Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Dirty Little Town

I've decided to be nice.

Not out of any sense of decorum, and certainly not because Memphis deserves it, but simply because I don't have the energy to waste on this squalid little town.

Oh, I had the post in my head as I drove through the desolate streets of downtown Memphis. I was going to write about garbage thay rolls through the streets like tumble weeds. Then maybe I'd go into the deer in headlights look of young professionals who have invested in downtown condos - certainly a pathetic attempt to capture the authentic urban chic experience they might have achieved in all the other cities that they really wanted to live in. Instead they wander alone, in a semi-lucid state wondering what in God's name went wrong.

Well, if I had the energy, I'd tell them. What went wrong is that their city is broken. Areas populated by the city's poor, black population appear to lack even basic services. Of course I did see a billboard warning that those convicted of felonies do the full time. Nice, that.

Then there is the downtown. Looks like it could be a decent place except the whole place is shut down on Sunday afternoon! My goodness, when else are people expected to visit if not on one of their two days off! Even the folks who run Memphis' one tourist attraction, Graceland understand that folks might want to stop by and visit on a Sunday.

Then, of course, there is Graceland. The bloom, she is off the rose folks.

I really didn't know what to expect at Graceland. Not being an Elvis fan, I was basically in it for the laughs, and surely there were many to be had. Elvis' fan's as usual are overly sincere in their love for this man, and Graceland, in its role as Elvis' legacy, is a temple of mid '70's bad decorating kitsch; mirrors and carpet on the ceilings, badly carved furniture in the jungle room, and a torn pool table are just a few of the things that might evoke a snicker in us sophisticates.

But here's the thing. The folks at Graceland have - unwittingly, to be sure - built a museum of all that went wrong in Elvis' life. The man at the end was trapped by the myth, and this is at the core of the Graceland experience, which makes for a very sad day. We see the mansion that the star built. We see the room that the boy gave his parents as the fulfillment of his promise to "give them a better life". We see the three TV's that the man watched because he heard LBJ did the same thing. And we see the high living that the victim fell prey to when all that he had was not enough to satisfy the soul.

And when I left, I just didn't want to know anymore, because you see, there is one redeeming part of the Graceland tour. It is the "Trophy Room". This is the room where we see the gold records, the charity work, the military years, the romance and marriage. It is the room where we see the TV appearance where Ed Sullivan eased the Elvis the Pelvis controversy when he told America that here was a "good and decent young man". The trophy room is the one place where Elvis the man is exhibited with his extraordinary talent. He was free when he created his music, and nowhere else is the beauty and the tragedy of Elvis more apparent.

After Graceland we needed fortification. Once again Memphis let us down.

Bozos? Closed
Leonard's? Closed
BBQ Shop? Closed

So we ended up at Corky's. Not a very impressive place. Oh the ribs are good I suppose. Unlike Texas, the rub and the sauce are much more in play here, and Corky's ribs come with a nice rub. The thing is, there is an undertone of burned flavor that is off putting as you bite into the ribs. I don't know, but my guess is that Cork's is running the ribs over an open flame at some point charring the outside of the ribs, instead of building up a nice black crust over time in the smoker. Of course I could be wrong about that, but either way it did detract from the flavor. As for the pulled pork, we were under whelmed. No burn't bits and frankly a very bland flavor that got lost in the sandwich. As most know the big deal in Memphis is to serve the sandwich with slaw piled on top of the pork. This, I think, is a capital idea as long as you have tasty pork. Sadly, Corky's doesn't.

Tomorrow it's the Bill Clinton Library, Tulsa and Oklahoma City! Promise springs eternal!

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