When my husband Bill and I plan our birthday trips for each other, part of the fun is the element of surprise. But that’s not all. It also involves the element of trust. So when I stepped off the plane in Memphis, my first thought was—what does he have up his sleeve?
Let me tell you right up front that Memphis is more than Elvis Presley. So much more! True, everyone associates Memphis with The Pelvis, but as I was never one of those teenagers who screamed and threw herself into gyrations on the dance floor, I was curious to know Bill’s motivation in selecting this famous Tennessee city. I was soon to find out.
The revelation began with our checking in to the legendary Peabody Hotel, where a luxurious suite opened its welcoming arms to us. In case you don’t know, what makes the Peabody famous is its ducks. You read me right. Ducks. Tradition has it back in 1930, when returning from a hunting trip after too much Tennessee hooch, the general manager and a friend thought it would be funny to put some of their live decoys in the hotel fountain. The reaction from the guests was so enthusiastic that a tradition was born. The Peabody Ducks. (They live on the roof of the hotel.) When it’s show time, the Peabody Duckmaster “herds” them into the elevator and down to the lavish lobby for their daily swim around the marble fountain. Twice a day! And the hotel guests are delighted. It is as unique an experience as one can imagine.
With the Peabody as our headquarters, we were front and center for a bounty of surprises that only Memphis could provide. One evening we strolled around Beale Street, revered for its influence on the American music scene. Indeed, an entire genre of music was born here: the Blues. Music lovers from all over the globe come to worship on Beale Street, and live down-home, nitty-gritty blues music drifts from every nightclub on the strip. And then there’s live Dixieland jazz, another Memphis phenomenon. Music was everywhere as we did some high steppin’ from one club to another, pausing at fabulous restaurants and boutiques along the way.
And yes, there’s homage to pay to The King. That would be in the form of a pilgrimage to Graceland, which is the second most visited popular private home in the U.S. (Number One? The White House.) The place Elvis called home is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been declared a National Historical Landmark.
For three days we thoroughly enjoyed Tennessee-style barbecue, contagious music and throngs of people from just about everywhere to share in this genuine American experience called Memphis.
But the beat goes on. Bill instructs me to pack up for the second leg of my birthday journey, and off we go to Tunica. Where, you ask? So did I. Turns out that Tunica, Mississippi, 30 miles or so from Memphis, is the South’s “casino capital,” housing 10 Las Vegas casinos on the Mississippi Delta. Always full of surprises, Bill had made reservations for dinner and the floor show featuring “The Legends,” an ensemble of singers and dancers belting out hits by The Drifters, The Platters, Dion & the Belmonts and the Chordettes. It was a “memory lane” extravaganza!
Of course, we visited the casinos where throngs of people seek fortunes from cards or machines, and I’m proud to report that this very unseasoned gambler WON—$25 in pennies!
But the major thrill of this leg was a concert show at the famous Harrah’s Casino, where we had a front row stage table for dinner and an evening with the one and only Tom Jones, performing all of his major hits. What a trip!
So, here’s a word of advice: Memphis might not be on your bucket list, but let me tell you—if you’re looking for a good ole time, fabulous cuisine, continuous live music and an authentic experience in the American South, look to Memphis. And leave your troubles at home.