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May 5, 2013

Memphis, TN

Named for the city of Memphis in Ancient Egypt, Memphis, TN took us three hours to drive to from Nashville. Despite being even further South than Nashville, I got the sense Memphis had better racial integration. Both cities are roughly the same size (between 600k-700k population) and are rich in musical heritage. We did 3 major things in Memphis:

1 – Visited Graceland: We took a tour of the estate of “The King”, Elvis Presley. Neither of us are Elvis fans but this was something we had to check out. Two things struck me at Graceland. First, Elvis was a twin. His older brother was stillborn 35 minutes before the King made his entrance into this World. Second, despite being a big star, he was drafted into the army and spent 2 years in service between 1958 and 1960. Whatever I think of war, the fact that he was drafted and had to comply despite being a super-celebrity is impressive because it indicates the draft system was relatively free of corruption and equitable between individuals, even if it was inequitable to the group as a whole. The United States ended conscription and moved to an all-volunteer force in 1973, which has had several benefits but on the whole I feel has been negative because it’s made going to war too easy for most Americans because on average they are less likely to know a soldier personally. Sending people to war should be an involved and difficult decision and yet today the US is fighting the longest war in its history and hardly anyone notices. War should be taken more seriously.



2 – Hit the Beale Street Music Festival: While we didn’t buy tickets to the concert itself which was quite affordable at under $40, Beale Street itself was teeming with activity and jazz music so we happily took in these freebies.

Beale Street

Beale Street

3 – Visited the American Civil Rights Museum: This museum includes the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr was shot and killed in 1968. We learned a lot we didn’t know about the fight for African American civil rights, too much in fact to include in this post. I’ll just say I was surprised by how much we didn’t know and that it was a longer and more painful struggle than I had previously thought.


National Civil Rights Museum. At right is room 306 where MLK was staying and in front of which he was shot and killed.

We also took in the Mayweather-Guerrero fight at a nearby Fox & Hound pub, and had the best fried chicken yet on our trip at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. It really was exceptional chicken!

May 4, 2013

Nashville, TN

In Nashville, I was finally able to pop the cherry on my 100 strangers project with an especially interesting stranger #1 (if he is to be believed). Nashville is called “The Music City” and for country music it definitely is (The Grand Ole Opry is here), but I think it’s significance for popular music has fallen over the years. Everyone we met was universally friendly and this general friendliness is slowly beginning to rub off on us city slickers from the North. However, the white/black socioeconomic divide in Nashville was wider than I’m used to seeing. We weren’t there very long but I didn’t see a single affluent looking African American all day.

I went to the Tennessee state capitol and again the black/white divide story repeated itself. The state legislature is THE hall of power and influence. Today, a high school class was using the capitol to practice their Robert’s Rules of Order in the real McCoy. I counted between 60-70 students and not a single black one among them, in a city where African Americans comprise 29% of the population. A lack of minority voices may be one of the reasons Tennessee lawmakers were so quick to adopt the paranoid bill against the mythical threat of creeping Sharia. Sadly, this is a region with a storied history of bigotry. Tennessee is the birthplace of the KKK and is the state where MLK was assassinated. The legacy of bigotry continues to this day. Murfreesboro, a town where the site of a new mosque was recently vandalized and targeted in an arson attack, is less than 30 miles from Nashville.


And then there was the case of the Moslem (or is it Islamist?) foot bath that wasn’t, when Tennessee lawmakers freaked out because they thought a new mop sink in the state capitol was an ablution facility installed out of consideration for Muslims. Well, Tennessee lawmakers should know that I met with Imam Obama at the DC Muslim Brotherhood chapter before our road trip and he personally entrusted me with the mission to further sharia-creep in the great state of Tennessee by performing wudu (ablution) in their state capitol’s Sharia compliant Islamist foot bath. Oh, and mission accomplished!


Jokes aside, it’s frustrating that the South where folks are warm, friendly, hold the door for you and profess family values has so much bigotry, whereas the North where people are cold and even rude to one another has a far better record of tolerance and inclusiveness. What drives this? Is it the heritage of a once slavery-driven economy and resentment over defeat in the civil war? Is it that they have fewer immigrants so less experience with diversity and less appreciation of the common humanity that all people share regardless of how different they appear? Could it be that the affluent and powerful classes don’t want to surrender their economic and political advantage to the historically disenfranchised, fairness be damned, and so push racially divisive narratives to prolong the institutional inequities that favor them? It’s probably all of the above and more.

Also, anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence almost always flares up during economic slowdowns (as can be observed in Greece and a few other crisis-hit European nations) so the longer the economic hardship triggered by the global financial crisis lasts, and the worse income and wealth inequality becomes (which has been the trend over the past several decades), the more fertile the ground will be for bigotry to take root and spread. Here’s hoping for prosperity, tolerance and inclusiveness instead.

I should make clear that I have nothing against Tennessee or Tennesseans. Racism and bigotry exists everywhere. I only wish that bold leaders that prioritize justice above politics would emerge in this state and others like it so that people of all races, religions and sexual orientations are treated as equal citizens.

May 3, 2013

Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

Colleen called Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge “Hillbilly Vegas” and I think that’s pretty spot on. Dollywood is here! Dinner shows on the Pigeon Forge strip include Hatfields & McCoys, Lumberjack Feud, Dixie Stampede and Biblical Times. They even have a massive Titanic museum in the shape of the ship, because as we all know the Titanic sank off the coast of Tennessee – okay, that’s unfair, regular Vegas does this kind of stuff too. Truthfully, this place looks like a lot of wholesome and affordable fun for a family or group. I particularly enjoy go karts and mini golf and there was plenty of that around as well.


Fun times for the entire family

We wound up not doing much other than walking around. We both agreed we were seeing more obese folks the father South we drove. This shook us because we were headed that way. Would the South obesify us?!?!? To counteract the pernicious fattening effect of the South, we went for a couple of hours hike in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Colleen in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A day earlier we had dinner at Texas Roadhouse, a popular restaurant franchise. There is a pail of peanuts at the table when you sit down. As I dug into them, I wondered what I should do with the shells. Colleen told me it was permissible to leave them on the table or even drop them on the floor, and indeed I saw other people doing this. At this moment, a Stewie Griffin voice in my head exclaimed “How delightfully provincial!” Yes, the South definitely has its moments. For the record, I also love it when waitresses call me sweetheart, sugar or darling. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Northern waitresses, you just got served!