Earlier this month, I took advantage of Southwest's new non-stop service to Memphis from Love Field* to spend a few days with my parents. Even though it has been almost 15 years since I moved to Texas, the Bluff City will forever be my answer to "Joel, where are you from?"
My admiration for Memphis was cultivated over a two-and-a-half year period working in public relations for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, a non-profit agency responsible for marketing the attributes of the city to tourists, travel agents and meeting planners. No 30-month stretch of my career as a PR Man has proven more flat-out fun and whenever I visit Mom and Dad there are a few must stops.**
One of those haunts is Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, arguably the most heralded place to throw down a rack of ribs in the United States of America. Playing tour guide to media types from all corners of the globe in the late 90s, dinner at Rendezvous was usually the first stop of whirlwind tours I led or co-hosted bathed in blues, brews, and 'cue.
Rendezvous is open for lunch only on Friday and Saturday and dining there at that hour is a sometimes overlooked remedy to hourlong waits during evening hours - especially on weekends. The three of us made our way down the steep staircase to the basement hostess stand shortly before Noon and were seated promptly. We shared a sausage and cheese plate, a full order of ribs and were each treated to a complimentary bowl of red beans and rice. While Mom and Dad sipped on tea, I paired the meal with a local beer and it was, as usual, a classic Memphis experience, one that I've grown to savor even more over the years.
Rendezvous is mere steps away from the Peabody Hotel and, in my humble opinion, there is no better spot in Memphis to sip a cocktail, engage in casual conversation with old/new friends and people watch than its lobby bar. Regardless of the hour, the buzz is palpable and it always feels like an interesting character*** or set of characters**** might appear at any moment. Following our lunch, we paid homage to the five mallards that swim in the fountain everyday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and strolled through the gift shop where I came across a collection of books about the King of Rock 'n' Roll. One quickly stood out: Me and a Guy Named Elvis by Jerry Schilling.
While MCVB-sponsored meals at Rendezvous and drinks at the Peabody were undeniable perks, the best part about working in the offices of 47 Union Ave. were the brushes I had with people like Jerry Schilling. I came to know Jerry when he was named head of the Memphis Music Commission in 2000. Little did I know, Jerry was a member of the famed Memphis Mafia, the group of men who worked alongside Elvis as trusted confidants, gatekeepers and security guards. Jerry's most documented jaunt with Elvis was an impromptu call on the White House in Dec. 1970 which resulted in them holding court with President Richard Nixon and his staff.
While I didn't work directly with Jerry, I did get to know him a bit over drinks at our favorite watering hole, Sleep Out Louie's. On one of those occasions, I sat at a table with him and another colleague, Lawrie, for an hour or so and recall how affable he was, undeniably proud to share with us several anecdotes about his days and nights as Elvis' right hand man. Before I moved to Dallas, Jerry autographed my copy of Peter Gurlanick's Careless Love, the second volume of the definitive Elvis biography, a project that he was extensively interviewed for and was a central figure throughout the text.
I may save a few reflections on Jerry's memoir for another post, but I'm roughly three-quarters of the way through and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not sure how I missed its debut in 2006 or learning of it since, but thankfully I ran across it at the Peabody and was reminded, yet again, why Memphis is the coolest place on Earth.
*Southwest's non-stop service from Dallas to Memphis was an answered prayer! Nephew Lucas's favorite airline has quickly become my own as well. I'm even a fan of the new Hello! ad campaign
**A run around Bartlett Park, a walk down Beale St., a steak at Folk's Folly
***Like the time I ran into Boyd Tinsley, the violinist from the Dave Matthews Band
****Like the time I saw NBA coach Phil Jackson and half of the L.A. Lakers