Gooey Butter Cake, Elvis, and Airbnb

(Thursday, April 23, 2015) Day 6

On our way out of St. Louis, we took Miriam’s suggestion and stopped at Hartford Café to experience “Gooey Butter Cake”. No one was really able to tell us exactly what it was, only that it was a yummy St. Louis food that we should try before leaving. The lack of sufficient description became more understandable once we tried it. It almost resembles a lemon bar, both in consistency and layered appearance, but without lemon flavor; it has the texture of a sticky cheesecake that has been sitting around retaining moisture. The flavor is melt-in-your-mouth, buttery sweet, as one might expect given the name, and there is a non-flaky crust that is a cross between a pastry and a cookie on the bottom. In summation, it is a type of dessert bar. The coffee special of the day at Hartford Café was Black Cherry Chocolate, which was also delicious and should be a flavor in more coffee shops. Caffeine and breakfast-dessert in hand, we drove away from a city of which we had already become quite fond. Within a matter of minutes the gooey butter cake bars were gone, and I was quietly wishing we had bought the full pan instead of individual slices.

Our first and only experience in Arkansas was a grand welcome center. Much like a log cabin, the building was built of wood and smelled of it in the best possible way. As I looked around, I was reminded of the days before Netflix and On Demand, walking into video rental stores with all the VHS’s lining the shelves from ceiling to floor. Instead of videotapes, it was pamphlets. We’d never seen so many pamphlets in one place. This place made Arkansas look like a world of possibilities and tourist attractions. The drive was a short four-hour cruise. We slowed at the border to take a picture of the sign, which we’d done for every state. We were about to shake things up a little bit. Entering the Mississippi Delta meant seeing family, learning some American history, and, of course, more music and BBQ.

Our father had flown into Memphis for a family event in Cleveland, Mississippi. Before heading down, he treated us to the Graceland experience. It should be said that our dad was the person who initially exposed us to most kinds of music. It would even be fair to say that he is responsible for cultivating our appreciation for many of the greatest musicians throughout musical history. It felt appropriate that he should be privy to this particular part of our road trip. Memphis and the surrounding delta is where so much musical history was not only recorded, but where it actually originated. That being said, there is no way to adequately convey how amazing Elvis was as a person and an icon. Graceland is surreal and about as ostentatious as it gets. The famous Jungle Room is one of many themed rooms in what is now Lisa Marie’s home, though she doesn’t frequent it as often as she used to according to the our shuttle driver. There is a room completely covered in pleated fabric that took 3 men 10 days to finish (if I remember correctly from the recorded tour guided by John Stamos). I found Graceland to be incredibly fascinating and informative. It was also overwhelmingly sad to think of his life and death and the shrine that has become of his home and the boulevard surrounding it. Between each exhibit is an opportunity to spend thousands of dollars on regalia, accessories, shot glasses, and the like. Not to mention the absurdity that they charge you thirty-five dollars for a picture they take of you at the beginning of the tour in front of a green screen. They place your image in front of Graceland or with an old photo of Elvis. We ended our Elvis experience by walking through Lisa Marie, his favorite airplane named for his daughter. It is amazing how everything is still intact and still smells of stale cigarettes despite the thousands and thousands of odor producing people that walk through it each day. In the plane we learned that Elvis was not an alcohol drinker, as he didn’t enjoy the taste, but always had it aboard for his guests to imbibe.

Elvis's Fabric-Covered Room in Graceland

Elvis's TV & Entertainment Room in Graceland

After lunch we wandered downtown Memphis for a place to eat. We ended up at a restaurant called “The Local”. Some of our other family flying through Memphis to drive down to Cleveland was nearby at the Peabody, a hotel famous for its elevator riding ducks and its view from the roof. While we had missed our opportunity to watch the Duck Master lead the hotel-dwelling ducks out of the elevator and into the lobby’s fountain, when we met up with our extended family on the roof, we were shown videos and got to see them in their respective enclosure. On our list of BBQ must-eats was a famous restaurant in Memphis, Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous. They also had plans to go there, but at the last minute, we decided to take the local advice of our waitress from earlier and try Central BBQ instead of joining them. She told us it was better prices for better food and less of a crowd. She even specified that we go to the location near the National Civil Rights Museum, not the one on Central Avenue. We were very happy with our decision. Central BBQ was almost as good as Pappy’s in St. Louis, though they were easy to compare, as they were both dry-rubbed style. With dinner-filled bellies, we walked toward Beale Street with “Walking in Memphis” in our heads. It’s funny how you picture something one way and then experience it first hand. Now that I’ve experienced Memphis, I’d say it’s not at all the picture I had painted in my head. The musical history in Memphis is deeply rich, but the city itself is not. It is very tattered and rundown and makes me wish I had more time to explore the socioeconomic history of the city. Beale Street was much like a cross between Bourbon and Frenchman Street in New Orleans, but much smaller and the focus is on blues instead of jazz. We keep finding ourselves wishing we had more time to experience and explore. We simply don’t have the funds to sustain or extend the trip for any longer than planned. Tomorrow marks a full week on the road. We’re already having trouble restricting ourselves to our food budget of a combined thirty dollars per day.

"Walking With My Feet 10 Feet Off of Beale"

We left our father feeling excited for our next new experience. We had booked an Airbnb for our one night in Memphis and were anxious to meet our hosts. Airbnb, for those who don’t know, is a verified process that allows people to put either their home or a room of their home up for nightly rental on the Internet. It is usually more affordable than hotel stays and gives one the opportunity to experience a place from a more local perspective while meeting new people. We stayed with Katie and Jon and their two dogs. They were very friendly and accommodating and we immediately felt we had made the right decision renting out their spare room for the night. After introductions and some chatting, we all turned in for bed. The next morning we would get to see some of Memphis on our own before swooping our mom from the airport for our drive down to Cleveland.

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