Stuck in Memphis? Rule of Tree's guide to the city

Streeter Lecka

If you're stranded for a few days in the city by the Mississippi, here's a quick field guide (Editor's note: some of these are based on true experiences)

Nobody likes to be stuck somewhere with nothing do to. And after Stanford was bounced in the Sweet 16 by Dayton, you might be finding yourself sweating in a Memphis hotel room, fearing what lies outside in the Blues City.

And if you've trekked all the way from the Bay Area to Memphis for the first time ever, you're probably fearful of the city that produced Three 6 Mafia and marks the edge of the "Dirty South." (One thing you should know about the South: this nickname is a small point of pride.) If pressed, I can think of two places that are less alike than Palo Alto and Memphis, but the list is quite small. Looking at you, Portland and Shreveport.

It's hard to capture what exactly is so different, so curious about this city. Memphis is definitely not a "croque monsieur-and-cappuccino" kind of town. It's not even really a "scrambled eggs and Bloody Mary" kind of town. It's more of a "are-you-really-dipping-Copenhagen-it's-9:17-AM" kind of town. (Your response: Yes, I am, and washing it down with a frosty Coors Banquet Beer.)

So let's discuss a few ways to enjoy your extended visit to the city, other than making fun of UCLA fans for their team's terrible dark blue uniforms. (What are you, an arena football team? An Australian volleyball team? You produced Walton and Kareem for God's sake.)

First off: visit the Civil Rights Museum. It's a few minutes from the Fedex Forum downtown and it's worth every second you spend there. Don't skip the Civil Rights Museum and go to Graceland instead. I once watched a group of middle-aged women line up to get kisses on the cheek from an Elvis impersonator in Memphis, and it was the most singularly depressing moment of my entire life. That's what Graceland is like, except you paid $34.00 to be there.

Second, eat at Rendezvous ribs. Dry rub ribs aren't for everyone (Pepper. God. So much pepper.), but it's authentically Memphis. Sip some sweet tea and smoke a cigarette the second you step outside and it'll be an authentically Memphis moment. Smoke a cigarette while inside of Rendezvous and you'll be as Memphis as it gets.

For those of you who are more inclined to keep kosher (or are laboring under Catholic Lent's Friday ban on meat), there's always the Flying Fish for fried catfish. I highly doubt it is sustainable or local or farm-to-table or vegan-friendly, but there's nothing to wash down losing to a school like Dayton like the absurd amount of cholesterol in fried catfish and hush puppies and french fries.

Or you can stop by Gus's Fried Chicken for a poultry-based measure of the same. But given that there will be a Sweet 16-sized crowd that includes Florida and Dayton fans (and sad UCLA fans) on hand, it may be quicker to drive to Little Rock and eat at the Gus's there.

The larger point here remains clear: eat real Southern food. There's no faster way to drown the hangover you should have.

If you've got extra time you really want to burn, inspect the Memphis Zoo and the Pink Palace.

The Memphis Zoo is much like all second-tier zoos, except it's Egypt-themed. I think this is the thing I like the most about Memphis: Nashville nicknamed itself "The Athens of the South" and built an ostentatious replica of the Parthenon, while Memphis is named after an ancient Egyptian city and the Memphis Zoo looks like it was built out of unused set pieces from D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. (Full disclosure: Memphis does have a massive blue pyramid on the bank of the Mississippi. I like to think of it as a monument to the fact that Memphis invented swag.)

The Pink Palace is your standard natural history museum, except it was founded by the man who created Piggy Wiggly Grocery stores. And they have an impressive collection of shrunken heads on display. I don't think these two facts are related.

But all of the writing hence was just a prelude to the most memorable or difficult-to-remember part of Memphis: Beale Street. I'm partial to Silky O'Sullivan's bar, where it's never the wrong time to get a Diver Bucket, a huge gallon of alcohol that comes in a bright yellow bucket with two-foot-long straws. It's not their fault it happens to look like a mop bucket filled with Fabuloso.

On top of that, there's also a bar on Beale Street (which I do not recall the name of) that has four floors, each with a different DJ. I wandered up and down each floor for an unclear amount of time until I found my compatriots right where I had first left them. Or there's the disco at Raiford's, which looks like the type of place where you can have the night or your life or maybe get tetanus or possibly both.

And one final note: I once watched a fraternity gentleman from the University of Texas trade $20 to a man on Beale Street for what he assumed was marijuana. Do not do this.

That's the most important rule of Memphis.

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