Memphis, TN – Part II

We went to the Memphis Zoo.  Very nice zoo but mostly smaller animals, geared more toward younger guests, but we were able to feed the giraffes, one of Dave’s favorite things to do!

After the zoo visit, we stopped by the St. Jude Research Hospital.  As it turned out, we just missed Marlo Thomas!  She had been at the complex for a board meeting the previous day and stopped by the Danny & Marie Rose Thomas Memorial Garden for a visit before she headed to the airport.  A lot of history is displayed in the Danny Thomas/ALSAC Pavilion which is next to the gardens.  A very nice & worthwhile visit!

After we visited the flagship Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, MO, we’ve become fascinated with the different wildlife displays they have in each store.  The Bass Pro Shop in Memphis is a giant pyramid (32 floors, one of the largest pyramids in the world!) and houses the Big Cypress Lodge on the 2nd & 3rd floor (it actually has giant cypress in the lobby!), an indoor swamp & bowling alley!  There’s an observation deck on the 28th floor and provides awesome sunset views over Memphis!  There is also a restaurant & bar at the top of the pyramid that offers panoramic views.

Memphis has a historical tie to pyramids, Memphis was named after a city in Egypt when it was founded in 1819.  The pyramid was originally built back in 1991 as an event center and housed the Memphis Grizzlies until the FedEx Forum was opened in 2004.  The pyramid was vacant until Bass Pro opened in 2015.

The FedEx Forum is located at the end of Beale Street in downtown Memphis.  We went to a Grizzlies game the last night we were in town, they played the Washington Wizards.

April 2018 was the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  at the Lorraine Motel.  We stopped by the Lorraine Motel, walked around and looked at the historic buildings but did not go into the National Civil Rights Museum.  Dave was interviewed by an online news source in front of the Lorraine Motel, they were interested in his views on the MLK era vs what’s going on today; as you may guess, Dave, being the political guy his is, had plenty to say!

On our last day, before the Grizzlies game, we did a final check to make sure we hit everything we wanted to see.  We had walked through and around Beale Street but hadn’t taken the time to take it all in, so we spent some time checking out the ‘Blues’ shops and had some BBQ.  Although the music was good, it’s very touristy, not really our thing.

No trip to Memphis is complete without seeing the Marching of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel!  The ducks are in ‘teams’ of 5 North American Mallards, 1 male & 4 female, every morning & afternoon they come down (or go up) the lobby elevator and ‘march’ on a red carpet to/from the fountain in the Grand Lobby to the tune King Cotton March by John Philip Sousa.

Fun Facts: no duck is served at The Peabody, possibly making Chez Philippe (on-site restaurant) the only French restaurant in the world to not offer duck; when the ducks are not in the fountain, they are on the roof, living in a $200k structure made of marble & glass, features its very own fountain, includes a small house (replica of the hotel) where the ducks can nest and has a soft, grassy ‘front yard’; and the ducks are raised on a local farm and are not intended to be domesticated, each team of 5 only serves 3 mos and then they are returned to the local farm to live as wild ducks.

There is a Peabody Hotel in Orlando, FL, the Marching of the Ducks is done there too, we saw it there many years ago.

And, yes, even with all that we did in/around Memphis in only one week, we still got in 2 rounds of golf!  We golfed at a course called Miramichi Golf Course – Miramichi is a Native American word meaning ‘place of happy retreat’ (Dave thinks that’s an appropriate name for a golf course!); the course was previously known as Big Creek Country Club and had been earmarked for commercial development.

In 2009, Justin Timberlake bought it and put $16m into renovating the golf course to Audubon Classic Sanctuary status, the first golf course to get that status designation. Timberlake, an avid golfer, renamed the course to Miramichi, he & his family sponsored charity tournaments during his ownership period, then it was sold to a local businessman for $500k in 2014.

The course was about 20 mins outside of Memphis in Millington, TN, and not many people played it during the week, it was like having our own private golf course!  Although some of the facility looked a little rundown, the course was in decent shape, especially for the time of year and all the rain they had recently.

We’ve had a very nice (busy) time in Memphis . . . onto Little Rock, AR!

Memphis, TN – Part I

We actually stayed in West Memphis, AR, which is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN. We stayed on the banks of the Mississippi River at an RV Park called Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park.  We saw lots of barges going up & down the river.

Last summer when we were in St. Louis, MO, we saw many train loads of coal going somewhere . . . we never really understood where as we knew that the US didn’t use much coal.  Well this year’s travels brought it full circle, the train loads of coal were being taken to the Mississippi River to be shipped down to the Gulf of Mexico to be shipped to other countries.

Besides coal, there were many shipping containers on the barges as well.  It became very apparent how important the Mississippi River is for moving goods around the US as well as exporting out of the country.  Thus, why back in 2012 it was such a big issue when the Mississippi River hit all-time water level lows and there were concerns about being able to use the river for shipping goods.  If I recall correctly, I think they had to dredge the middle of the river in some places so the barges could continue going up & down.

There are two bridges that go over the Mississippi River from Memphis to West Memphis.  The main bridge, the Hernando De Soto Bridge (Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer who traveled through the area in the 16th Century, it’s believe his body was buried in the Mississippi River), is an arch bridge that brings Interstate 40 over the Mississippi River; the two arches were built to resemble a M and locals refer to it as the M bridge – in fact, when built, it was put in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘largest free standing letter of the alphabet’!

Memphis is in the process of renovating the riverfront area, the new River Garden park opened just after we left the area.  As part of the renovation, lights were added to the M Bridge and the inaugural show was held the weekend we were in town, we checked it out, very cool! From the right angle, when the bridge is lit up, it reflects off the river and looks like a guitar!  They now have nightly light shows.

For most people, you hear Memphis, you think Elvis Presley & Graceland! Well, no different for us, our first stop had to be Graceland!  Plus, the rain from Nashville followed us to Memphis, so Graceland was a good destination as it was primarily and indoor venue.  Overall, the immediate area around Graceland is very touristy and not very clean but the actual Graceland tour was very cool and worth driving through the ‘not so nice’ area to get there.

Once you stepped into Graceland, you were taken back to the early to mid ‘70s, the main floor and basement areas of the house were kept exactly as it was when Elvis was alive.  There was Elvis music playing throughout the tour, and it really took you back in time. Tours were not allowed upstairs, that was where Elvis & Lisa Marie’s bedrooms were; for the most part, the upstairs was off limits even when Elvis was alive.  There was a room built off the back of the house that became the infamous ‘Jungle Room’, see picture.

In 2005, Lisa Marie sold off 85% of the estate to a management corporation, which includes rights to his songs and his image, she still owes 15% interest and she retained sole ownership of the mansion including Elvis’ personal effects.

After our tour at Graceland, we decided to take a drive about 20 miles south to Nesbit, MS, to check out Lewis Ranch, still the home of Jerry Lee Lewis!  Private tours are offered but must be arranged in advance, it was a last-minute decision to take the drive down.  Dave thought if we loitered around, taking pictures, maybe Jerry Lee Lewis would come out . . . no such luck!

We stopped by Sun Records and STAX Records.  We only visited the gift shop at Sun, but we took the tour at STAX.  It was cool to go through the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, to see all the different musicians/bands that Steve Cropper played with as a ‘M.G’.  Booker T. & the M.G.s were formed to be the house band for STAX and were influential in shaping the sound of Southern soul and Memphis soul.

As the originators of the unique STAX sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of its era.  There are various stories as to what M.G. stands for, the ‘official’ story is that it stands for Memphis Group, but the unofficial story is that is was named after the MG sports car, but there was concern over trademark rights, so the ‘official’ story was what was used by the publicity department.

We visited the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum. Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen a lot of music-related Hall of Fames and Museums, they are starting to all blend together.  But we both really like music, and it’s been really fun & interesting to see how different parts of the country have made unique contributions to the music industry.

See the next post for more on Memphis.

Nashville, TN – Week 2

The golf course choices were somewhat limited, don’t country singers golf?! And we were on the east side of Nashville which is the touristy area so the limited courses near us were taken up by other tourists and were kind of beaten up, we eventually found a couple of courses to play. One course, Hermitage Golf Course, ranked in the Top 5 golf courses in TN, had a lot of local history to it and sheep that roamed freely on the golf course; they had a dog that rounded them up in the late afternoon, they were kept in a penned yard at night, very cool to watch.

After we’d been in Nashville about a week, it started raining, and rained most of the second week which limited our outdoor activities (including golf!).

We had bought tickets to the TN Titans football game without thinking if the stadium was indoor or out. It rained all day Saturday and Sunday, up until about an hour before the game started, and the stadium was outdoors! Not knowing the lay out of the stadium, we had no idea if we would be exposed to the rain, but out we went! As it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised, our seats were two rows back under the overhang, we stayed dry the whole game! It was a very nice stadium, friendly fans. Dave befriended the family next to us and had a great time with the kids and their signs. Although the Titans were defeated, overall, we had a very nice afternoon.

We also went to a couple of Nashville Predator hockey games. We were very surprised to be exposed to such hostile fans vs. what the fans were like at the Titans game! We had planned to go to several games, but the fans were so negative that we decided to only go to one more game vs. the Sharks. We wore our Sharks gear, we were harassed so much that we actually feared for our safety, so we decided to leave at the 2nd intermission. When we left the Sharks were losing – we were being harassed that much when the Sharks were losing, imagine what would happen if they were winning! The game wasn’t over when we got back to the RV, as it turned out, the Sharks won! We were so glad we left early. We won’t be going to anymore Predator games, what a bad reflection on the NHL!

We checked out the Country Music Hall of Fame, included was an RCA Studio B Tour – Studio B is known for developing the production style and technique that became known as the ‘Nashville Sound’. Although Elvis primarily recorded at Sun Records in Memphis, he recorded over 200 songs at RCA Studio B. The Country Music Hall of Fame was interesting but nothing tops the Rock Hall!

On one rainy day we took a drive down to Lynchburg, TN to check out the Jack Daniels Distillery. Unfortunately the tour was 70% outside, besides being rainy, it was cold too, so we decided to skip the tour. There is a small museum in the lobby area, it gives history as well as explains the distilling process and what makes Jack Daniels different from other whiskeys. It was very informative.

On the way down, we stopped at a historic town called Cannonsburgh Village located in Murfreesboro, TN, to check out the Worlds Largest Cedar Bucket! Interesting story behind it.

On another day, looking for something to do, we looked for a Corn Maze. We found one out in the country on a farm, Lucky Ladd Farms, that had a whole Fall Festival thing going on. The corn in the maze was dead! This is the second one we’ve come across that has been dead. It doesn’t seem like corn mazes are a ‘thing’ in the south.

It has been a long stay in Nashville, we’ve done & see a lot, but we’re ready to move on. Next stop . . . Memphis – Graceland!

Nashville, TN – Week 1

Back in September, when we were in the Chicago area, the bumper on our tow car got clipped by someone coming into the RV park, so our first order of business was to get our car into the shop.  We extended our stay in Nashville to 2 ½ weeks so that we had enough time to get the car fixed, as it turned out, we got the car back the day before we left.  Kristine did a lot of pre-planning with the insurance company, which paid off as the process went smoothly.  We had a rental car so we were still able to get around and see the area.

Our first event while in Nashville was the Dave Mason/Steve Cropper concert!  Dave Mason played at Dave’s college, Lewis University, so Dave & his college friends have continued to be Dave Mason followers and have seen him numerous times; the added bonus was Steve Cropper!  The show was at a small winery and there was only a couple hundred people, we were only about 10 – 15 feet from the stage! The show was huge – Dave Mason & Steve Cropper with Steve’s band, the Long Players.  They pulled out Dave Mason favorites from various stages of his career – session guy, Traffic, solo artist, and played all of Steve Cropper’s old Stax Records songs – songs made famous by Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs.  Mason & Cropper have played with everyone – Hendrix, Clapton, Dylan, all of the Beatles.  Dave Mason is still on tour around the USA. This was the 2nd show in Nashville and their last night of the tour, Steve Cropper’s family was in the audience, and TN was ‘home’ to both Dave Mason & Steve Cropper, so Nashville was a great place to end the tour, they both seemed to have as great a time as the audience.  Our only regret was that we didn’t stay after to get an autograph and picture, silly us!

The next night we went to the Grand Ole Opry, which was very cool!  The night we went, there wasn’t any big named singers performing that night, but it really doesn’t matter, it’s the whole ‘Grand Ole Opry’ experience that really mattered!  We had such a great time that we wanted to go back another night but never got around to it.

There were a couple of decent restaurants near the RV (this isn’t always the case!) which ended up being our ‘go to’ places.  Early in our stay in Nashville, we were sitting at the bar having dinner, and a guy came in and sat at the corner of the bar, we spark up a conversation with him.  As it turns out, it was Michel Goulet, Hall of Fame hockey player! He was a star, playing over 1,100 games and making over 500 goals!  He was a real gentleman, and very interesting to talk with, he’s a talent scout for the Anaheim Ducks now and was attending a couple of Nashville Predator games.

As many of you may know, Dave is a huge music fan; when we had the house, Dave had over 1,500 albums and we had at least 750 CDs.  Before we moved into the RV, Dave uploaded all the CDs, traded in the albums for more CDs, and when we left we had a music library of about 11,000 songs. Dave creates custom song list for each leg of our trips.  In the last 6 months we started visiting used CD stores in each town we stop in.  We’ve come across some very interesting finds!

We were visiting used CD stores around the Nashville area, and as we pulled into the parking lot of one of the stores, Grimey’s Records, Dave noticed on the sign out front that John Hiatt was playing there the next night?! With Dave being a big fan of John Hiatt (we’ve seen him in concert several times), he couldn’t believe it!  Dave inquired, and, yes, John Hiatt was doing a private album release event the next night!  Turns out he’s a Nashville resident.  You had to pre-buy his new CD to get in, cheaper than any concert ticket we’ve paid for!  We went back the next night for a private show and a meet & greet, he autographed our CDs.  His daughter, Lily Hiatt, is a musician too, and she had a recent album release; the two sang a couple of songs together.  A very cool evening!

A lot of cool stuff packed into our first week in Nashville!  Read on for week 2.

Knoxville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN

We have a ‘date’ with Dave Mason in Nashville so we only have a few days to check out the eastern part of TN.  As it turns out, that’s plenty of time for us, it was too touristy and crowded, but we’re glad we stopped by.

The best part of this stop was seeing the Great Smokey Mountains.  The leaves were starting to change color, which is a huge tourist attraction – who knew?! – thus why it was so crowded. The Mountains are actually in TN & NC, we stopped at the border marker and saw some awesome views.

We visited Gatlinburg for an afternoon.  A big fire had gone through the area back in 2016, many of the historical buildings were destroyed, and the town was being rebuilt.  It didn’t seem as quaint with the new buildings, although they built them to be rustic looking, it just wasn’t the same.  Gatlinburg has a small ski resort (mostly man made snow) called Ober Gatlinburg, they have a tram that takes you to the top of the mountain, nice view.  During the non-snow times, they use the slopes for hiking trails and they had an Alpine Slide; we went down the Alpine Slide – very fun!

We golfed in Sevierville which is the birthplace of Dolly Parton!  We drove passed/around Dollywood but didn’t go in; it’s a full-day commitment and with our limited time in the area, and with it being as crowded as it was, we decided to pass on this attraction.

We took a day trip over to Sweetwater and Knoxville.  It was nice to see a couple of regular communities vs the touristy stuff in Pigeon Forge.  Nice part of the country, but a little bit rural for our taste.

On to Nashville for a couple of weeks.

Louisville, KY

Our stop in Louisville was very short, and specifically, to see The Byrds 50th Anniversary Tour of Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  As many of you may already know, Dave attended the Kentucky Derby for many, many, many years, so we drove around the area and Kristine got to see a ‘fly-by’ version of a typical Derby weekend.

We took a drive by a favorite lunch spot, Barrel of Fun.  Dave and the derby guys would stop by here annually for lunch after golf. After several annual visits, they got to know the owner, Mark, and were mentioned in a local newspaper article – ‘annual visit from the guys from Chicago’.

From there, we went to Churchill Downs for a tour of the grounds. Although the tour was very informative, it was limited as to where on the track we could go.  Dave was a little disappointed that he couldn’t show Kristine more of the grounds – where they sat, how they would sneak in with the ‘forbidden’ chairs, etc. – so as we were walking back to the car, Dave saw a gate left open by the maintenance crew, and we snuck in for a ‘private’ back scenes tour! Very cool!

We stopped by the Louisville Slugger Museum but didn’t do a tour – limited on time.  But there was some cool stuff in the lobby, player signature plates on the wall, etc.  And, of course, they had a gift shop that we had to take a trip through! The museum has the World’s Largest Baseball Bat, but not to be confused with the World’s Largest WOODEN Baseball Bat we saw in, Fargo, ND back in July 2018.

And then onto the main event, The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo Tour!  The show was held at the Historic Brown Theater, and we had 2nd row orchestra pit seats!  The Byrds were Roger McGuinn (the only original member) and Chris Hillman, and they were backed by Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives!  Unfortunately, it was also the 1st Anniversary of Tom Petty’s death, very sad for Kristine.  But, Tom had a connection to The Byrds, and produced Chris Hillman’s most recent CD, Ridin’ My Time; in fact, Chris recorded Tom’s Wildflower song on this CD.  They gave Tom a shout-out, and Kristine felt like it was agood way to honor the 1st anniversary.  The show was AWESOME!  So much so, we looked at their schedule and plan to see the show again next month in Dallas!

A very nice visit to Louisville!

On to Tennessee for the month of October, first stop, Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg/Great Smokey Mountains.

Chicago 2018 – Round 2

We came back to Chicago because last year we played in a couple of charity golf tournaments and wanted to play in them again this year.  The first one was in support of Fenwick High School (Dave attended this high school) and the other one was for Rush University Medical Center.

This was the 12th year for this tournament and Dave’s sister, Jeanne, has volunteered at all 12 tournaments, even coming in from South Dakota the last two years!  During dinner after the tournament, Jeanne was recognized for her efforts and given a plaque.

Since we’ve been to Chicago a few times now, we’re running out of ‘touristy’ things to do . . . but if you look hard enough, you can always find something!

The historic marker for the beginning of Route 66 is in downtown Chicago!  And while we were downtown, we had lunch at The Berghoff, this restaurant is known for its ‘rude’ waitresses.  We also stopped in at The Art Institute of Chicago, we need our ‘culture’ every now and then!

We visited with Dave’s mom a few times as well as Tom & Nancy Silvasy.  And besides the golf tournaments, we got in a couple of additional rounds of golf.

Now we’re heading south to Kentucky, and then to Tennessee, before making our annual pilgrimage west for the winter!

South Haven, MI

Although we liked the west coast of Michigan, the main reason we came through here is because Dave’s good friend, Tom Silvasy, and his wife, Nancy, have a family lake house in Grand Junction.  Tom & Nancy came out from the Chicago area for the weekend we were there, and another friend, Jack Griffin, and his wife, Deb, also came out for the weekend.

We had a great time boating on the lake, bbq’ing and, generally, just hanging out and catching up.  And Nancy was very pleased to be able to finally show off her hard work renovating the house over the last couple of years, she did an awesome job!  In the past, the house was too small to host anyone outside of family, so it was a big deal to finally be able to have friends join them at the lake house. We are honored to be included in the inaugural ‘friends’ visit!

Grand Junction is the Blueberry Capital of the World!  Unfortunately, we were a little late for the season, plus the season was a few weeks short this year.  As it turns out, the soil and climate conditions good for blueberries is also good for wine, West Michigan has started a nice wine industry as well.

West Michigan is also known for its apples.  We went to Crane Orchards, they had many activity options; apple picking, wine tasting and a corn maze!  Our first corn maze of the season! There was also a restaurant where we picked up some apple dumplings to take back for later.  We tasted blueberry wine as well as wines they had.  We picked several varieties of apples and Kristine made applesauce to share with the group at Tom & Nancy’s house.

Overall, we had a very nice time in Michigan, although we would like to come back and spend some time in the Northern part of Michigan.

Back to Chicago for Round 2!

Detroit, MI

The RV park where we stayed was actually in Ypsilanti, which was closer to Ann Arbor than Detroit.  Ann Arbor is primarily a college town (University of Michigan) and reminded Kristine of Berkeley, CA.  School hadn’t started yet but it would be in the next week or so as we saw parents dropping students off.  We walked down Liberty & State Streets, looked in on some used CD stores and had lunch.

The Ford Museum is in a suburb of Detroit, Dearborn, and Henry Ford IS Dearborn.  There is a Ford Factory Plant (Rogue Factory, named for being on the Rogue River) as well as a museum of innovation and a historical town. The factory and the supporting facilities take up most of Dearborn and is the largest employer in the area.  As you drive around the area, Henry Ford’s name is on everything, from schools to medical facilities.

We went through the museum (very informative) and took the factory tour.  On the tour we got to see F150 trucks being built, they build about 1,250 trucks a day!  The F150 truck is all they build at this factory. The factory is VERY innovative from conveyor belts and robotics to greenery on the roof (also known as a Living Roof) – the greenery helps insulate the building from both heat and cold and saves approx. $2M/yr in heating/cooling cost as well as it helped clean up the air quality in the area.  The plant is also ’self contained’ as they make all their parts starting with the metal sheets used to create many of the parts; this was done so that outside vendors could never cause production schedule issues, Ford controls everything it needs for production.

We watched games at two of the Detroit sports stadiums – Tigers (baseball) and Lions (football). The night we went to the baseball game, they were having a celebration honoring the 50th Anniversary of the winning 1968
World Series Team.  Very cool to see! And Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem! We also went by the old hockey arena, Joe Louis Arena – The Mighty Joe! Sad that we were never able to see a hockey game there.

The Detroit downtown and waterfront areas are very nice and clean.  Canada is just across the river, mostly casinos and hotels in the immediate area, we decided not to go into Canada this time.

And besides golfing a couple of times, we also drove around the outskirts of Detroit, stopped by the Motown Museum and saw the 8 Mile Road wall (there’s a movie called 8 Mile that is roughly based on this area), in the past the road had separated the predominantly black intercity of Detroit and the white suburban neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are no longer segregated, and although brightly painted murals have been painted on the wall along the neighborhood park, the area is still predominantly black, low income and rundown.

After a full week in the Detroit area, we’re heading to the west side of Michigan, South Haven, for a week.

Cincinnati OH

A big heat wave came through Cincinnati while we were visiting – with close to 100% humidity!  The RV park was on a lake and they provided paddle boats, but it was too hot to do even that!

The Downtown Riverfront has been updated and is very nice, it has water features, hanging swings, a workout course, as well as the stadiums for both the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals – we attended a Reds game.  The Great American Ballpark was very nice.

We visited the Cincinnati Zoo and fed the giraffes.  It started off as a pleasant morning walk but as the humidity started kicking in . . . we were glad to be near the end!  Overall we enjoyed the zoo, it was clean and the animals seemed happy although the weather seemed to be taking a toll on them as well.

We were in Cincinnati over Labor Day weekend, and they have a big festival to celebrate the end of summer.  The festival is concluded with a music synchronized fireworks show that is shot off from three locations, the two bridges that go over the Ohio River, a barge in the river & from the banks, it lasted about 30 minutes.  It was a really awesome show! (coming from Kristine who is a fireworks connoisseur!)

And as usual, we golfed a couple of times while in the area – where we stayed was right on the Ohio/Indiana border, so we ended up golfing at one of the Casinos in Indiana.

Now up to Michigan, first Detroit/Ann Arbor area and then west to the South Haven/Grand Junction area.