A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh.
Sometimes you're certain you're in trouble, even if you can't quite figure out why. In this case, however, the signs weren't altogether subtle. Just minutes from the music, lights and all-round good times of Beale St, we were suddenly the only people. In the middle of the afternoon, downtown Memphis, and not a soul to be seen.
That is, all except for two ladies at what looked like a bonafide dive bar of cliched proportions. They were sitting outside smoking as we passed and they gave us a smile that I accepted as being approximately one part "welcome to Memphis" and four parts "what are you doing walking around here, you naive tourists?"
Well, walking is what I do when I travel and I didn't want Memphis to be any different.
Besides, our destination - the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King jnr was assassinated, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum - was only 10 minutes by foot from Beale St.
Clutching my fiancee's hand a little tighter, the radar that we were in a dicey situation was up. Around us was broken glass, abandoned lots, crumbling fences and nothing indicating much in the way of legal commerce. With camera slung around neck and wallet bulging in pocket with vacation dollars, we were sitting targets in a city where getting from A to nearby B evidently tends to involve wheels.
Anticlimax alert: we made it to the museum in one piece, but those nerves of being mugged, the likes of which I've seldom felt to the same extent in any city in the world, were very real. Although, as it happens, they were gone in an instant and replaced with another sort of visceral reaction.
Rounding the corner, there it was. Exactly as I'd seen countless times in those still devastating photos from April 4, 1968, when the beating heart of the Civil Rights Movement was stilled forever, we were here at the Lorraine Motel. Hairs went up on the neck and looking at the marked path that the fatal bullet took, I had a chill run down my spine I'll never forget.
The facade of the motel is preserved as it was that day and the rooms Dr King and his people occupied have also been kept precisely as they were. Those rooms are the final, emotional high point of what is one of the most remarkable museums I've ever been to because it documents in gripping, unflinching style the history of race relations in America. There's despair, but there's an almighty amount of inspiration too (the "Mountaintop" speech always gets me).
And that paradox really sums up Memphis. Later research would reveal this is a city that is genuinely doing it tough, but those sites - from the National Civil Rights Museum to Beale St to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to Graceland to Sun Studios - make it one of my absolute must-visit American cities. If you love music and history, this place is genuinely top of the wish-list stuff.
Painfully Long Tour Group Meetings On The First Night
A quick word on group travel. I love it. The ease, the always having someone to eat with, the steers in the right directions, the chance you may make a lifelong friend or three - it's more often than not a brilliant and efficient way to explore the world. But if there's one thing that can get a tour off to an unexpectedly flat start it's a too-long, too-detailed first group meeting.
No one really needs a run-through of what Day 13's activities will be in what feels like real time when it's the first night. A brief overview, a little round-the-room introduction, a bit of housekeeping - fantastic. But explaining what time breakfast is in two weeks time and that it'll be a shoes-off temple that day isn't as entertaining, nor as essential, as you'd think.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes theRoxboroghReport.com