This past weekend I traveled for the first time to Tennessee to participate in an author-signing event. When I told two of my close friends about my plans they asked if they could come along. Poof, my entourage was in place. Since I always wanted to take a steamboat ride much like the ones I’d read about in Mark Twain, we planned an excursion on the General Jackson Riverboat Cruise. Now with three heads (and drivers) being better than one, we’d also added my other bucket list entry, Graceland, to our itinerary.
Nashville was nothing short of stupendous. We walked up and down Lower Broadway strolling (it’s the south, things are slow and easy down there) in and out of Honky Tonks. My first thrill came when I was carded. Yes, I’ve been legal for three decades and haven’t been carded for the past two. Evidently, in Nashville, it’s the law. One I took great pleasure in abiding in. No cover charge, reasonably priced drinks (unless you’re a beer drinker then they’re down right cheap!) and extremely talented musicians kept us entertained for hours on end. Not to mention the down home country cooking. Sure I’ve had ribs and fried chicken before but not the tasty, slow cooked, very tender, dripping with tantalizing spices and sauces kind. Oh and I’ve never had VooDoo Potatoes but I’m still hankering for another serving of the not quite mashed potatoes with glazed onions and Cajun seasonings sprinkled on top.
On our second night in Nashville we boarded the General Jackson or as the locals call it, The G Jack. It’s a beautiful steamboat that exudes both Southern charm and elegance. The large paddles dipped in and out of the water at a sweet rhythmic pace as the sunset over the Cumberland River. In the distance Music City lit up. The riverboat ride featured a delicious buffet and a fabulous Country artists through the decades show. Everyone on board appeared to be both amazed and pleased with this experience of an era gone by. My only regret was that I didn’t book a three-day cruise. And, that when we were told it was a three-hour cruise, I kept thinking I’d bump into Gilligan and the Skipper.
The following morning we headed southwest to Memphis. On our way we took a slight detour to visit the home of Loretta Lynn. This coal miner’s Daughter now resides in a gorgeous setting that overlooks a working gristmill. We were told that, at 83, she still tours and often says “Howdy” to her fans. “She’s real down to earth,” one of her employees at the ranch told me. Her homestead has several shops, a camping ground and a Motorcross. We had high hopes of coming up close and personal with the little lady of Country Music fame, but soon discovered her tour bus was gone and that she was indeed off performing.
Once back on the country road that took us to the main highway, we stopped in Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen. Though we didn’t eat I did discover some writing on the ladies room wall that summed up our trip so far, “Girls Road Trip, 2015.” When we pulled off the highway we’d all agreed that, “we’d never be doing this impromptu hokey stop with our husbands and kids.”
Less than three hours later, we arrived at Graceland where the King of Rock and Roll once resided. It was smaller than I thought but definitely held the allure of Elvis riding around the grounds on a golf cart, playing at the piano or singing in the jungle room to his receiving guests. Seeing all of his gold records line the walls and his collection of cars from an era I grew up in had my hips swaying. There’s a reason he smiled a lot and said, “Thank you, thank you very much.” He enjoyed life and appreciated his fans. To this day fans from all over the world visit Graceland. Elvis was unique. He’ll forever be the one and only King of Rock and Roll.
That night we walked the five blocks from our hotel to the famous “Beale Street” home of the Blues. It’s a few blocks of bars and restaurants that feature fabulous food and very talented musicians. “You won’t get any country music here. You got to go to Nashville for that,” our waiter, who had been at the Blues Café for thirty-seven years, told us. The vibrant locals add character they readily share with others. What we did get to listen was “Rockabilly and Blues.” Our waiter’s Memphis twang and fun loving approach had us returning for some of what he called “Best Pecan Pie Ala Mode around.” He definitely added a special dimension to our visit to Beale Street.
On our final day in Memphis the front desk clerk confirmed that the famed Peabody Hotel hosted the duck parade daily at 11 a.m. Encouraged to take in more local tradition, we quickly made our way to the highly impressive historical hotel.
It is more than 100 years old and has been visited by every American President since that time. The aristocratic feel prompted us to sip Mimosas while waiting for the Duck Master. He arrived in an attire much like Willie Wonka and offered fun trivia about his highly coveted position. “Watch for the middle elevator,” he said before going to get the ducks on the penthouse floor. Yes, these
ducks are living the life of luxury, well taken care of and “never, ever is duck to be found on the menu.”
As the numbers on the middle elevator moved a hush came over the crowd lined up on either side of the red velvet rope with cameras in hand. Arriving like celebrities, they waddle their way down the red carpet to the center fountain. The exuberant ducks playfully wade in the water to the delight of their admirers.
My book signing was a success and going with good friends allowed me to savor every amazing moment we experienced.
Taking time away from family and the expense of travel can be difficult but bringing home a suitcase full of memories makes it truly worthwhile. I proudly wear my t-shirt,“Keep Calm and Elvis On.”