In the shadow of the Pyramid, so to speak. My hotel room faced the freeway, away from the downtown cityscape. I read an online review of the hotel where I stayed; the reviewer complained about the traffic sounds audible in his or her room on the Quiet Floor. The sounds of the motorway to me were like comforting sounds of a mechanized womb. I slept soundly and undisturbed.
I spent the week of 8/30 to 9/3 in Memphis because I’d been assigned to help clean-up a backlog of work out there; for whatever reason, my agency or division was no longer willing or perhaps able to obtain the services through local contract providers.
To save money, I made and packed an oatmeal mix for every morning, Styrofoam bowls, plastic spoon, and a non-refrigerated lunch for each day. Nice thing about most hotel rooms is they’ve got small one-cup coffee-makers that heat water – thus, the instant oatmeal mix solution to breakfast.
As it happened, my free time in the city I spent in that part of Memphis visible through my window, which makes me wonder what my stay would have been like if my room had been on the side of the hotel facing the downtown Memphis skyline.
My first night in Memphis, I ate dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Took so long for the appetizer I ordered to arrive at my table that I got up, in spite of the fact that I’d brought a book to occupy my waiting time, and walked over to the front desk to inform management that I was going to seek my evening meal elsewhere; but the waitress came and got me, said the order was on my table. The appetizer was just okay – salad I ordered after that was better. Another night, I went back and the service was a lot better.
My waitress, experiencing a vague sense of vocational dissatisfaction, is one of life’s winners. Working more than full-time, working for three employers, she owns outright the house she lives in and carries no debt whatsoever. Her 23 year-old daughter is about to graduate university and intends to further her studies in the medical field. Still, she said, she would prefer not to grow old working as a waitress even though she enjoys the work.
One afternoon, Tuesday probably, I took advantage of the fine weather and the fact that I’d packed some of my gear in the car, and took the hotel’s shuttle to Mud Island and rented a kayak. In addition to PFD, water-clothes, small dry-bag, and bug spray, I should have brought my own paddle and kayak. Although the staff there was helpful and friendly, Mud Island rents stubby, 10’ Perception rec-boats and includes with the rental an unwieldy paddle sans drip-rings. It is possible to paddle thus equipped, but it was painful at the shoulder I’d had repaired last year, and at the elbows. To the good, however, I found that proper paddling form tended to offset much of the joint-pain and allowed me to make some progress on the water.
That small harbor in Memphis was windy with the wind at my back as I started out. After I re-emerged from the storm-drains, I paddled back against the wind to the rental dock. I noticed during my time on the water that its level apparently varies; as much as forty-odd feet, if I recall this correctly, I later learned. Half buried hawsers, huge pieces of marine junk, gigantic and smaller broken barges have become part of the muddy banks. Mysterious concrete footings with padlocked, grated gates leading I know not where, trash-falls from heavy rains, and all manner of garbage were visible along the shoreline.
Paddling a rec-boat is way more tiring than paddling an actual kayak. I was hungry and tired by the time I returned to the rental dock at the bottom of a long, steep boat-ramp. I phoned the hotel’s shuttle guy and advised him to send someone with a pickup truck so I could ride in the back – I was sweaty and stank of sweat. But the driver said, “All we’ve got is the Tahoe,” so I told him I hoped he had a good air-freshener.
I showered and put on clean clothes then went back downstairs to the lobby. I asked the employees milling around the front desk for the name of a good nearby place to get a hamburger. Not the healthiest choice, but I was hungry, it was getting late, and I’d had plenty of exercise.
Because my Pentax Optio WR 3.2 was forgotten in my hotel room until I was nearly at Mud Island, I have no photos of my expedition. In this blog’s previous entry, Underground Paddling, I’ve got a picture I snapped from my hotel room’s window that shows my approximate route through the storm-drains. Because the Pentax has started consuming the rechargeable PowerX batteries’ charges at a bizarro-rapido rate, I was only able to snap photos in Memphis on the Monday afternoon of my arrival. Here are a few of them, all from the window of my hotel room:
Looking straight out my eighth-floor hotel window over flat industrial then then residential landscape to a distant horizon.
Looking left out the window. The building in the frame’s center is a former synagogue, later a nightclub, then pantry for Westy’s restaurant, and currently a storage building. Westy’s is the building to the left of the former place of worship.
Looking further left (and the Pyramid is out of frame, left), at the horizon can be seen what appears to be the Mississippi River in the frame’s center just to the right of what may be a high bank marking the river’s far shore.
When I returned to the hotel after paddling the storm drains and the city’s tiny harbor, as I mentioned above, I was hungry and the staff at the front desk said Westy’s was without doubt the best place to get a hamburger and was within walking distance. “Cross the street, walk through the Mariott, turn right, walk under the overpass, and it’s the first restaurant you come to,” said the bellman. (Edit: Ferrero’s Pizza is the first restaurant you come to, or at least its parking lot) What was that, like a couple of blocks? No problem.
I felt a little strange walking through the lobby of a hotel where I wasn’t staying, but nobody questioned me. Out the other side of the building I walked beside what looked like the ground level of a convention center type building across the street. Under the overpass, the space underneath fenced-in and apparently used for parking during the day, then to a traffic light, and there it was. Someplace to eat.
Inside the restaurant is a Cheers-like central-left bar towards the back, booths lining the wall on the right as one faces the back. One or two tables in the front right window. Some tables in the left-front. I chose a booth on the right side toward the back and sat facing the door. Took a book with me – Did My Neurons Make Me Do It. The waiter quickly got me a menu – six folded pages – about 25 hamburger options. I ordered one with Swiss-Cheese with a side of, I think, fries.
When the waiter came back and brought me water, I asked whether he knew what the building behind the restaurant was. He directed my attention to a man at a table behind and to my right saying I should ask him because he would know. That is how I met Jake Schorr, possibly the most intelligent human being I’ve encountered anywhere.
For maybe the next hour and a half, while I ate my dinner and a dessert of fudge pie and ice-cream, I asked Jake about the neighborhood, places I could see from my hotel window, the route I paddled, historic Memphis, political Memphis, and without ever meaning to, interviewed him about his life. Jake’s biography, from an ordinary human and also from a vocational perspective is the single most fascinating life story I’ve heard. Why nobody has yet made a Hollywood type biographical movie or even a documentary film about him is beyond me. By the end of our conversation, I’d reached a point where I could honestly and did say, “I’m not smart enough to think of any more questions to ask you.”
Jake, on the other hand, gave me contact information for someone who knows more about Memphis history than he does. When I get time to talk with him about my Memphis questions, I’ll take notes post the answers.
The famous Pyramid at Memphis