Compared to other Southern cities, coffee is seriously under-represented in Memphis, and always has been. I can remember when Java Cabana was literally the only coffee bar in town. There wasn’t even a Starbucks in those days, so a cappuccino meant a little bit of a drive. Things have gotten better, but Memphis still lacks the variety and quantity of coffee bars that cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin offer. But occasionally, new coffee bars open here, and the latest, Edge Alley is the coffee component of a local retail mini-mall in the burgeoning Edge District just east of downtown Memphis. The first thing I noticed was the sleek, spartan, modern look of the place, with bright white walls and plenty of overhead light. Nothing at all fancy, but the environs exude simplicity and cheer. I was even more excited to learn that Edge Alley roasts its own coffee on the premises. And as for the taste-the barista prepared me an excellent breve latte, as good as any I’ve had anywhere. Unfortunately, the place closes fairly early, at 8 PM, but it is a welcome addition to our city. Because one can never really have too much coffee.
600 Monroe Avenue, Suite 101
Memphis, TN 38103
Saturday I had a lot more SMES events, including two panels to participate in, but I did manage to get down to Murrells Inlet for dinner on the Marshwalk at Captain Dave’s Dockside. I was especially impressed with their unusual hushpuppies- they had no onion, and were served hot with raspberry-honey butter. They’re rather addictive, actually. The fried grouper was also excellent. In the evening, after the panels, however, finding coffee was rather difficult. I eventually found a Starbucks on Myrtle Beach’s northside that was still open, but getting there proved tougher than I had expected because of a large outdoor festival in downtown that had Ocean Boulevard closed. There was a SMES afterparty in the downtown area as well, but I knew that I had a long drive back to Memphis the next day, so I went back to the hotel instead.
Feeling that the Brandy House would take too long for breakfast, causing me to miss the Grambling Homecoming parade, I tried a new place instead in downtown Monroe called Lea’s of Lecompte. There were only a few people in there, but the breakfast was good, and then, with the sun out but the weather chilly, I headed westward toward Grambling.
At Ruston, I noticed that the road heading to Grambling past Rabb’s Steakhouse was backed up all the way to Cooktown Road, so I drove down through the Louisiana Tech campus instead and onto Highway 80. To my amazement, I was able to park for free on the street leading to the stadium, and from there I walked across the campus where large crowds had already gathered to watch the parade, especially in front of the Favrot Student Union and on the quadrangle.
There were even more people along Main Street in the Village, and a cacophony of sounds from the intersection of Main and Martin Luther King Avenue, where the Grambling State University band and a number of high school bands were warming up and getting ready for the parade. As the parade got underway, the weather began to get warmer. There were a number of high school bands, one that had come all the way from Detroit, Michigan, and a huge RV decorated with Barack Obama banners which drew cheers from the crowds along the route.
I walked along the parade route, starting at the north end of Main, near the new Spivey’s Fried Chicken, and ending up near where Martha Adams Hall had been at Central Avenue and RWE Jones Drive, near the gate to the stadium. There the Fair Park marching band from Shreveport began to battle the Madison High School band from Tallulah, and they soon drew a crowd, playing songs back and forth. I walked back to the student union area, where there was a Starbucks, and I bought a latte and relaxed there before walking back over to the stadium for the game. Around the stadium were all kinds of RVs and tailgaters, some with old-school DJs playing southern soul and blues hits, and with the tantalizing smell of barbecue drifting over the area.
By the kickoff, the weather had finally warmed up enough that it wasn’t uncomfortable outside, but Alabama State had not brought their marching band to Grambling, so there was no battle, and Grambling’s band could only play sporadically because of new SWAC conference rules that restrict when bands can play. Grambling won the game, and afterwards, realizing the traffic gridlock that would follow for at least an hour, I decided to walk back over onto the campus.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Drive had turned into a rolling street party, much like the seawall used to in Galveston during the Texas Beach Party in its heyday. Customized and candy-painted cars were everywhere, with booming systems and people hanging out on the sidewalks. The police would not let people leaving the game turn left to head back north through the crowds thronging the street, but they were u-turning in the street south of Tiger Village and then heading back up through the crowd. As I stood on the sidewalk, I heard somebody yell “J-DOGG! I see you, homie!” and it was DJ Bay Bay from Shreveport, who was riding with his homeboy in a blue-and-white custom Chevy. He yelled that he was in Dallas now, and then he had gone on down the street.
The crowds seemed more like the big homecomings of the 90’s, and I walked back onto the campus. Amazingly, Main Street, although it had its share of crowds, seemed far quieter than the busy boulevard to the west. Only up at the quadrangle was there a large crowd, and it proved to be the fraternities and sororities, standing and holding hands on their hills. As the Que-Dogs were gathered there singing songs, the boom of drums announced that the Grambling band was coming, and they soon marched in front of Long Jones Hall, heading across the quad and toward Dunbar Hall. Everyone soon lined up to see them, and though the band marched into the band room, the drumline, known as Chocolate Thunder, stayed out on the quad to entertain the crowd that had gathered. They played several funky cadences for the people, and then they too disappeared into the bandroom.
Even after an hour, I had difficulty in maneuvering my way out of Grambling and on the way back toward Monroe. I had decided to eat at the Waterfront Grill, but traffic nearby was thick, because the University of Louisiana at Monroe was playing their homecoming game as well. After a filet mignon dinner, I drove back over to the Corner Coffeehouse for a chocolate-peanut-butter brownie and a latte, and then I stopped by the West Monroe Civic Center to meet Gravedigga, who was DJ-ing a high school dance.
From there, I drove one last time to Grambling to see what was happening on the campus, but aside from a crowd of people at the new Plush Sports Bar, things had quieted down considerably.
Back in Monroe, I stopped by Club Envy on Catalpa to leave promo CDs with DJ Phat, and then I did the same at Club Dominos, where the DJ was visiting from Baton Rouge. Finally,thoroughly tired, I returned to the room and went to bed.
There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.
On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.