Memphis, TN to Ozark, AR – Hunting for Wabbits…
I had planned to do some site-seeing with my free morning in Memphis, but it was off to a wet start…it was pouring outside! I had originally planned to go to Graceland, but after I did more research on it, I decided against it. I know many of you may be mortified that I didn’t do the Graceland tour while I was in Memphis – but before you send me mean emails and comments – hear me out. Sure – I like Elvis – but…
1. I’m not a HUGE fan.
2. It was POURING outside.
3. It cost $30 for the tour – a bit steep for my unemployed budget – especially considering #1.
4. It was POURING outside.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to really see in Memphis – and I decided that the Sun Studio tour was more my style.
1. The tour had fabulous online reviews.
2. Sun had a free shuttle that took you from Beale St. to the Studio.
3. This not only included information about Elvis, but other singers that I loved such as Johnnie Cash, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, etc.
4. It was only $10….that fit my budget.
Photo: Elvis’s guitar and case
The Sun Studio tour was everything the reviews said it would be; small, but extremely informative and good. You only toured 2 rooms – a memorabilia room and the actually studio where the performers recorded. The guide told great stories of how Sun Studios started, how the various performers (as noted in #3 above) were ‘discovered’, they played clips of various songs and recording sessions, and you could take pictures of everything – including the microphone that Elvis and other greats recorded their hits on. When stepping into the studio – it was as if you were stepping back in time – or onto a movie set. Sure I was excited that Elvis was in this room and this is where he was discovered – but not nearly as excited as the lady in front of me that was about 65 yrs old, wearing a sparkly baseball hat that said ELVIS on it. The thing I enjoyed most was when the guide would play the recorded music and I would stand in back and watch all of the ‘baby boomers’ sing the words and sway to the music. It was fun to see the whole room of people react to the music and re-live their past….a true cultural experience.
After our Gus’s Fried Chicken (see vol. 7 post) we did go drive by Graceland. I quickly hopped out and took some photos of the outside in the rain – but that was as close as I came to Graceland….sorry.
We had a very late start out of Memphis at 2PM and wanted to get as far as we could into Arkansas that day. The traffic was heavy, the sky was grey and menacing, but we hauled ass the best we could. Since we had been traveling through the South, I noticed a site that I haven’ been exposed to before. Billboard ads for bail bonds. Sure – I saw the first one and was a bit amused by the advertising…however…after I had seen about 5 more that day, I realized that bail bondsman must be quite a lucrative business. I thought it was funny that I had never seen anything like this advertised before along a hiway…and here…in this world they call the South….the signs were as frequent as a Waffle House sign. It wasn’t simply that they were advertising bail bondsman, but it was the way it was advertised. There was one big billboard with a photo of 2 blonde long haired twin women. They were nice looking, wearing tank tops and holding up handcuffs…what criminal wouldn’t want to have these ladies get you out of jail…seriously! One of my other favorite ads was the one that said – “You Call, We’ll Haul….(picture of a donkey with an arrow pointing to his ass)!” Given the two choices for bail bondsmen…I think I would have went with the donkey. The whole thing made me wonder…who are the people driving by these billboards thinking – hmmm – I better write that number down just in case I drink too much tonight.
We decided to push on past Little Rock Arkansas, as I had already been there years ago, plus, it was looking rather menacing in the sky and we decided that we better try to outrun the storm. Little did we know that later that night (only about 2 hours later) tornados would rip through Little Rock leaving a path of destruction.
We decided that we would try to stop in a small town off the interstate and see if we could find any small town local culture. Kathleen hopped on her iphone and started to research the various towns on the map. It didn’t take us long to find out destination for the night – Ozark, Arkansas. Why Ozark you ask? If you google Ozark, Arkansas – you will learn that in 1950 there was a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs vacations in Ozark, Arkansas and encounters two dimwitted hillbillies named Curt and Pumpkinhead Martin. Perfect – I was on the lookout for hillbillies so this seemed perfect. In addition to that great piece of trivia, we also learned that Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton worked at the Sonic Burger in Ozark as part of the show The Simple Life. Granted – this piece of trivia was enough to make us not want to go to Ozark…but the Bugs Bunny trivia won out and we pointed the car towards Ozark.
We found a bed and breakfast called the Lamplighter Inn. It was a huge house on the river that was more like a guest house than a bed and breakfast. Regardless, it was a great place to stay since there was only one other motel in the whole town! After all, the town population was around 3,500 people. Carol, the Lamplighter hostess, sent us off to the best restaurant in town for dinner – a BBQ place. Our 3rd night of BBQ in a row was a bit hard to take, but it was good. However, when we sat down we ordered a beer from the waitress, and she leaned in and whispered – “We don’t serve alcohol here.” Oh no…had we wandered into a dry county? Did our research lead us astray? Did we have to go without a drink for the night? Say it isn’t so!!! Luckily, she went on to say, “If you want to partake in that, then you have to go next door.” Ok – so now we had a plan for after dinner, perfect.
The waitress continued to make small talk with us and when she learned that we were driving across the country, she begged us to take her with us as she had never been out of Arkansas before. She looked to be about 30 years old. This was stunning to think that she had been in this state her whole life – and in the last 5 days we had passed through 5. I asked for a refill on my diet coke (free refills!) and I asked the waitress to only fill it half full because I just wanted a little. She came back with it filled to the brim and said “I went ahead and filled it to the top just in case you may want more.” So now I was realizing why the South served such large portions of food – ‘just in case we may want more’.
After dinner we decided to head into the local bar for one drink. It was a large trailer type building called the Speakeasy. We walked into to a cloud of smoke, Bruce Springsteen playing on the juke box, and a place with 95% men. Kathleen ordered a Bud Light for $1.50 and I had a Jack and Coke for $4…a bargain! We sat at the bar and watched the people start to pour in from the rainy night. I was impressed with all of the people out on a Thursday night in Ozark. We were pretty easy to spot as the ‘visitors’ considering we were the only two people not smoking in the bar, I had ordered a mixed drink, we were the only women without wedding rings, and I was wearing a hat – and it wasn’t a cowboy hat or baseball hat…we kind of stuck out, but that made people all the more curious about who we were and why we were in the Ozark Speak Easy.
We were having fun people watching and discussing important topics such as “Would you ever date a guy with a mullet?” (Kathleen’s answer was yes…need I say more?) We happened to catch the tail end of a conversation that was happening around us; a large, friendly black guy and another white guy talking as if they hadn’t seen each other for a long time. The black guy said “Sir, how are you doin’?” The white guy said with a big smile on his face as if he were meeting an old friend, “I’m great! Now you know that you can’t call me sir. You can call me cracker, but don’t be calling me sir.” At this point Kathleen and I looked at each other with looks on our face that read “Did I hear that correctly – did he just say ‘you can call me cracker?’” I knew I wasn’t in NYC any longer at that point! The white gentleman’s name was Gary and he came up to us and asked us where we were from (obviously we weren’t from Ozark). Gary was great to talk to and was introducing us to other people in the bar. Soon we had other people coming up and asking us which one of us was the one from New York and which one was from California. I can only imagine the attention that Paris and Nicole received when they were here…let alone Bugs Bunny.
As we made friends in the bar, they were eager to provide us advice or where to go around the area. I was impressed with how much they loved their state and how beautiful the felt it was. Ozark was nestled in the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark National Forest. It was full of scenic drives and sites. Of course we didn’t really know any of this until Gary shared it all with us – and his enthusiasm for the area was infectious, so we decided to change our route the next morning and do a drive through one of the scenic hiways. As we continued to talk to Gary and our new friends, we also learned that bugs bunny steered us in the right direction as the county/town over to the east was a dry county…boy…that would have been a disaster if we had stopped one town earlier. We also learned important things like the politically correct way to refer to hillbillies – Gary called them ‘hill people’. Sure, it sounded nicer, but also a bit scarier in a way. He did tell us that we would most likely see some hill people if we drove around the mountains north of Ozark!
Finally I asked Gary what he did for a living. He said that he was a bail bondsman…I was shocked! Just after I had spent the day laughing about all of the billboards along our trip advertising bail bondsman…now I met one in person! Needless to say, I had a ton of questions for him about his work! He shared stories, bought us a round of drinks, and generally entertained us for the evening until the smoke stung our lungs so badly that we had to leave in order to breath again!
Our stop in Ozark was one of my favorite night on the road trip so far, thanks to Gary and the nice, genuine people we met. Sometimes chasing wabbits can be a hell of a lot of fun!