Tom & Tree Road Trip Dec 2011

Posted by tom on January 06, 2012

Today we started out on our road trip, with me having the luxury of working for a solid 4 hours, we managed to get out on the road nice and quickly! - this is me being sarcastic as it took about 3 hours after packing, writing cards and wrapping a few pressies before dropping them off round the neighbourhood lol. We decided to split our trip out into more manageable sections, so we (or should I say I) drove up to Shreveport in Louisiana, which was about half way between Houston and our first stop in Little Rock, AR. At first this seemed like a good idea, but both us of managed to contract a good dose of the shits that evening having eaten out - so for moi, that meant bringing out my old friend 'Immodium'.

Shreveport is essentially a gambling city, with nothing else there, apart from American Football. We happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Missouri American Football Team, but that meant nothing to me, so no stalking required, even though we did see the whole team in the lobby at one point.

Up and off by midday having secured our refrigerator and Microwave for our hotel room in Little Rock, AR, by calling ahead as advised by a very helpful customer service lady The trip up was nice and smooth, with a stop of at the AR Info center, where we had to of course have a photo with the state line sign. Although the one we got was about 10 miles in state, so not officially the state line, but as close as we could get.

We got to Little Rock then headed to the Dempsey Bakery, which is a dedicated Gluten Free Bakery in Little Rock, and is fantastic. The people here are really friendly and their bread is the best we have come across in the States (M&S in the UK still rocks it). We checked in to the hotel, to find out our requests for fridge and Microwave hadn't been fulfilled as promised that morning, so we had to speak to Reception and to our suprise they got our fridge and microwave delivered to the room within minutes, then we headed out to Whole Foods for another stock up to last the rest of our trip - or so we hoped. And yes i'm sure you are coming to the same conclusion we have started to, that all our holidays seem to feature a lot of trips to the supermarkets/bakery's for food

A bright sunny, but cold day greeted us as we ventured over to a place called the Old Mill. This was featured in the opening credits of the film Gone With The Wind, and it is absolutely spectacular, we spent a good hour and a half walking around there. Tree was incredibly "snap happy" and we came away with a shed load of photos from there. Fortunately I remembered my Tripod for this trip, so we have got a load of photos of us together :o) The mill is beautiful, but the grounds it is set in are just spectacular.

We then went to see some of the B&B's we were tempted to stay in when we got here, before deciding on the Hilton (as always - lol). The first one was a something of nothing building but the second "The Empress Of Little Rock" was a beauty. Beautiful house, lovely garden and although I cannot stand Christmas, nicely decorated.

In the afternoon we headed down to the River Market District, which was a vast disappointment to be perfectly honest. Nothing much there. We visited the "Little Rock" - La Petite Roche that the City of Little Rock was founded upon and walked up to the Peabody hotel - which was disappointing as well, we tried in vain to avoid all of the weirdoes on the street, but we still got approached by the odd one or two. We then saw the governor's mansion and the Old State House.

The day started out with a quick trip up to the state capitol to have a nose around the grounds as they are supposed to be spectacular - needless to say we were disappointed again and left without taking any photos around there, and 'cos of some weirdoes around the place (not us). We headed out to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which was stunning. We had some lovely views from up the viewing platform. We also saw some Eagles in the distance, but none came close enough to us to enable us to get some photos, gutted! But we did meet a really nice guy who chatted to us and saw us using the SLR Camera and recommended a way of getting the settings better for landscape's which was great!

We decided we would go to the base of Pinnacle Mountain as there were some apparent 'easy treks' as
recommended by the guy we met, but upon getting there one of the treks was closed and we shortly realised we were not at all dressed appropriately or prepared in any other way for that much adventure, so we carried on our way.

We then went on the Bill Clinton adventure, which ended in disappointment. We saw the house where he grew up, but didn't take any photos of it as it is a rundown wooden residential property, in the middle of the Hood. We then headed down to the Clinton library and park, which was also something & nothing.

In the evening, after a crappy dinner, as we ate in the hotel and it was rank, we headed out to Sherwood Forest, just outside of North Little Rock to the 1 mile of "holiday lights" which was pretty cool and something a bit different, and then back to the state Capitol to get some night time shots and experiment with my tripod (for my camera).

We didn't get much sleep here between the noisy dogs that seemed to be allowed in the hotel, the rattling noisy aircon unit(cheap arse one that is attached to the wall in the corner of the room) and the fridge then also started! We were hoping the next hotel would be better!


Today we carried on our Road Trip and arrived in Memphis, TN. The trip was a bit of a bad one due to rain all the way, but at least that was a travel day. We got to Memphis about 1:30pm and headed to Graceland to try and get tickets for the next day, so we didn't have to queue up to buy them. We were told this couldn't be done, but we could reserve them for an extra $5 per ticket or just come back early the next morning - needless to say we did the latter.

We then headed to the welcome center to try and get a picture with the State sign, but we didn't achieve this, as there isn't one at this welcome center - maybe we will try on the way back to Texas. We then went to the HRC on Beale St for an extremely late lunch and then onto our hotel. Out of the 3 Hiltons we have stayed in so far, this one is by far the best. an absolutely lovely hotel and the staff are really nice. Door men that were so attentive, unloaded our bags and took us to the reception, explained that after checking in the Bell Hop would then take our bags from there and show us to our room. It was all very smooth and a lovely experience to start, even being assured that they had our Hilton Honours number and thanking us for our loyalty! When heading to the lifts to go to our room, we saw a sign closing off one of the conference rooms as it was to be used by the Cincinnati College Football Team (3 hotels, 2 College football teams). I felt like we were being stalked by American footy teams - lol.

We got up to our room completely soaked, then all of a sudden the hotel was surrounded by Cops on bikes etc - fun times you may think. It was as I guessed the arrival of the Football Team, being escorted to the hotel for the start of their weeklong celebration / preparation for the Liberty Bowl.

We then headed out for dinner at Chilis on Poplar Ave, then onto Wholefoods to pick up some other bits and pieces - Yes Food again! lol

Viva Graceland! No rain, just cold and overcast, but off we set as early as possible. We got to Graceland at 9:30am, bought our VIP tickets and started out on our tour of the Mansion. By buying the VIP passes, you get to skip the lines, get your own shuttles to Graceland, with the option of returning there as many times as you want.

We got inside the Mansion to look around. The upstairs is shut off to guests, as Elvis never had guests upstairs, so at least they are still respecting that private aspect of his life. Inside the house we saw the Lounge (with 17ft Sofa), then through to his parents' bedroom, and into the kitchen. We then went downstairs into the Basement, where there was a TV room and Pool room. This was pretty cool and the pool table bared a scuff mark in it where one of Elvis's mates had tried a trick shot that went wrong.

We carried on into the Jungle room, which was really cool. The floor was carpeted in green shag pile and all of the furniture was hand carved from wood into the shapes of Jungle Animals. The round chair in the corner was Priscilla's favourite chair to sit.

We then got outside and across to Vernon's office and onto the Trophy Building, which has a lot of Elvis memorabilia, and then the Gold Room which shows Gold Records, Platinum Records, Grammys and some of his stage clothes. From there our tour took us to the Racquetball Court, which now houses a massive display of more of Elvis's Gold and Platinum records and also some more stage wear although the bar and the lounge area he used to watch Racquetball games with his friends is all still in place. And this is where he was found having passed away.

The Memorial Garden was the next stop. This is where Elvis and his family are buried, including his still born Twin Brother. This section of the Garden is beautifully presented and above Elvis's grave is a flame that continually burns, which is symbolic that the "King will live on forever." We then walked back round to the front of Graceland to get some photos out the front, the staff here again were superb as they basically clear the way so that VIP pass holders get clear shots of themselves in front of the house :o) well worth paying the extras for. We then went onto the Bonus Room, which is a backroom in Graceland only accessible to VIP pass holders. It was then back down in the Shuttle to the exhibits on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard.


Our first stop was Elvis's private Planes, the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II. The Lisa-Marie, was lush, the seatbelt buckles were 24 Carat Gold, and the reason it was commissioned was because his daughter had never seen snow - a hard life! Not jealous though. The Hound Dog II was a lot smaller and was really used to jetting around short haul I would imagine. We then took a snack break before continuing our epic day.

The automobile museum was next on the list, this housed a large collection of Elvis's cars, from custom made ones, to ones he supposedly charmed from the Makers, when it was meant for the great Frank Sinatra, to his Cadillac's. Then it was onto the next Exhibit, Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story Exhibit. This was a showcase of some of Elvis's Clothes, again, some more discs and even a letter that he wrote to the then President of the U.S. Richard Nixon (I shall refrain from breaking into the Manic Street Preachers Song, "The Love Of Richard Nixon" at this point, although it is a bloody good track! Again this exhibit so only open to VIP visitors.


Elvis Lives: The King & Pop Culture Exhibit was then up, which included a Karaoke Station to do Karaoke with Elvis (singing Suspicious Minds). Neither of us had a go at this, although Tree did try her best to persuade me to do so. There was also another load of old Elvis Memorabilia on display in here. We then went back up to Graceland as the sun had come out completely now to get some more photos outside and around the grounds of Graceland, before heading down the road to Graceland Crossing.

Graceland Crossing has the '68 Special Exhibit which is all about when Elvis made his comeback in '68 after his movie career took a bit of a dive and arguably his career was starting to fade - this was the big come back for him. The Elvis Presley: Fashion King Exhibit, was a showcase of his "day to day" attire. Not quite sure how it was Day to day, but, I guess if you have the money, why not.

We then went back around the gift shops to pick up our customary shot glass and pin badge, as well as presents for both of our Mums as they are both Elvis Fans, we hope they like them. After a good 6 hours of walking around here, we decided it was probably best to grab a proper lunch so we headed back down to Beale Street and to the HRC for another late lunch, before heading back to the hotel after an exhausting and feet tiring day - how on earth I ever used to do 3 day festivals (Monsters Of Rock, Download & Sonisphere) I will never know. Obviously a sign of old age.

As we sit here looking out of our many windows on the 23rd floor of our hotel in Memphis, with a bottle of Gluten Free Black Cherry Cream Soda, feet up after another action packed day, we write our final chapter from Tennessee.

Today we got up late and Tree wanted to try the free breakfast buffet and suss whether there was anything there I could eat. There wasn't much but yet again the staff were great and gave us a bag to take some fruit etc to the room as well so we grabbed a couple bits. But all this meant we then started out on the road extremely late, although this turned into a fantastic bit of timing as we hit Sun Studios, "The Birth Place Of Rock 'N' Roll", just as the hourly tour was about to start. For us it was in through the door, get the tickets and run in behind the last people to ensure no waiting around for us. Sun Studios was where legends the likes of B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and of Course Elvis (the latter 4 being known as the Million Dollar Quartet) and in the more recent times, Def Leppard and U2. Apparently BB king still visits and just hangs out in the cafe adjoined when he's
in town.

The tour started upstairs seeing lots of old school bits and pieces, such as the original sign ("Memphis Recording Service") for the recording studio, the original recording equipment and what is arguably the first Rock 'N' Roll Record ever cut. We then ventured down stairs to the famous recording studio which had X's marked on the spots where Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black all stood to record their first record. The guide then did a live jam along with a Johnny Cash song, to show us how he got a certain rhythm and sound into his songs without the use of drums. Fortunately I had a pick for her to use, as hers had been stolen - in return for me lending it to her, she gave me a Sun Studio Pick for free. At the end of the tour, the tour guide brought out the Microphone used by Elvis in that first recording, so naturally everyone had photos on or around the 'X' holding the mic. Apparently the studio is still used / an active recording studio for new bands as well as the more established ones I mentioned before.

Sun Studio was owned opened by a guy called Sam Phillips, he rented the building for 10 years at $75 per month. He seems to have put a lot of thought into the acoustics of the main recording room, even making the ceiling a certain shape(Like a 'W' wave) as this really helped the acoustics and he discovered this in a 1948 Science Magazine. After the 10 years he wanted to move on and bought a studio that is currently called Philips Records just around the corner and is now owned/run by his son. This then left Sun Studio's empty for about 25 years, but somehow nothing was touched so in the 80's when some famous musicians wanted to form a reunion called 'the reunion of 55' back in Sun studio's it got a lot of press and then a lot of newer musicians wanted to record where there icons had first started so in 1984 it was opened again.

From there we headed back to the Beale Street Area, where we went to the Gibson Factory, where tours cost a whole $10, but you are not allowed to take any photos, so we thought screw that. We then popped across the road to the Rock & Soul Museum and then down onto Beale Street to Memphis Music where we bought a few items and listened to some kick ass Blues & Rock 'N' Roll music while chatting away merrily to the staff. We popped our heads into B.B. Kings Blues club, took a couple of photos of Silky O'Sullivans, for one of our friends back in the UK and then back to the car to head off to grab another late lunch (it was 3pm again) and enroute, to find the statue of Elvis that is located just off Beale Street.

After trying to find certain places for lunch, having ended up in some dodgy looking 'hoods, we gave up and headed back to the hotel as we desperately needed fuel. After the first few Petro Stations were crap (for either price or not having regular fuel) we finally got to a station at an alright price. When filling up a guy got out of his car and asked if I could spare him half a gallon as he was here for a job interview and had run out - sorry, but if you travel somewhere, you should have the means of getting fuel if you need it. If it takes you a tank to get there, do the math. We then headed to Whole Foods to see if we could get some bread for a sandwich, but all the Gluten Free bread was frozen, so it was off to Chilis and then back here to our hotel for our last evening.


Sitting on the 20th Floor of the hotel, in our room with a Panoramic View of Dallas - absolutely gorgeous. Not too much to report today, we drove the 472ish miles from Memphis to Dallas in about 7 hours. Myself and Tree taking it in turns to drive. We got to the hotel, checked in, took our cases up to the room then headed "Downtown" to the Hard Rock Cafe had our lunch / dinner again then back to the hotel for a relax and then some sleep. Tomorrow we have another history day planned with the JFK Landmarks etc.

Last full day of being anywhere but in Humble on our road trip. Blue skies with plenty of sun greeted us this morning, along with a temperature of 86F (nice and cool), you can tell it is December *cough* although we are apparently due to get a cooler front heading our way over the weekend. Today we started off by heading up to Pizza Hut Park, in Frisco, the home of FC Dallas to knock another football ground off the list. We had a walk around the stadium and managed to get inside through an open gate, before being politely ejected from the premises - so I failed in getting pitch side, but got photos from the top of the stand. This is a bit of a strange stadium as the entrance we went into was just a wall - no seats here or anything, strange. We then had a walk around World Cup Plaza and then headed back into Dallas to go to the Historic District.

We arrived at the Historic district and naturally down Dealy Plaza - the place where JFK was shot. We did the typical tourist thing of running into the road and standing on one of the X's which marked one of the spots where a bullet hit JFK. We stood on the X where the third shot hit JFK. This is the one that went through his head - nice. Obviously we had photos on the infamous Grassy Knoll and then we did the tour around the 6th Floor Museum, where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot JFK from. Having been round, viewed and heard the "evidence" I am still of the belief this was all a conspiracy as everything was dealt with so quickly and LHO was shot by Jack Ruby who is someone who had links with the police and the Mafia who was short of cash and was needing to carry out a Mafia contract to get some money. He was also very friendly with the cops and was present at all the press conferences, also the guy who
carried out the autopsy burned his original notes and had to redraw them from memory - sounds all too convenient to me and who would do that - especially the notes of an autopsy of a President????

From there we headed back over to the House Of Blues to pick up a Pin and a glass and then back over to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner before heading back to the hotel for our last kip on the road.


The finale of the road trip beckoned, so we got off from Dallas and set on our way home, Via Arlington so that I could relive some early life glories in the International Bowling Museum (Ten Pin). This place was absolutely cracking and we spent far longer here than we thought we would. I was pretty much expecting a quick half hour job, but 2 and a half hours later we emerged from there. Everything was interactive and there were some really good exhibits and movies to see. At the end of the tour is a miniature Ten Pin Bowling Alley with the pins on strings and the balls were about the same as what you get in a beach bowls set - really addictive and somehow we are going to have to make sure we have a room big enough in our house to fit this in.

I was disappointed that there were no mentions of the Ten Pin Bowling Association of Wales (TBAW) in there, as I was once a proud member of this, and also more disappointing that there was no mention of ME! haha!

After we finished in there we set out on the 240 mile (4 hour) trip back to Humble to bring in the New Year with our neighbours. We made 1 toilet stop and when we got back to Humble we went to Chilis for some grub, and were served by our favourite waiter, Noah, who we requested as he understands my dietary requirements.

We got back and headed over to Chris and Katrina's house, as they were hosting a party before setting off fireworks for the New Year. That didn't last long as Murph and Sam headed straight out to buy some, $400 later they were back. Sam was the designated lead of Pyrotechnics for the evening, and he is a complete nutcase in a nice, but also very dangerous. Sam decided that it would be a lot more fun for him to hold fireworks in his hand and let them go off from there. The first few were fairly successful, as they hit the trees, neighbours cars, gardens etc, then one got stuck, so he let go of it and it flew straight at me. Fortunately I had the reactions of a cat and took a cracking dive, which was good as the firework exploded right by my ear - so needless to say my ear was ringing for a good while
(was a bit like being at a Motorhead gig and standing next to the speakers for the night) and I had a banging headache.

After going through $400 of fireworks, Murph and Sam decided that we needed more so they went out and splashed out another $200 on fireworks, 3 of which actually survived until midnight. 1 of the fireworks was sent down the drain, which was situated underneath Murph's truck, and the firework was firing straight into the underside of that. Then they put one inside a box, that wasn't too successful, but blew the box apart.

At midnight someone across the road set off over $1000 worth of fireworks which was highly spectacular.

That brought in the New Year and an end to our road trip in interesting fashion. Now to start planning the next trip away for us. We have some ideas, but who knows when they will actually happen?

Tom & Tree