10:34 p.m. Aug. 11
MEMPHIS, TN.---There are few better places to have a cold beer than in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. And a beer in Memphis in August is special as beads of condensation drip down the bottle like tears in a Bobby Bland song. That's why they serve beer with a white napkin down here. First you wipe off the bottle then you dry off your eyes.
I've been visiting Memphis on almost an annual basis for 20 years and a stop at the Peabody (built in 1869, closed in 1923, reopened in its present location in 1925) is always on my list of things to do. The Peabody lobby is the launching point of the Delta as argued by historian David Cohen in 1935. He wrote, "The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of he Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz; the Cairo Shepherds, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby...ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta........"
There's a black piano in the Peabody lobby that sometimes has a piano player and other times plays mechanically by itself. [Although Freddy Cole, the brother of Nat King Cole, will perform Aug. 26 at the Germantown Performing Arts Center just outside of Memphis.] Tonight I stopped in the lobby after watching the Iowa Cubs beat the Memphis Redbirds at AutoZone Park, across the street from the hotel. After an unusually thoughtful blog the other night from Nashville, I was back to myself: wasting time on the Cubs---even their minor league team.
Perhaps my second favorite thing to do in Memphis is to sit in the right field bleachers at AutoZone park and watch the sun set over the Peabody. I grab a pork sandwich from the Rendezvous rib stand along the third base line and snag a bottle of water. All of that is in one hand. The other hand is consumed by my scorecard and three days worth of decomposing newspaper parts that have accumulated in the back seat of my car.
People are sure to keep a safe distance from me,
The Cubs game was boring, outside of being able to scout 21-year-old phenom Felix Pie. (pronounced pee-ay). He got a single in four at bats, the only hit coming of the Cardinals Mark Mulder, who was in Memphis on a rehab assignment. Pie later struck out on a high fastball with two outs and a man on second. He doesn't take a lot of pitches, which means he will fit in well with the big league Cubs. Pie does play center field with a flair. He wears his socks high like current Cubs centerfielder Juan Pierre, he has big white wristbands and he salsa stepped off the field after the Cubs won 5-4. His number 20 reminded me more of former Cub Adolfo Phillips than former Cub Corey Patterson.
After the game I checked my voice messages from a public phone in the lobby. I love old school hotel lobby bars, especially since I don't have a cell phone. There was a message from my friend Maggie asking about things to do in Memphis. Because of the events of the week, her friends cancelled their honeymoon to London, England and picked Memphis instead. Good idea. I read today that in the U.K. you can't even carry a book on a plane----coming to a country near you, I'm sure.
Well, there's a story I wrote on Memphis in this Sunday's Sun-Times, something I saved from a visit several months ago. And I did a couple of stories in the 36 hours I've been here. But here's a fine twin spin I have yet to share : have a hamburger at Huey's, then visit Shangri-La Records. There's several Huey's in town, but go to the one at 1927 Madison Avenue in Midtown. These are the best burgers in the city and they're only $5. Huey's has a Texas Toast burger with pepper jack cheese and jalepeno, a Smokey Melt Burger (with smoked cheddar cheese), a West Coast burger (guacamole, Monterey jack cheese on a toasted whole wheat bun) and a couple of other variations.
Midtown is a residential neighborhood away from downtown. A couple of years ago during the NBA playoffs I was at the Midtown Huey's and Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash was sitting down the way, wearing a Bob Marley tee-shirt. and blending in with the regulars. Maybe he too, was going across the street to Shangri-La, 1916 Madison Ave, (www.shangrl.com). The place is packed with Memphis rockabily and soul CDs and vinyl, blues, gospel, indie rock, and '45s. There's also books and fanzines. Memphis country-soul-rock producer Jim Dickinson is the hipster saint of this place. Today I was pressed for time at Shangri-La, but I did pick up the LP "Jamaica" by Herb Jeffries. It had a cool Belafonte like cover and great song titles such as "Devil Is a Woman" [didn't hear that on Bob Dylan's XM Radio show devoted to the devil], "Don't Spank De Baby" and "Calypsociety." The liner notes mention that Herb debuted in Detroit, moved on to the Grand Terrace in Chicago and then opened his own club in Paris. The notes don't say if this is the same Herb Jeffries who was the singing black cowboy. Or maybe he became a cowboy after his calypso phase. I will have to do some research. No one in the Peabody lobby could help me out.
I have so much more to say about Memphis. It's my third favorite American city behind San Francisco and Chicago. With the possible exception of New Orleans, no other American city has given us so much music [Elvis, Stax, Hi Records, The Rev. Al Green, Jerry Lee, Charlie Rich, Alex Chilton, Tav Falco, Bobby Bland and B.B. King, Furry Lewis and I'm missing dozens of others]. The range of Memphis music is as diverse as the faces you see in the Peabody lobby. Tonight there were people dealing it and working it. One young woman sat on the lap of her man, another man sat alone with a word puzzle. There are other hotel lobbies, of course, but this was a symphony of life in the Delta--- the sound of sweat and tears.