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Walking in Memphis

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Ah, the South! My travels in this region have been limited, but I like what I've seen. At times, it feels like you're in an entirely different country. Southerners speak slower, have a distinct accent and even their own words! For instance, they say "fixin" instead of "to do", and use the term "ya'll" to refer to more than one person. After eating some Southern grub (food), you may hear the question - "Ya'll fixin to come back?" It's a way to determine whether you liked the food and customer service. Seems fitting because Southerners are extremely hospitable. They really care that you're well fed, happy and feel at home. There's a unique spirit here that you can't find in other parts of America, and I felt it most strongly in Memphis, Tennessee's largest city. I can't say Memphis is beautiful, in fact parts of the city are very dirty and run down. However, the city has played an important role in both America's history and culture, serving as the home base for the civil rights movement, the blues and a wonderful trolley system. Let's take a closer look...

1. Memphis sits right on the Mississippi River, making it an integral part of America's trade history. Because the city is located in a flood-free zone, many cotton plantations developed here in the early 1800's.

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2. When you hear the word "plantation", slavery immediately comes to mind and Memphis has a shameful past in this regard. The city was home to one of America's largest slave markets, with over one million slaves transported to the region to work in hot cotton fields. At one point, Memphis was the world's top cotton producer/trader but I believe China has surpassed it. The city even established the Memphis Cotton Exchange in 1874 to regulate cotton trading and pricing, but it was closed in 1978 in favor of computer trading. The Exchange still acts as the rule-making body for international cotton trading and arbitrator for trade disputes.

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3. In summer, it's possible to take a ride down the Mississippi River in a real steamboat. In December, no activity as all boats are docked. I never understand why all water activities are shut down in winter? I'd gladly hop on a boat even in chilly temperatures.

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4. View by the river front. Of course, Tennessee was part of the Confederacy and Confederate flags still proudly wave here. The State with the most Civil War battles? My home State of Virginia, with a big battlefield right in my home town of Manassas. Some day I'll write about it. Tennessee comes in second place.

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5. In addition to trade on the Mississippi River, the rails played an important role in Memphis history. In the late 1850's, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was completed. It was the first railroad in the U.S. to link the Mississippi River with the Atlantic Ocean. It's still active today, operating under the name Southern Railway.

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6. During my visit, I saw no trains - only beautiful trolleys! About twenty years ago, Memphis began purchasing old trams from other parts of the world and restoring them. Today, they're shiny, clean and a joy for tourists to board.

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7. You see the trolleys everywhere in the city, riding alongside cars and walking pedestrians.

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8. Stations are conveniently located throughout the city. In the morning, we had to wait about twenty minutes for a trolley to arrive.

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9. Cute signs at each station.

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10. By mid-afternoon, the frequency increased and multiple trolleys were riding varying routes at the same time. One right after the other, so wait time was minimal.

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11. I don't know how many trolleys are in the system, but on the reduced weekend schedule it felt like we kept seeing the same ones throughout the day. There are three separate lines, carrying about 1.5 million passengers per year through the city.

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12. Price each time you board is $1 USD, self-paid through a machine. It's necessary to have exact change, and this is annoying. However, you can walk inside the station and pay with debit or credit card, then scan a boarding pass upon entrance.

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13. Inside, everything is neat and clean. Nice, shiny wooden benches on which to sit. Not very comfortable for the butt, but they are heated! Cool surprise to have toasty buns during the ride. If you visit America during the Christmas season, be prepared for a lot of holiday decorations. Even the trolleys are filled with garland and ribbons.

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14. Hold on tight! Actually, the ride was usually smooth.

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15. My favorite trolley, very festive with the sparkly Christmas wreath. You can notice the trees are still green and colorful. In general, the South has a mild climate but this year all parts of America experienced a brutal winter with lower than average temperatures and a lot of snowfall.

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16. Vintage looking equipment, but the trolleys run on modern technology.

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17. A wide-variety of people ride the trolleys. Families, older people and solo riders. All trolleys are required to be handicap accessible under American law, with mechanical platforms to raise wheel-chair bound passengers. Here - proof that not all Americans smile! :)

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18. Young boy, solo rider.

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19. Curious child.

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20. This driver we saw more than any other. By mid-afternoon, he was waving at us each time we passed.

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21. Nice, friendly man though you can't tell by this photo.

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22. This passenger saw my camera and asked to be photographed. He requested that I forward him the photo, and inform him upon publication of this story. He also sends warm greetings to all Russians!

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23. View from the trolley. Americans like to build mock pyramid structures. If you've been to Las Vegas, perhaps you've seen or stayed at the Luxor? Memphis also has its own pyramid, which currently is empty. At one time, it hosted sporting and entertainment events.

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24. After riding all the trolleys on all routes, it was time to bid adieu to the warm wooden benches and explore the city by foot.

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25. View of downtown. You can see there's nothing extraordinary about it. Parts of the city are grey and dirty. By size, Memphis is quite small and you can navigate the main parts easily in one day.

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26. Even in run down areas, usually there's some vibrant sign or splash of color to brighten an otherwise depressive scene. I think it's very important for the psyche.

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27. Local sandwich shop, confused by the season. Typically scarecrows are an autumn decoration, and this photo was taken in December.

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28. Some modern buildings in the city. I especially like the architecture of this one.

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29. Jeweled building!

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30. I've mentioned it before - America is a dog nation! Not cat. Most cities will have numerous dog parks where residents can walk pets, with free disposable bags to pick up poop and keep the area clean. Here's Memphis' version, with a big dog statue at the entrance.

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31. Many families out for a stroll on Saturday afternoon.

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32. Why do some foreigners think Americans eat only hamburgers and fast food? It's not true! Fresh vegetables available from a local convenience store on Main Street. Soon, I'll start a series of reports about American restaurants so you can see what we actually eat on a regular basis.

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33. Local clothing, hat and shoe shop for men.

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34. Stylish local. If you're scared of black people, or believe all blacks are gun toting criminals, you better avoid Memphis. The majority of the population is African-American (over 65%), and sadly civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated here on the morning of April 4, 1968 while in town to support a strike by African-American sanitation workers who were protesting unequal pay. Maybe you know the U2 song "Pride," where Bono sings - "Early morning, April 4, shots ring out in the Memphis sky...free at last, they took your life. They could not take your pride." The song was written in King's honor.

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35. These decorative flags hang throughout the city, with various scenes. But here's my favorite - lady singer.

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36. Speaking of music, you probably know that Memphis was the home of Elvis Presley. I didn't get a chance to visit Graceland. Hopefully next time because I've been a big Elvis fan since childhood. A great statue of him sits in city center.

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37. The heart of Memphis and the music scene is world famous Beale Street, which is known as the birthplace of the blues. Legendary blues artist B.B. King got his start on this very street, lined with hundreds of bars and live-music venues.

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38. In 1966, Beale Street was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 1977, it was officially declared the Home of the Blues by an Act of U.S. Congress.

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39. On weekends, the street is blocked off and open only to pedestrian traffic. Pay close attention to the sign. No reptiles allowed! :)

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40. Tons of restaurants and bars from which to choose. You can listen to any type of live music here - jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll, country, gospel...

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41. The shops on Beale Street sell all kinds of strange souvenirs. Instead of a piggy bank, you can buy a boob bank. God bless America!

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42. Many refurbished and new musical instruments for sale.

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43. Continuation of the boob theme...

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44. Beale Street - also home to my smiley bear twin!!

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45. It's even possible to be serenaded here, with payment of a small donation of course! This guy sang me a song. Something about how his "dog loves my pussycat..." Hmm..sexual harassment? :)) Then he proceeded to tell me he's a distant relative of Michael Jackson. Probably had one too many whiskeys on Beale Street before he picked up the guitar. But a charming drunk!

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46. More songs have been produced and recorded about the city of Memphis than any other city in the world. You can see the complete list of songs here. Perhaps you recognize some of them? My favorite is "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn. Take a look at the video and listen to the lyrics. The most touching line - "when you haven't got a prayer...boy, you've got a prayer in Memphis." I'm not a believer but I feel it in this city. A spirit - an inner spark that can only be ignited in the South.



Special thanks to my travel partner for another memorable American journey!

Other Stories from Tennessee:

God's Tree House: Crossville, Tennessee
tree

Bristol, Tennessee
man

Portraits of Americans: Tennessee
trolley

Comments

( 75 comments — Leave a comment )
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alamem
Mar. 31st, 2014 12:39 am (UTC)
love trolleys!!!!
seems like a very colorful city, thanks for the post!
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
My pleasure! Suddenly I'm a big fan of trains and trolleys after visiting Memphis and riding Russian Railways from Moscow to Sochi.
(no subject) - alamem - Mar. 31st, 2014 01:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 01:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
I've never judged people by skin color or appearance. After all, there are shitty people from all walks of life and races. I think everyone is entitled to respect, until they give you a reason to treat them otherwise. Have you traveled a lot in America?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 01:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
fortunatus6
Mar. 31st, 2014 12:46 am (UTC)
Спасибо за пост очень интересно.
Oldsave Oldsaveoldsave
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
Чёт хоть написано, проклинают?
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 01:27 am (UTC) - Expand
levkasichkin
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:17 am (UTC)
Thank you for Memphis! It was very interesting.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:27 am (UTC)
My pleasure. Tennessee is a great State. Be sure to read my other reports when you have time. :)
(no subject) - levkasichkin - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:01 am (UTC) - Expand
rider3099
Mar. 31st, 2014 02:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for you post! Really very interesting :)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 02:15 am (UTC)
Maybe one day you'll leave the West Coast and visit this area. Or Virginia! :) I would be happy to meet and serve as your local guide.
(no subject) - rider3099 - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:18 am (UTC) - Expand
yarowind
Mar. 31st, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
Good town:)
trolleys very interesting!
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
I don't think you've traveled in the South yet? I don't remember seeing any posts on your blog from this region. Be sure to visit during one of your American journeys. :)
(no subject) - yarowind - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
addeson
Mar. 31st, 2014 04:20 am (UTC)
Looks like an interesting place, I'd love to go there one day.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:50 pm (UTC)
It's a very long drive from DC. We spent five days driving through TN and this was the last stop. We drove straight from Memphis all the way home, about 16 hours! Better to fly unless you have a lot of time off. All of TN is worth seeing. A beautiful area of the country. Btw, when I return from Israel I'm going to try to arrange a reader gathering in DC area. I will write you. :)
(no subject) - addeson - Mar. 31st, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
mybathroom
Mar. 31st, 2014 04:41 am (UTC)
It's interesting to be in the historic places like this one. The trolleys are nice. Thank you Shannon!
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:50 pm (UTC)
My pleasure. A lot of history here and great for music lovers like me!
andrey_kaminsky
Mar. 31st, 2014 07:08 am (UTC)
Прекрасный юзерпик, кстати
Perfect post. But there are some questions.
1. Photo in the paragraph 26. What is shown on circular advertising sign of pizzeria? Strange set of symbols... I was able to recognize only a fraction of what they were trying to say: "we are preparing pizza and not shaving armpits." What is the meaning of other symbols? Hairy armpits are the requirement for staff or for visitors? Puzzles for me.
2. Is containing live yeast beer popular in the southern US? If yes, then it is very cruel to warm up asses of tram's passengers ,whose stomaches is full of yeast. I think the woman in the photo 17 has already felt the pressure as the rocket on the launch pad. And she will not smile before reach the toilet.
Maybe it's not polite on my part to post here a link to a video that a lot better than yours :)
http://youtu.be/Bvvm65Aq2hc
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 02:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Прекрасный юзерпик, кстати
Why do you think this post is perfect? It's amazing that the more time I spend on a post, the less reader reaction. This one took a long time (around 4 hours). I think you're smoking something this afternoon because I don't see any symbols on the pizza sign, only a naked man! And that music video is horrible!! :))
modest_so_zvezd
Mar. 31st, 2014 07:40 am (UTC)
I feel old time when see the fotos
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, certain nostalgia to this city and the trolleys add to the ambiance.
g_kar
Mar. 31st, 2014 09:30 am (UTC)
So many trams! How nice ))
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:52 pm (UTC)
The trolleys are cool and add a lot of color and life to the city, which is dirty in some parts. And outside city center, there are some scary areas. We stayed in a hotel in one of these neighborhoods, with bars on the check-in window. :)
(no subject) - g_kar - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - g_kar - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
al_greek
Mar. 31st, 2014 10:12 am (UTC)
I was always thinking about visiting Memphis but wasn't sure if there is something except Beale Street worth seeing. But your photos made up my mind - I should definitely go !
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:55 pm (UTC)
Probably better to go in summer because there will be more activities. For instance, a big barbecue and jazz festival is held in Memphis every year. The down side is that it will also be more crowded. You can see in the pictures that in winter Beale Street was almost empty. However, temperatures in the South can get very hot, so if you struggle with heat (like me) it will be uncomfortable. Btw, I love your city of St. Petersburg. :)
(no subject) - al_greek - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Apr. 1st, 2014 02:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - al_greek - Apr. 2nd, 2014 10:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Apr. 2nd, 2014 11:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - al_greek - Apr. 2nd, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Apr. 2nd, 2014 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
girlspell
Mar. 31st, 2014 10:32 am (UTC)
The trolly car reminds me of the ones we have in Baltimore. But ours are still in museums. Our older ones look like the wooden ones in your pictures.

Tennessee looks interesting. I always thought it was the "northern" of the southern states. Although of course Virginia is and Kentucky was (according to my boss) more of a border state.

Love that song too. I always think of it when I see the word Memphis.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 01:56 pm (UTC)
It depends on where you are in TN, but it definitely has a "Southern" feel when compared to Virginia. I didn't know there's a trolley museum in Baltimore! Really the only place I've explored there is the Inner Harbor. Maybe it's worth a day trip to write a report. Any other suggestions for unusual or interesting sights there?
(no subject) - girlspell - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
skvorets1989
Mar. 31st, 2014 05:31 pm (UTC)
Shannon! Why have you removed your previous post! It was good!

How many else your posts have you removed?

You upset me so much, that I need chocolate right away.

Shame on you, Shannon! Shame on you!
peacetraveler22
Mar. 31st, 2014 05:32 pm (UTC)
What previous post??
(no subject) - skvorets1989 - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - skvorets1989 - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - skvorets1989 - Mar. 31st, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 31st, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - skvorets1989 - Mar. 31st, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Apr. 1st, 2014 02:07 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the report! The Confederate flag remains a controversial symbol in America. Some see it as a symbol of pride for Southern heritage, others associate it only with racism or slavery. Then, there are those who know little about history or the basis of the Confederate flag's origin and wave it simply as a sign of rebellion - this includes a lot of rednecks. :) The truth lies somewhere in between. I wouldn't say most people who hang this flag are racists, though some certainly are. The Ku Klux Klan uses it. However, the Confederate flag also sometimes appears in local government buildings in the South. This always causes a big controversy, lawsuits, etc. Here's an article about it - http://thegrio.com/2011/04/25/why-the-confederate-flag-is-still-flying-high/. Moreover, some Southern States incorporate elements of the Confederate flag into their State flags.

Mississippi:

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Maybe I confused you more? Hopefully I helped. :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Apr. 1st, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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