2016-11-28 Mon – our day of transition

We turned on the news shortly after waking up this morning to hear that 2 men were shot outside a club a 2nd and Beale Streets. About 10 shots fired, and the men were not fatally shot. Wow. The shooting took place over by the police car. The restaurant we were in 12 hours earlier is on the far right.

Sad to say, but even Lauren mentioned that we should be careful in Memphis. We haven’t quite felt safe, all along, and thankfully, our awareness has been heightened since arriving.

2 Shot at 2nd and Beale Streets - 11/18/2016 2:15 - 10 shots fired
2 Shot at 2nd and Beale Streets – 11/18/2016 2:15 – 10 shots fired

Other than that – the large bags were packed and put next to our door for pickup after 8am. We went down to the Heritage Meeting Room for a large buffet breakfast for all the passengers – standard fare. As Barry pointed out, there was one common demographic – it’s an older crowd.

At our table, we had two sisters, originally from Cleveland, OH, who migrated to Southern California to do a one year stint – and ended up getting married and settling out there. The other couple was from Long Island, New York. Barry casually dropped what I’ve termed a “Trump Grenade” – a question about Trump’s election in a public setting, and that started an interesting discussion. The Long Islanders are staunch Democrats, and the sisters openly voted for Trump. We escaped without incident.

Next, we checked-in at the meeting room off the lobby for the “Commodore” guests, those with suites on the boat – I here there are about 12 suites. The person checking us in is a masseuse, not licensed to to nails or hair, on the boat, who’s been with the company since July. She took our credit card, pictures and issued us our ID card for the boat. And, reminded us that the city tour / including Graceland meets in the lobby at 10:45.

We maneuvered to near the front of the line and were assigned to the hot pink bus, number LM435 for the tour. The first 6 rows of the bus were designated for the mobility challenged crew, but “Flying Gazelda”, Marion, sacrificed herself and landed us some good seats. We didn’t actually end up with any of the significantly mobility challenged on our tour, but… we have some on the cruise.

First stop, Graceland. Clouds and rain were looming and we actually had periods of rain and showers during the Graceland tour. You can’t help but be impressed by Graceland, still decorated from the period Elvis lived there, which takes you back to the 60’s and 70’s. They handed each of us headphones and an iPad, and turned us loose. Both the program on the iPad, and the house / grounds / outbuildings, and grounds were well done! All the gold records, all the awards, all the movies, his charitable giving, his music, his friends, the subplots, the memorial garden – remarkable, and to die at 42, was far too young. We even toured one of his two airplanes, the Lisa Marie, and the Automotive Museum. Cadillacs, Lincolns, Mercedes, motorcycles, tricycles, etc, were all on display. And then, we had grilled banana and peanut butter sandwiches, Elvis’ favorite, and a chocolate milkshake for lunch (and the ladies did the shops) before boarding the bus to continue with the City Tour. It was pouring outside!

While the busses follow us down the Mississippi and meet us at each stop, there is a new team of local guides (some professional, some not) that lead us through the local sites. Our guy for Memphis had lived there 30 or more years and was a died in the wool Memphis resident. It was a bus-only tour, and we looped through and through the city, catching all the highlights and history. While I have absolutely no desire to relocate to Memphis under any conceivable circumstance, our guide did an excellent job of showing us the brighter side of the city.

Our tour ended with the bus crossing the bridge to Mud Island, which has recently been developed with exclusive housing, etc. It was raining, of course, but there was the American Queen – landed on the shore and tied off to a tree – yes, that’s right. Our big bags were hopefully sitting in our cabin, so we just had to get ourselves down the bank to the gangway and board with our carry-on luggage.

We wandered up to Suite 503, and loved it. The big suites, 501 and 502, are on the bow, and 503 sits next – on the starboard side. Antique furniture, unique to our Suite, the Natchez Suite, has a king size bed, love seat, dresser with large dresser mirror, and various side tables, veranda doors to the deck, a bathroom, small but very comfortable, a makeup sink and mirror, and tons of hanging and drawer space – with wine and fruit bowl, and a steward, waiting for us. Cool.

We unpacked our bags and tucked them under the bed, and waited for the muster drill. Our steward told us that due to the weather, we would merely have to put the life jackets on and stand outside our rooms on the inner hall. After the signal, we went outside our room, got inspected, and he pointed out where we needed to be in the event of a real emergency – roger that.

Dinner followed. We are assigned to table 70 for the early seating (5pm). Dinner was good angus beef, etc. and lots of wine and various goodies. We don’t go hungry and we like the team that handles our table.

After our dinner, we wandered to the theater for “Elvis, the early years”, with the Andy Childs band. Andy is not an Elvis impersonator, which I actually appreciated. He is a singer/guitar player who can sing like Elvis, but mixes in his interviews with Elvis team survivors and interviews and background on what was going on at the time. The evolution of Elvis, the entertainer. The show was only 45 minutes, but it was very entertaining, and we were looking forward to the next installment.

Oh, and by-the-way, the boat unceremoniously got under way somewhere around 5:30. Crystal Cruises played Louis Armstrong’s famous song “xxxx” when starting a cruise, but this was passive. But, we are on the might Mississippi River for the next few days!


2016-11-27 Sun Day of Rest

One of the quirks that appears in a review or two of the Sheraton were the pipes. Yes, the pipes, and the loud noise they make – loud as in scary loud. Fortunately, people’s showers ended by 10pm or so, and we had peace pipes.

Gorgeous sunrise over the city this morning. Rise and shine!

Colorful Sunrise
Colorful Sunrise

Alison and I went down for breakfast. The AC was turned on and even the wait staff was wearing coats, but we had a Super-Fantastic waitress, and a good experience. I asked the restaurant manager/supervisor how they dress grits in Memphis, and she walked me through putting together samples of “sugar grits” and “cheese grits”. Both are acceptable, and can now say that I know how to eat grits that I enjoy. We ventured out into a very quiet Sunday morning for a walk, but didn’t stray more than a few blocks and avoiding town characters on the street.

Marion and Barry woke and we met them on the 18th floor lounge and had coffee while they ate. It is always good to see them. After catching up, we stopped at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby and ventured out on our walk to Beale Street. It was still cool, but nice for a walk. Beale Street was still quiet, but it was easy to imagine what it would be like on a busy night.

We stopped at BB King’s Blues Club for lunch, including a Po Boy sandwich, some brisket sliders, a delicious paper cup of cole slaw shared four ways, and then banana bread pudding with caramel sauce for desert – and a delicious apple beer to go with it all.

A band set up on stage and we hung around almost an extra hour to listen to them. Great sounds!

BB King Blues Cafe for lunch and live music
Elvis memorialized on the Beale Street sidewalk

Back at the hotel, we stopped at the American Steamship information desk to validate instructions for Monday morning. This should be interesting – our primary baggage go in one direction at 8AM, and the people, depending on class of passenger, go at 10:30 from a particular meeting room – and above all that is whether you are doing the Graceland Tour or not – which we are.

Definitely time for a nap!

Alison and I accepted an invitation to join Marion and Barry for a pre-dinner bottle of wine up in their room. Always fun. Right around 6:30 we wandered down for our 1.4 mile trip to Central BBQ – recommended by two very disparate sources as one of the best BBQ restaurants in Memphis, “where the locals go”. I downloaded the Uber app, just in case. This would be our first experience. Cross your fingers. and either take a cab or Uber.

The hotel had a taxi right there, so we took it. Marion said the cabbie broke at least 3 traffic laws during the 1.4 mile trip! – I counted only 2 before I stopped counting. Central BBQ was a great experience. The people were nice, and the food was good. We each shared half-racks “slathered”, baked beans, onion rings, a salad. And, for desert, we M&B shared a caramel cake and Alison and I shared a slice of peanut butter pie.

How to get back to the hotel? —- NOT a taxi!  The Uber app was very easy to use, and Antonio was there to pick us up in under 5 minutes. Normally an 18-wheeler long haul driver, Antonio drives Uber in his down time. The taxi was $15+tip. Uber was $7.85+tip, and a much better experience. No brainer, we’ll do it again.

That’s it for the day……. Tomorrow is another day, including Graceland and embarking on our American Steamboat Mississippi River Cruise.



2016-11-26 Sat Travel Day

Trips always seem to start off with an alarm scheduled to go off at an early hour — but you’re awake anyway! So be it, 5:30AM was the appointed, not too early hour, and we were basically already awake.

I took a shower and did the needful, while Alison pulled together some eggs for breakfast, and we closed up all the bags after dressing. We had the bags almost all loaded in the car, but we had no Lauren and Charlie! They had a very late night, and were a bit slow, but they managed to drop themselves in the car and we were off to PHL.

Alison and Scott being silly with selfie in PHL
Alison and Scott being silly with selfie in PHL

PHL was busy, but nor horrendous at 7:30AM. TSA Pre-Check once again proved its utility, and we were well ahead of our appointed departure. Starbucks awaited us and we had a relaxing wait for our on-time American Airlines flight. “Group 1”, Yay! But, active military, those with young children or need assistance, Silver, Gold, Emerald, Platinum members, and THEN Group 1 – with half the plane filled, but we had no problems getting on and situated.

Nice flight to Chicago, with more than two hours until our next flight. We stopped for lunch at the Chicago Cubs Bar and Grill, which was a cool atmosphere. We shared a reasonably good cobb salad, and a chicken and sweet pare sandwhich with fries, and a couple sodas. No rush. I liked that. American texted us of a gate change – G11 to G10, no biggie. This was a regional jet from Chicago to Memphis; on-time and smooth.

Chicago's O'Hare Airport is ready for Christmas
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is ready for Christmas
Cubs Bar and Grill in O'Hare Airport - appropriate, since they are our new World Series Champions 2016
Cubs Bar and Grill in O’Hare Airport – appropriate, since they are our new World Series Champions 2016

I love the view of the Memphis airport – with the rows of FedEx and UPS planes. Being an operations kind of guy, I think it would be a wild experience to observe a full turnaround cycle for these flights. On the passanger side, it was almost a ghost town. It is a reasonably big airport, seemingly on the scale of a Philadelphia, but I only counted a handful of planes in the gates or taxiing. And in the terminal, there were a few people at the Starbucks, but lots of empty concourse – almost like a horror film. Where are all the people? And on the Saturday following a busy Thanksgiving travel holiday. I counted to passanger SUVs and one Taxi Van and saw only a few other cars in the pickup area.

Memphis Airport - Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving? Twilight Zone!
Memphis Airport – Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving? Twilight Zone!

Alison had arranged a pickup by a firm recommend by American Steamship. Nice vehicle, nice driver, and it took only 20-25 minutes to the Sheraton Downtown Memphis – right next door to the Convention Center. The only minor hitch was that we ended up waiting about another 15 minutes for another couple, on another flight, to collect their bags and join us.

This was George and Valerie Sotter, from Southern California. Actually, he grew up in PA and she grew up in England. He was part of a Jet Propulsion Lab program for his military service, and ended up studying in the UK for advanced rocket science, when they met. They will be celebrating 50 years of marriage on this cruise. Together with their son, they manage a “non-slip” business. They have cruised the Danube, and loved it, but haven’t done the Mississippi or Columbia River cruises, yet. (we ran into them again a couple hours later, at dinner)

Check-in was a little slow but that was alright. We landed room 1201 – on a corner. We have a larger room – nice – with a good view of….. well, not much, actually, and there is the noise of the highway below. But I have no doubt that we will sleep.

With the time change, it was now dinner time, and we are not really walking distance from a bunch of other eateries. So we went downstairs. The “tavern” didn’t have any visible menus, but the ajoining restaurant did – same menu would have applied to the tavern, but we chose to sit down in the restaurant. S.L.O.W does NOT begin to describe the experience. Our waitress seemed indifferent. We each had different beers, and shared. Alison had a mushroom swiss burger and fries, and I shared a wedge salad (very good), and a half-rack of ribs with fries. I shared the ribs, too. Mmm they were good.

George and Valerie took the table next to ours as we were finishing the main portion. After what seemed an eternity, we ordered coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. It was a good sized cup of coffee. Alison brings her own sweetener. We asked for milk, as there was nothing on the table. The coffee was almost cold and we had to ask a second time for the milk. The cake didn’t arrive until the coffee was gone (mine, too!), and we had already asked for the bill. Alison sent the cake back and the waitress got a goose egg for a tip – the first time we’ve done that in probably 30 or more years.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel a bit – found the pool and the gym – and outside to sample the cool fresh air, but not adventurous enough to extend ourselves beyond the confines of the hotel. And here we are back in the room, and wrapping up the evening at 8:30 CT. Marion and Barry should be arriving at the hotel somewhere close to 11 tonight. We’ll see them for breakfast.