Monday, 23 February 2009

Walking in Memphis

Sometime during my second marriage things started to go wrong. I don't know what really happened, I was trying to keep things together as I had been made redundant and my new job was with a salary of just over half of my previous one. I eventually managed to sort things out even got some spare cash together to be able to send my wife to Canada to visit her aunty, well that's what she told me anyway.

So off she went and while she was away I thought that as she was an Elvis fan, we had been together for quite a while in the February of the following year and we had been through a crap couple of months that I would organise a trip for the 2 of us to Memphis. I purchased the tickets for the plane and Gracelands booked the hotel and paid for it all.

I was pleasantly surprised sometime later to find that she had gone to see her Aunty but instead had gone to see a Canadian chap she mad met on the Internet. Christmas went and I thought I would try and make a go of things and asked her if she still wanted to go. She declined and I found myself with tickets which I could not get a refund on and I could not get the name changed either, so off I went to Memphis via Chicago and St Louis.

I arrived early in the morning at Manchester Airport, parked the car and made my way with my luggage and a small camera bag to the terminal. Checking in was fun with the normal questions: 
Did I pack the bags myself? 
Do I have anything that could be used as a weapon? 
To which I replied “I could clout someone round the head with my camera but that's about it”. Eventually I boarded the plane in a window seat and did the normal touristy things by taking pictures of the top of the clouds, the wings and then fell asleep for a while.
First stop was Chicago with about 5 minutes to get to the other side of the airport and catch my connection, however first off was fingerprint time and time to get my jacket and camera bag x-rayed again, then it was on to catch a smaller plane to St Louis. 

After a little wait I eventually walked out onto the runway and up some steps onto a small propeller driven plane which took me to Memphis. There was a strange vibration from the windows which stopped when I put my head against it, slightly worrying but we made it there with no problems.

All the flights were with American Airlines and they couldn't have been more helpful. 

Eventually I landed at Memphis and caught a taxi to my hotel and fell into a deep sleep.
I awoke the next day, had some breakfast and it was then that I noticed a network card in the pocket of my coat. This piece of electronic equipment had gone through several x-ray machines and security checks. To be on the safe side I placed it in the bin and then caught an early taxi to Gracelands to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, I arrived about an hour before the doors opened but eventually got my entrance to the house and waited to be called as the trip to the house was on a small bus.

I'm not an Elvis fan myself, but the house was quite amazing and also appeared quite dated inside. Nobody was allowed upstairs and no reason given, maybe Elvis is still wandering around up there. A comment by an American tourist about all the shag on the walls in the jungle room made me chuckle.

After a tour of the house, I had a chance to walk around the rest of the place which included his cars and his 2 jets. I then dined in the cafe and decided that the hotel was close enough to walk back to so off I set.

It didn't take too long and I felt a bit tired by this time so settled down for a rest, by about 15.00 I was feeling restless and decided to find out where the nearest shopping mall was. 

The hotel kindly organise a taxi for me and I was dropped off in what I was assured was the best on in the neighbourhood. I walked in and soon noticed that I was probably the only white face in the building, had a walk around and saw nothing of interest. So I decided that I would walk back towards my hotel and visit another mall that I passed on my way.
My trusty trainers by this time which had been with me for a number of years gave up and I found a shoe shop, purchased some replacements and carried on with my walk. The other shopping mall was worse than the previous and I gave up and got back to the hotel. 

Near to the hotel was a small restaurant and I decided to visit this after having a shower.
Suitably cleaned, I put my coat on, walked to the restaurant and found it closed for renovation and so it was back to the hotel and I got some food delivered. I settled down to watch TV for the night but the selection of material available was awful and I gave up and went to bed.

The following day I rose early, looked at my map of Memphis town centre and booked a taxi. I asked him to drop me off on the corner of particular street as I had decided to visit the Mississippi and take some pictures, I left the car and set off for the river.

About half an hour later, I noticed the neighbourhood deteriorating, I got some funny looks from people who must have though that I was incredibly hard to walk through those streets with a camera bag over my shoulder. My thoughts were mainly, “Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit, I'm going to die” and I kept hearing the words of “Walking in Memphis” in my head.

Sometime later, I looked up in the sky and noticed a plane descending in the sky, it was travelling from left to right and I suddenly realised that if I was walking towards the river, the plane should be travelling the other way.

What a silly billy I am”, I said to myself and then I noticed that sign that every weary traveller recognises, the big M of a McDonalds. In I went, had a drink and something to eat and set off the way I had come, back through the dodgy areas trying to pretend that I was unafraid of anything. 

As I got back into Memphis town centre, I thought I would buy a newspaper or something. However, the shops were still shut even though it was gone 10.00 in the morning, but never mind, I had found the mighty Mississippi.

It was hard to describe the sight that met my eyes but I'll try. Imagine it's a bright sunny day and you are standing on the banks of the river Mersey with the Runcorn bridge to your right, well it was a bit like that only muddier.

I took some pictures and went back into the town and found a coffee shop. I treated myself to several cups, a cake and a delightful iced coffee and then booked a taxi back to the hotel. I sat down and just relaxed, I had done a fair bit of walking and was buggered if I was going to do any more that day. I ordered some food, sat back and watched Walker Texas Ranger and Monk on the TV and then fell asleep.

The following day I woke and packed up all my stuff as I was due to go home, I asked the receptionist if they could get me a taxi and was told that "Quantanette" would drive me back in the hotel minibus, I checked in at the airport and then had a walk around for an hour or so until my flight was ready to board. 

The plane landed at St Louis and I caught the connection to Chicago, this time I had plenty of time to spare and had a walk around the airport.

The toilets were incredibly clean and I decided that a number 2 was in order, the seat was covered with a film of plastic, I looked to see of there was some way of replacing this as I didn't really fancy sitting on a polythene bag that someone else had used and it was then that I also noticed there was no handle to flush the toilets. I did however, notice 2 sort of sensor thingies on the wall. I waved my hand in front of one and the toilet flushed, the second one slid the plastic bag round till a new piece was in place. This was absolutely marvellous and I played with it for hours.

Eventually, I used the toilet for what it was made for, finished the paper work and went to wash my hands. This was also a marvel for a self confessed geek as the taps turned on automatically when you approached the basin and soap was also dispensed automatically. Then it was time for a coffee and a wait.

I eventually boarded the plane for the return journey, it was dark by this time and as I settled into my seat and the plane took off, the in-flight entertainment was started with an interview with Jamie (I sold my soul to Sainsburys, pukka, pukka) Oliver.

My torture was short lived and eventually Oliver was replaced by Sky Captain and the something or other of tomorrow which was not a bad bit of entertainment. Breakfast followed and by this time it was getting lighter, we approached Manchester Airport and on glancing out of the window I noticed Winter Hill below me and of course did the touristy thing with the camera and then did the same with the Runcorn Bridge.

Landing was easy getting out of the airport was harder as there appeared to be only one person to let the passengers through. Then it was back to the car, drive home and have a sleep before going back to work the following day.

Would I go again? Yes, Memphis was interesting and of course there are other things to see including the Jack Daniels distillery. I would however, stay in a hotel nearer the town centre. And as I said before, American Airlines were very friendly and helpful and drinks were plentiful even on the small propeller driven plane.