Saturday, November 24, 2012

Farewell Texas- Walking in Memphis

Our 5 days in Texas flew by and yesterday we packed up the car for a family road trip to Memphis.
It was with some sadness we left the Lone Star State. Texas is big and bold and brash but very likeable and I can see why Sophie has fallen in love with her temporary home. Our top 10 impressions of Texas, in no particular order.

  • The Big Things. Everything really is bigger in Texas.... hats, cars, water towers, pizza slices! Even the birds are big . We loved watching eagles soaring above us on the highway.
  • Queso. The addictive yellow cheese mixture that covers everything. 
  • Spaghetti roads. Bizarre 'George Jetson' layers of highway , one above the other with very small barriers on the side.
  • Cheap stuff; food, clothes, fuel (We're driving a Kia 7 seater. It cost $45 to fill it.)
  • Friendly faces. I felt safe everywhere we went in Texas (except maybe the road).
  • Texas drawl. Actually, it's not a drawl because it's us who drawl (especially those of us who've spent time in Woorndoo!). The accent is amazing but honestly there were times I had no idea what people were saying to me. Geoff chose vinaigrette dressing for his salad one night because I'm pretty sure it was the only word he recognized.
  • Y'all. Great saying. I'm keeping it.
  • Poverty. Unfortunately this is one of the negative impressions. There are homeless people and beggars at lots of intersections.
  • Fast food billboards. The interstate is literally wall to wall billboards. I counted 19 golden arches alone from Dallas to Austin. There are so many fast food chains you could not visit them all in a year. So far we've tried Wendys, Taco Bell and Sonic. Sonic is the only one that might get a return visit!
  • Orange. There's no getting away from burnt orange in Austin.
With memories of all of the above indelibly etched in our hearts, we set off on the 1000 km journey to Memphis. The day after Thanksgiving turned out to be an inspired choice of day to travel because most people were at home today and the roads were much quieter.

We traveled north, back toward Dallas, stopping at a roadside diner for breakfast where we met our first Elvis impersonator. 

After Dallas, the ever present billboards on the roadside gave way for masses of trees adorned in autumn foliage and we started to see the gateways of some pretty impressive cattle ranches. The GPS said 'bear right in 482km'. There are still plenty of long, open spaces in Texas.

We were excited to cross the border into Arkansas (which we will always affectionately pronounce with an 's' at he end even though we know better ;-) We drove through Hope (home of President Clinton) and turned off to look for food in a little town called Emmet. Here was the country America I had been looking for. Only one way in and one way back out to the interstate. To cross from one side of town to the other you had to cross the railroad line. Unfortunately for the locals, a train had pulled up across the road and no one could get from one side to the other. The girl in the gas station told me the train had been there for 30 minutes and everyone just had to wait! This town looked just like something we would see on TV, possibly during an episode of 'Pickers' or 'Gator Boys'. I would have loved to look around further but Jaime was in the car with the doors locked!

By the time we got to Little Rock ( home of the Clintons as a couple and Lieutenant Nellie Forbush in South Pacific) it was time to get off the road. Taine had traveled well but 800km was enough for everyone. We found ourselves a la Quinta to stay at and stumbled upon an amazing tepenyaki restaurant for dinner. It was delicious and only cost 80$ for all 6 of us for dinner. Unbelievable. 

Walking in Memphis

La Quinta includes complimentary breakfast which is a great bonus. Taine got to make his first batch of breakfast waffles and Xavier volunteered for our first taste of grits. The look on his face decided the rest of us to stick to the bagels, which were delicious.

The drive out of Little Rock passed nearly as many churches as the drive in. Almost every block contains a church of a different religion, some that I have never heard of before! Oxymoronically, the other side of the road was littered with billboards for an Adult XXX Superstore. Go figure!

It only took us two hours to get to Memphis. When we stopped at the info centre I discovered my dslr camera had decided it's contact points were dirty and stopped working. This is a bummer because taking photos is one of my favourite holiday pursuits. We went downtown looking for somewhere to stay. The hotel we had chosen refused to let us book a room before 3pm which turned out to be a blessing because after an hour's walk downtown we realised we did not want to stay in the city. As safe as Texas had felt, Memphis felt the opposite. The streets were eerily deserted and apart from Beale St, the whole place felt like a ghost town. The Peabody Plaza was a huge mall of vacant shops and at one stage, a man actually stood in the middle of the road and we had to drive around him. It was bizarre.

                                           Main St Memphis, just us and NOBODY else.

Abandoning our plans to stay one night downtown and one nearer to Graceland, we drove directly to the home of Elvis Presley. I'm so glad we did. Graceland is beautiful. It's not the palatial, over the top mansion I was expecting. It's just a lovely, wonderfully preserved home , straight from the 70s. despite the fact that thousands of people have walked through it since Elvis' death, it still feels very much like someone's home and it was quite surreal to think we were in the same rooms that the Presley family had lived their lives. Of course the gift shops and food outlets associated with the Graceland complex are over priced and touristy but I really didn't find anything tacky about the house itself. The memorial garden at the end of the self paced tour is just that, a grave site where people come to pay their respects to a talent that left us too soon.

Having been very satisfied with the service at la Quinta the night before, we sought out another one for tonight. We went for a drive to look for dinner and something to fill in the couple of hours before bed and found ourselves at the Southland Mall. Nothing like a bit more shopping to finish off the day. Pretty sure one of our next stops will have to be a Post Office to find out how to send some of this stuff home!

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