Let me start with a question people ask me when I tell them I spent a weekend getaway in Memphis: “So, why Memphis?”

I needed to get away. The “staycation” I took in April was basically a cold, miserable rainout. I decided it was going to be either Nashville or Memphis, because I hadn’t been to either city and I needed to be somewhere where there would be good music, hot sun, and Southern vibes. I’ve been boycotting the US since #45 took office (in case you feel this is an idle threat considering I live in Toronto, I have close family in Texas) but I seriously needed to get the fuck out of Canada and Europe was too expensive and logistically unfeasible for a weekend getaway.

I did my research and was swayed by three things: downtown Memphis was quoted as being very walkable (which meant that I didn’t need to rent a car if I wanted to get around), Memphis has blues whereas Nashville has country (no disrespect to the latter, but I lean heavily towards the former), and, in the words of someone on Reddit, “Frank Black never wrote about Nashville.”

Done deal.

There’s something about grabbing a travel bag and going somewhere alone, whether it be a country or city you haven’t been, and all you have to go on is some preliminary research and intuition. I wanted the three Bs: blues, booze, and BBQ. As long as I could secure those things, the rest would sort itself out. I prefer to immerse myself and come to my own conclusions.

This is the point where I should get something out of the way: you can’t talk about Memphis without talking about race. The city’s composition is over 60% Black. When I skimmed some forum posts about where to go and how to get around Memphis, I would come across terms like “rough areas” and “locals” (as in, don’t take public transit because only locals do that). While not explicit those terms can very easily be cover-talk for Black, as in “Black neighbourhoods” (rough areas) and “Black people” (locals). This is the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while intervening in a sanitation workers’ strike.

You can go to Memphis and pretend that Elvis didn’t exist (seriously, there are few signs, literal or figurative, of the other King outside of Graceland). But you can’t go to Memphis and pretend that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t. Getting back to my 3Bs ethos, the first thing I did when I walked out of the airport was direct a taxi driver to a BBQ place downtown. As I got out of the cab and looked around me (this is in a former warehouse and light industrial district which has gentrified over the last 5 years), I looked across the street and saw the Lorraine Motel.

Exterior of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis TN
Exterior of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis TN

This is both the home of the Civil Rights Museum and, more significantly, the place where MLK was fatally shot on the second floor balcony. Now, I knew the Museum was downtown, however, when your only point of reference is Google Maps I didn’t realize it was also smack dab, right across from a popular BBQ joint. And so, I proceeded to eat a beef brisket sandwich (which was divine, btw) while staring at a very sobering national monument. Continue reading “Memphis”