend experience and enjoy those moments.

While diving into experiencing the things I have always wanted to experience and seeing the things I’ve always wanted to see, I’ve been joined by a good friend of mine whom had something he wanted to do. My friend and I were inspired by the movie Elizabethtown and wanted to go on a road trip. The sole purpose of this trip was to “spend an afternoon drinking in a blues joint in Memphis.” We definitely did that, but the trip was indescribably more… although I’m going to try. We didn’t plan on where or how long we were going stay in whichever city we would end up which was my favourite part. Well that and the constant practical jokes and pranks we played on each other. He’d tell you he got the best of me, but we both know I won by a landslide. We embarked on our journey leaving Toronto on a Friday afternoon. After a few hours we noticed we were about to run out of our first tank of gas and pulled off the highway in search of a small town in hopes we’d find a gas station. The gas light was on and there was nothing in sight. We were flying down some random country road when Matt looked to his side and said “Oh we’re coming back to see this.” I didn’t see what he was talking about. We continued and got to the city of Puce, Ontario where we barely made it to a gas station. We agreed to in the future make a point not to let the gas tank sink below a quarter-tank for the rest of the trip.

Much to the chagrin of the friendly female voice of our GPS, Matt made a point of it to go back the way we came. We pulled up to a closed museum that proudly displayed a sign that read “Where the underground railroad had its end.” Aside from our interest in history, we had also had it in mind to be in Memphis on April 4, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Had we not started to run out of gas and ventured off the beaten track we wouldn’t have found this hidden landmark. This find truly set the tone for the trip, the random, serendipitous, incredible, fun, goofy, sad, inspiring adventure that it was. I’d been learning a lot about inspiration that year and this trip was a great opportunity to be inspired by incredible things. Imagine yourself coming to the realization that dying in an attempt to escape the life you’re living would be a better alternative to living on. Thousands of people came to this place to be free and it was an amazing thing to see.

About 12 hours in we decided to stop and grab 5 hours of sleep in Kentucky. It was pitch dark and we got off the highway and drove down road with no lights and a hotel on a steep hill. We had no idea where we were until we woke up and walked out of the hotel which was on a hill for a reason. It looked over the Kentucky Raceway on which we might have trespassed to get some fun pictures. Neither of us are NasCar guys, but it still was pretty cool. Another random, serendipitous discovery.

On our way, we did notice a sign saying “Corvette Museum keep right.” I’m not a Corvette guy, but I am a car guy. We checked it out and it was pretty cool. Yes, another random, fun find.

Those of you who know me know of my fondness for Jack Daniels and what would a road trip to Tennessee be without a visit to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg? We arrived in Lynchburg and walked in to the distillery. The people were incredibly sincere and friendly and it was amazing to learn that every drop of Jack was made there in Lynchburg, population: 381. After the tour we headed over to the town for some incredible barbecue (sans Jack as it’s a dry county, but the lemonade was pretty damn good). And off we went to Memphis.

The Lorraine Hotel

There I was in front of the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot forty-two years later. There are a handful of people that have truly changed the course of the world like he has. Crowds were starting to form. I was so glad I was there. It’s strange to pose for a picture like this because I don’t feel it right to smile and though it was overwhelming to just be there on that day, I was truly moved about being in that moment. There weren’t as many people we had expected to be there, but we were pretty early. The Lorraine Hotel was preserved and maintained to look like it did that day in 1968 and the inside was now the National Civil Rights Museum. We began that tour which began with a 30 minute documentary that left us both quiet and holding back the tears. For me, it was the bus where Rosa Parks was told to move to the back of. Visitors are encouraged to get on the bus and sit down close to statue of Rosa and once you do an automated recording starts. “Hey, what are doing? Move back to the bus Ma’am…. Ma’am you cannot sit there! I’m talking to you!” etc… The recording came as a surprise to me and it was pretty powerful. There were tons of images, signs and videos that are incredible in the boasting of the hatred and violence mankind can inflict, but in spite of it all, or maybe because of it, we have heroes and people who inspire. If you ever have a chance to see it, it’s a must! We spent three and half hours and it was barely enough. What an incredible place.

As Matt would point out, I’m not very shy about walking up to people and start talking. We met some other Canadians then a Sniper Captain with the US Army who was telling us where he thought the shot came from and what gun was used. He was extremely nice and we ended up having a great conversation with him and his girlfriend. As it turns out, he was perfectly right about where the shot came from. The building where James Earl Ray shot from was a part of the Civil Rights Museum and the bathroom from which he took aim and shot was encased in glass and on display.

The Balcony

The view of the shooter. This building is now a museum too.

Ernestine and Hazels

This was the Matt’s Mecca to our pilgrimage. In the movie, Orlando Bloom was told to go to Ernestine & Hazels and talk to Russ. The clip in the movie was only a few minutes, but it’s the place Matt wanted to visit. We walked to the seedy part of Memphis and found it. We walked in and it looked like a hundred year old juke-joint with a bordello on the second floor, which of course it was. The bordello was closed in 1992 and the upstairs was now a part of the bar. A lot of the drywall was missing from the walls, the floors were cracked and creaky and to lean on the counter was at your own risk. It was incredible. I have never seen Matt more excited. Despite our constant practical jokes and pranks on each other, Matt is a pretty conservative guy emotionally, but this was one of his “moments” and it got better. We sat at the bar and had a few drinks as well as the famous soul burger. We talked with the bartender and in walked Russell, who played himself in the movie and was real. He came right up to us and asked us where we were from. He introduced himself and said “let me take you on a tour.” Matt, trying to temper his elation, agreed emphatically. Russell took us to his wall of fame where he told stories about James Earl Jones, Shawn Penn, Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, Cameron Crowe, Orlando Bloom, John Voight and a slew of blues stars frequented the place. He brought us upstairs to where the bordello was and is now a part of the bar. To be clear, this was not renovated to be a bar, the beds were simple replace with bar tables in the rooms and the biggest rooms that overlooked the sign held another bar. Russell brought us in to his office and gave us some pictures from his own collection and asked us to send him a postcard. He proudly showed us his collection of them from visitors from around North America as well as a Christmas card from Cameron Crowe of which he was particularly proud. We stayed there the whole day chatting with the bar staff and the locals while we drank and played pool. It was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget.