US Road Trip Travelog: 12th February 2005

Riviera at 74,000 miles
The Riviera passes the 74,000-mile mark (though it could be 174,000 or even 274,000) on Highway 61. The red indicator is the speed and the green one is the speed warning setting, which I've set at 80 whilst off the Interstate. The most important gauge - the one which I really have to keep an eye on - is top right.

The drive down from Cape Girardeau to Memphis, following Highway 61 as far as possible, is very easy. The countryside here is much flatter and the road is arrow-straight for long periods.

Mississippi River at New Madrid
The Mississippi River viewing platform at New Madrid. This is one huge river. Note the flotsam and jetsam (always wanted to write that) showing how high the river has risen recently.

On the way down I stop at New Madrid to visit the viewing platform at the bend in the Mississippi River. Yesterday I had been thinking about carrying-on to New Madrid for my overnight stop. I'm glad I didn't - there's bugger all here. Supposedly this is the oldest town west of the Mississippi. It looks like it hasn't grown or changed much since. And, despite its name, there's not a tapas bar to be seen.

Driving into Memphis
The bridge over the Mississippi on the way into Memphis.

After all that countryside, Memphis comes as a bit of a shock. I wonder how it must have looked to those who came here from the fields earlier last century. I drive north of the centre - through some awful roadworks - to try to arrange the lube job for the Riviera next week. It's (tentatively) booked in at a Goodyear service centre for next Tuesday. I have the impression they have one guy who knows older cars, and he'll won't be finished on his current job until then.

On the way into central Memphis and my hotel a guy beeps me at the traffic lights and compliments the car. He asks if I'm off to a car show or something but I don't have time to explain what I'm up to before the lights change and we have to head off. One thing I should've done before leaving the UK is to buy a Union Jack and a GB sticker for the back of the car. That may stop the looks of surprise at my accent when this happens.

Once I've eventually found my motel in downtown Memphis I head off out to Beale St for something to eat. Beale St is famous for its blues clubs and eccentric shops, many of which have been there since early last century. It was scheduled for demolition in the 80's but was saved by popular demand and is now a huge tourist attraction, though the musical legacy lives on in a thriving music scene.

Dyers cafe on Beale St.

In the middle of the afternoon it's not overly impressive. In Dyers cafe the waitress asks me if I want a pint or a 'big ass' beer. I go for the latter, which is probably about 2 pints in a giant plastic cup. After that and a very nice burger - deep fried to their own secret recipe - with fries I waddle back to my motel and fall asleep for a few hours. I think this break in Memphis may have been a good idea.

About 9 p.m. I head back to Beale St. It's a completely different place now. Most of the bars have live blues of one sort or another, and I eventually choose one with a band comprising 3 older black guys and a white drummer. They play country blues, and play it very well, interspersed with jokes from the singer. It's a nice atmosphere, and I can feel myself relaxing, but I prefer a harder blues. And I find it, further down (or up, I don't know which way it works) Beale St.

The band this time are 3 older white guys with a black drummer and the music is electric 'Chicago' blues. Fantastic. I'm chatting to guy next to me at the bar - his girlfriend owns the place - when he excuses himself and goes up on stage to play drums. Then I get into conversation with an older guy who's just retired from 25 years in the Los Angeles police and insists on thumping me on the back every time he says something he thinks is funny. Which is quite often. But he's a nice guy, so I don't mind too much. Then I'm chatting to to the owner - a formidable (in all senses of the word) black lady - and it turns out she used to sing backing vocals with Nine Below Zero, who were one of my favourite live bands when I was younger. So I probably saw her on stage in Aylesbury or somewhere similar 20+ years ago. After that my memory of the evening is slightly hazy, but I vaguely remember weaving my way back to the motel in the early hours.

US Road Trip Travelog: 13th February 2005 >