Feet Ten Feet Off of Beale

Back in March, I got word that my BFF’s husband was planning something special for her birthday at the end of April, and would I be around to join the fun? Um, yes. Yes I would.

This is one of the best parts of being home again, the chance to be a part of these adventures without a moment’s hesitation, being able to say yes without a second thought. There’s no need for a plane ticket, no need for a big trip across the country; these are my people and it’s still not gotten old that I get to be a part of their lives again.

The plan was this: rent a house just outside Memphis and spend the weekend lounging and drinking and sight-seeing and eating our way through the city that invented the Blues. A whole group was invited, but by the time the weekend approached it was just the three of us, the others kept away by budgets and work schedules and other grown-up-type nonsense.

With the details of getting there sorted (I’d take a train to Champaign and we’d drive the rest of the way together), I packed a bag and left work Thursday evening (just a day after resigning) for the weekend getaway I didn’t know I so desperately needed.

In order to get an early start on Friday, I arrived in Champaign late Thursday and proceeded to stay up talking and laughing and drinking until at least 2am. Our departure Friday morning was delayed slightly as they were dealing with a flooded basement. We donned galoshes and brought out the shop-vac to get the place as cleaned up as we could without missing more of our weekend than absolutely necessary.

The drive down proved a smooth six hours, and soon we arrived at our home for the weekend: Snowden House. Like something out of a movie, the house is nestled on Horseshoe Lake, just 30 minutes outside of Memphis. Modeled after an antebellum Southern mansion, we spent that first evening just soaking up all that the house had to offer. We cooked dinner (and mixed drinks) in the professional-grade kitchen and enjoyed it on the screened-in porch as the moon rose over the lake. We retired to our rooms and I, for one, enjoyed one of the best nights sleep of recent memory.

In the morning, we took our time getting the day started with coffee and a simple breakfast. I took a few minutes to sit in the back yard and read a bit as the world woke up around me, and it was a few of the most peaceful and perfect moments of the weekend.

With a whole day ahead of us, we hit the road for Memphis, and as all good Saturdays do, we started with brunch at The Majestic Grille, an old movie-palace-turned-restaurant that kept patrons entertained with films projected on one wall. That particular morning, we got to enjoy Saturday Morning Cartoons including The Jetsons, Betty Boop and Gumby. Though the food wasn’t anything to write home about, what it lacked in culinary pizazz it more than made up for in cheap Bloody Marys and great atmosphere.

With full bellies, we opted to walk the handful of blocks to the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, taking the time to fit in some culture and history. I’m embarrassed to say that until this weekend, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the name of the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down; now having been there, I think it’s a memorial every American should make an effort to see. The spot is so eerie, so heavy with the weight of King’s legacy that I couldn’t even finish the tour that ends by the spot where it happened. Though the rest of the weekend was spent in fun, it was a great detour through the history of the city. You know you’re with good friends when you can equally enjoy both.

After the museum, our plans went no further than “find a place on Beale Street to day drink,” and each of us couldn’t have been more OK with that. Responsible adults that we are, we kept to our plans and claimed a table at the back of Silky O’Sullivans, an outdoor bar in the heart of Beale Street with cheap drinks, good food, live music and great service. Is there anything better than day drinking with great friends? No, no there is not.

The rest of the evening featured several more drinks and several rounds of pool at an upstairs spot with a cool couple we’d just met; splitting a massive beer among the three of us as we strolled down the party street (and I danced at every chance I got); and devouring a late dinner of Memphis BBQ before making our way back to the mansion. I’d say more than that happened, but let’s be honest…I don’t really remember.

With a train back to the city to catch on Sunday evening, we timed the day out and decided to leave our paradise in the South by mid-morning, allowing for enough time to stop for lunch at Lambert’s, this down-home, big-plate tourist trap in the middle of nowhere that famously serves fresh rolls by throwing them at diners’ heads. It was fantastic, and worth the mild fright that I’d miss my train. Thankfully, one lead foot and the Hamilton soundtrack later and we were back in Champaign with plenty of time to get to the station.

As we started the drive home Sunday morning, the subject came up about what we’d liked most about the weekend. The food? The music? The house? It took me some time to think of my answer, but when I did I said in that moment that it was the sounds at the house that I loved most, that made it most feel like a vacation. I’m used to the sounds of traffic outside my window, of the L blasting by my office every seven minutes. Of the news on the TV and podcasts in my earbuds. For our brief time at Snowden House, I escaped all that for the welcome medley of birds and bugs, waves and the breeze. Our feet padding across the hardwood floors; the dock oscillating gently in the natural ripples of the water. It was all so peaceful, so much a remove from my daily life.

And now, as I look back on the weekend, that remains a favorite memory from it; I can still picture myself reading in that back yard, only the music of the setting to keep me company, even as I hear the garbage truck doing its noisy work outside my building.

But more than that, I’ll look back on our getaway remembering that my favorite part of the weekend…was all of it.