Memphis, TN

Walking in Memphis - A Travel Tale

John M. Dabbs

Memphis. A bright city with flavor, color, and imagination that beckons me from the Mississippi delta. It isn’t my favorite place to visit, but it sure is definitely a place worth of travel.

A few facts

Many people don’t know, but it is the 26th largest U.S. city by population. It’s also home to the National Civil Rights Museum, and was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, with a strike by the city’s sanitation workers. Unfortunately, this is also where Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.

The city was home to music legends, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and others. The city, though known for the Blues, is home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum.

The draw — for me

One of the things that drew me to Memphis, wanting to visit and see the sights and sounds, was the movie, Castaway. The FedEx air hub in Memphis makes it the 2nd busiest cargo airport in the world, after Hong Kong. love planes. Watching the scene where Tom Hanks is awaiting the reunion with his love interest in the FedEx terminal had me wanting to see it myself. Yes, I’m an old softie. Boats, aircraft, and spacecraft have that effect on me.

The FedEx terminal at Memphis International Airport was definitely on my list of must-see places.

The food is great here.

One thing abundant in Memphis — great food. Even NASCAR great, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said “I’m not a huge fan of North Carolina barbecue. I like Memphis style barbecue and Kansas City.”

A quick search on the internet will even show you there is a bucket list of the foods to eat in Memphis before you die.

My Memphis trip on the run

I had the occasion to be in Memphis several times over the years. My first trip was a working vacation. I was there to cover an event and get a few celebrity photos and write a review of the Peabody Hotel for a magazine. Luck would have it, my assignment changed at the last minute and the Peabody was off the list — and my travel secretary goofed my reservations.

I arrived at the Hilton-Memphis to learn they were booked up, and I was supposedly booked at one of the hotel's affiliates across town in a more “dangerous” area. After a quick chat with the manager, he put me up in a suite at the normal room rate. I was relieved!

A quick roll of the luggage cart and a bit of help from a valet left me more than relieved. I was ecstatic! The room was wonderful and had a grand view of the city. Even though I was not on an assignment for the hotel, I wrote a glowing review for them on one of the travel sites. I could not have asked for better service.

After taking care of business the following morning, I enjoyed the hotel’s pool and bar before taking in the “local scene”. I made my way out of the Memphis airport and was not disappointed. The FedEx planes were quite a site for an aficionado like me.

I managed to wander around the city until I found myself cruising past Graceland, former home to Elvis Presley. It was quite a sight to behold. I would have opted to stop and tour the estate but it really isn’t my scene (Do people really say that these days?). It was on my list of things to see while in Memphis, and I was thoroughly impressed just driving by.

Time to Rendezvous

One of my colleagues in town to work with me suggested we meet at The Rendezvous — Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous. The place is a culinary legend in Memphis and is world-renowned for its food. It isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a destination!

I enjoyed the atmosphere and excellent service almost as much as the mouth-watering ribs. Nobody should leave the place hungry or dissatisfied. The only thing that left me wanting is that I didn’t have room enough to eat more. It was that good!

Memphis is about the Barbecue

Leaving the hotel for a photo shoot the next morning, I pulled into a nondescript hole-in-the-wall type restaurant for a quick lunch. The models would not be on-site for another hour or two.

With a choice of the buffet or cold cuts, I opted for the buffet of barbecues and sides. It was here that the tastebuds in my mouth exploded! I tried a few ribs and pulled pork, and thought I’d try a few of the sausages — barbecued kielbasa type sausages.

It was a match made in heaven. Barbecued sausages and my tongue loved one another. I’m not sure what the secret was, but even upon returning home, I’ve not been able to duplicate the experience or taste. Should you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.


The city is rich in history. I visited many of the museums and learned many facts about both Dr. King and the civil rights movement that I hadn’t known.

The bars and clubs in the blues district were great hangouts with many talented performers.

The waterfront, architecture, and scenery all combine to give an experience that is hard to forget.

The area is beautiful, even though it comes with many of the issues associated with other large cities, it has the charm and flair to make it a gem of the south.

The people I met were quite warm and welcoming, and the heritage on display was unique and earthy. It seemed more genuine than you’ll find in some locales.

Travel Tips

In planning your travels for Memphis, Tennessee — let me give you a bit of advice.

  1. If traveling during the warmer months, remember this is the deep south. It gets warm and humid here.
  2. If you plan to visit Beale Street, it’s best to plan on seeing it during the morning when it’s less crowded. Keep in mind there are no breakfast restaurants on Beale Street. The bars and restaurants start opening around 11 am, and usually around crowded until 4 pm.
  3. You can’t walk to Graceland from Downtown, but there are lots of taxis. Oh, and tours of Graceland are self-guided. Should you decide to tour Sun Studios, their tours are guided.
  4. The view from the top of the Peabody Hotel is the best in the city. If you want to watch the ducks march in, you’ll have to get there early.
  5. Most of the sites in the city can be seen on a three-day weekend, though the museums and shops are plentiful.
  6. If you plan to walk downtown, keep an eye on the weather. The streets fill with water easily and you can get your feet very wet.
  7. Most areas of the city are safe, but it is best to avoid “shady” areas of town and to steer clear of the pan-handlers.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the city for both work and pleasure several times over the last two decades, and I still enjoy it each time. There is plenty to see and enjoy.

Whether driving in or flying, the traffic isn’t too bad and the wait is comfortable. Relax and go with the flow and you’ll have a good time.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN

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