Thursday, October 7, 2010

Graceland .. what the... ?!


There’s a lot of history in this old city on the Mississippi. Cotton was once king in this part of the country, and the plantation system was the basis of the local economy. Issues surrounding slavery are evident in the number of museums that house exhibits on the subject, including one that we toured late one afternoon. The “Slavery Museum” is inside of an old, unimpressive house that dates back to the early 1800s. There are secret tunnels leading into the basement, where escaped slaves hid until passage for them could be arranged by the white man who lived in the house. It’s impossible to tour the house, with its displays and photos depicting what a slave’s life was like on a plantation. They even had the reminents of an old blood-stained, braided leather whip, a disturbing artifact to be sure. One of the docents showed us advertisements from a man named Nathan Bedford Forrest, who owned a company that traded in slaves. That same man fought hard for the Confederacy, becoming something of a hero in several battles because of his prowess on horseback. After the war, however, Forrest lost his thriving business and turned to a new venture. According to the docents, Forrest was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was brutal, doing everything possible to keep the African-American population from achieving true freedom. No one knows how many lynchings the KKK was responsible for. Here’s the thing that shocked Rick and I the most: Tennessee still honors this man’s birthday each year with a state holiday, not mentioning anything about his Klan affiliation. We were told that a large statue of Nathan Forrest was erected near Nashville, where Forrest and his wife were buried. And each year, members of the Klan (yes, they still exist) gather around his statue in Nashville to pay him tribute. The state has continued to ignore the protests by people who don’t want to see Forrest deified. It has done no good at all, and the tradition continues. Of course, we haven’t had time to research these claims made by the Slavery Museum, but if it’s true, it’s a good thing I don’t live in Tennessee, or I would be one of the protesting folks arrested at next year’s big Forrest rally!!

The Civil Rights Museum is located inside the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The motel’s exterior remains the same as it was that terrible day in 1968, and a permanent wreath marks the spot where the Civil Rights leader was shot on the walkway just outside of his room. Yes, there were people touring the museum, taking photos, and contemplating what a great loss had occurred at this very spot.
The infamous Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was killed.


The wreath marks the spot where MLK was shot and died.

Window from which James Earl Ray shot MLK

But it was nothing compared to the zoo over at Graceland, where Elvis Presley lived and died. Graceland has become something of a theme-park, with its own mimi-mall where you can buy anything imaginable, as long as it relates to Elvis. His two airplanes, his cars, his house – you can see all of it, for a price. Don’t hate me for thinking that Graceland is over-the-top; a shrine to a roll-and-roll singer who died of a drug overdose. There must have been a dozen Grayline buses lined up in the big parking lot…which, incidentally, costs $14 for an auto to park in. A tour of the house is another $30 each. Does Lisa Marie really need all of that money? On the other hand, as long as the tens of thousands of visitors continue to flock to Graceland to immortalize the singer, the entire area will continue to grow and add more attractions. BTW, there weren’t any big buses at the Civil Rights Museum, let alone countless shopping opportunities to pick up a souvenir or four to take home.

The highlight of our time in Memphis was visiting Beale Street, a sort of Tennessee version of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Restaurants blare live music onto the street to attract visitors inside. Eclectic souvenir shops are interspersed with famous eateries, like B.B. Kings famous Barbeque Restaurant. We ate at two different restaurants along Beale Street on different days, and the sauces and deep fried foods were delicious. Ever tasted a fried pickle? Neither had we, so we ordered a plate as an appetizer. They weren’t bad, but we still can’t figure out why they’re such a popular dish in this part of the country. The fried green tomatoes were much tastier, and Rick swears that the batter used in the fried chicken is the best anywhere. Oh, and we shared a fried peach pie, something like a small turnover that is cooked in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. It was so, so good! Glad I brought my elastic waist pants!

A look up the famous Beale Street

Typical scene along Beale Street
Unique toilet seats offered along Beale Street
The weather has cooled considerably, dipping to “frost” levels at night. The RV is warm and comfortable, and we’re definitely getting used to the pace and lifestyle. Off to Nashville tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Get your ducks in a row.

Oops. I’m sitting here in the RV dining booth next to the big window…with the shade UP. Was trying to get comfortable, so I could get some writing done. Pulled up my top and unhooked my bra, just about the same moment as a big blue truck trailer pulled along side. Gulp. Did he see anything? I keep forgetting that we’re eye-level with the big trucks!

Oh well, there’s not THAT much to see! At least I’m now more comfortable and ready to share another story with you. In our ongoing search for a quiet RV park, we decided to stop trying the KoA campgrounds and go further off the I-40. We were in Oklahoma City and settled on a small RV park off the beaten path. There were trees, and it was relatively clean, except for the greenish swimming pool, that was closed for the season. The highway noise was doable, and all was well.

After popping out our slides (which I now call, spreading our wings), we laid down for a little rest. Toot, toot! The train tracks were on the other side of the high hedge about a block from the park. We began to laugh, and stopped when a 747 swooped down overhead, so close I could have tickled its underbelly! Yep. We were under the landing path for Will Rogers’ Airport, the main airport for that area. All night long, planes roared overhead, and trains blasted their horns. Even the earplugs couldn’t keep out the noise.

Weary, but anxious to get on the road, Rick did his final outside check, while I secured everything inside Shamu. Thankfully, he noticed that our tires looked low. I say, “thankfully,” since if he hadn’t seen it while we were still in civilization, we would been in real trouble. Again, the beast had to go into a nearby RV shop to have the wheelcovers taken off, and all six wheels pumped up. Supposedly, the air pressure had been taken care of by the dealer before we left So. Calif. Obviously, they didn’t do their job!

Now, a couple of hours behind schedule, we were back on the road, determined to get a good night’s rest. I went to work doing research and found a rural campground situated in the pines in Fort Smith/Alma, Arkansas. The road to the RV park was lush with trees, and the campground had its own lake! Hooray! Maybe we could finally dust off our new canvas chairs, set up the picnic table, and spend some time outside in the pines. We were really excited…until we were led to our treeless drive-through camp site that was located between two paved roads. Even worse, there was a motorcycle rally (we were told by the clerk) in nearby Fayetteville, and we were warned that some of the people in the campground might be returning from the big festival late that night.

The temperatures were the 90s, much too hot for the Fliedners. Instead, Rick enjoyed a Shiner Bock beer and turned on the t.v. INSIDE the R.V. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something moving on a nearby roadway. It was a long line of about 50 ducks, waddling beak to butt through the forest! It was the strangest thing you’ve ever seen. There were assorted colors and types of ducks – solid white, black and white, mallards, some with white tuffs on their black heads, and a few that could only be described as strawberry blondes. They quacked and walked and kept a perfect pace, following the leader to…where were they going? They were heading AWAY from the pond! It made no sense. Rick grabbed the camera and took some shots, but by then, a car had driven down the road, and the ducks had to break rank to keep from getting hit. About 15 or 20 had already disappeared in the distance, but the rest once again regrouped in a line, and continued their march. Rick the camera guy sneaked up behind them and got a couple of good shots.
Ever see a Duck Parade ???!!  Very strange.

A hour later, they were back at the pond and segregated into duck groups. Before dusk, they were back in formation heading from the lake towards our RV. This time, not all of them participated. We watched as they approached, wondering what they were doing. We finally figured it out! A minute later, they had gathered around our steps, making as much noise as they possibly could…begging for food. We broke up some hamburger buns and tossed out the chunks. When the bread was gone, the group turned on webbed foot and formed a new line, heading towards another RV. 

The duck brigade demanding dinner !

The next morning, I spoke with the woman who runs the RV park. She said that the ducks make about three trips a day up the hill to where a permanent camp resident puts out a big pan of fresh water for them to drink. Obviously, they prefer it to the lake water! Then they make the rounds through the large campground to hit up the RVers for a free hand-out. She didn’t find it unusual at all! For us, though, it was the highlight of that stop.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sometimes you like Almond Joy; Sometimes you like Mounds !


First of all, let me say that I don’t understand why you pronounce Kansas with the “s” on the end (KAN-ZAS), and Arkansas as if it has a “w” on the end (AR-KANSAW). Go figure….

Secondly, while I know many people who sing the praises of Little Rock, I never had much desire to go there. But the I-40 Highway passes through that area, and it made sense to spend the night. We wound up spending two! What happened was that we found a number of places we wanted to visit, including the Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park. Why? Well, we were curious about the mounds that had been built by ancient, pre-historic people living in this area, especially because we’re heading to Ohio to check out the mounds in Newark. We actually unhooked the car and drove to the site. Then we WALKED for over a mile. After so much sitting in the RV, it felt good to get out into the fresh air and move our chubby bodies.

This is a big mound ... about 5o feet tall.  
You may be asking why they are called “Toltec Mounds.” So was I! The Toltecs were in Mexico. Obviously, they never made it to this part of the U. S. (that’s an understatement!), so the local folks that named the ancient ceremonial center about a century ago were wrong about who built them. Very impressive site.

A view of 3 of the mounds at Toltec.

After that, it was time for lunch, and we accidentally wound up in the Hillcrest area, a lovely area filled with historic mansions set far back from the street, with beautifully manicured lawns, flowers, and old growth trees. There was a small Brazilian bistro (Café Bossa Nova) with some really unusual dishes, like Salpicao, a sort of salad that consisted of finely shredded veggies and chicken tossed with a light flavorful sauce piled on top of rice. Delicious food.

Then we drove around town, walked by the river, and did some shopping. The RV park was better than many of the others, and we actually got some rest. Off to Memphis in the morning.