My first grand adventure was during fall break 2005. I had a car, a little scratch, four days off and pavement to burn. Those ingredients became my first solo road trip. I’m not even sure why I decided to see Graceland. I don’t know anyone who had spent a college break visiting a mecca of dead musician tourism.
I also learned Lesson No. 2: Be patient. You’ll get there eventually and it’s highly unlikely that the Gateway Arch and Graceland will fall into the Mississippi River before you do.
I passed through St. Louis and saw the Gateway Arch and the zoo.
On the second night, I pulled into Memphis and a Motel 6 I had reserved not far from Graceland. I picked it online based on a map. The Internet didn’t tell me that every business in the area had bars on windows. That’s not usually needed unless crime is an issue.
It was late, so I went into my room and ordered a pizza. When the delivery driver arrived, I thoroughly vetted his identity before I opened the door. I wasn’t afraid — I’m too fearless for my own good sometimes. But I wasn’t comfortable.
Lesson No. 3: Figure out which areas of a city are safe before you leave.
Memphis, like many large metropolitan areas, has a bit of a crime problem. That shouldn’t stop anyone from traveling, but as a woman, I am forced to be vigilant about my personal safety on a daily basis, and I failed myself in a very basic way on this trip.
Now, before I look up hotels, I do a quick search on a travel website or flip through a travel guide to determine which areas are safe before I book. The cheaper the room, the more likely it is to be in an area you don’t want to stay. I also read fellow travelers comments on booking sites. While one negative comment could mean nothing, if 20 people say, “don’t stay,” I usually avoid it.
Graceland and the accompanying museums are fun. Seeing the cars Elvis owned may have been one of my favorite parts. I like the abundance of velvet and color and its feel.
I spent the rest of the day looking around Memphis and saw the giant steel pyramid. Memphis-themed music played through speakers outside it and a fitting song played as I walked past: “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohen.
If I’d planned better, I wouldn’t have missed the duck parade in the Peabody Hotel or the Civil Rights Museum where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Someday, I’ll go back for those sites and Sun Studio.
I walked down Beale Street where a street festival was going on. I’ll never forget one woman, probably in her 60s, with skinny red jeans and golden Keds. She danced with abandon, shoving her silver hair off her dark forehead every so often, her eyes closed and lost in the blues riffs. She looked so happy, so full of bliss, in that moment. I wanted to feel that then and today.
I spent less than 24 hours there, but I loved it and wanted to return right away. I haven’t done so, but someday I will.
I want to find that moment of pure abandon. I’m convinced I’ll only find it dancing to the blues on Beale.