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Getting Beyond The Gates: Seniors’ “Don’t Miss” Guide to Memphis

 
With the weather warming and nostalgia beginning its steady creep, seniors start to panic. Yes, they panic about graduation, and interviews, and job opportunities. They panic about housing and internships and business attire and things this naïve freshman writer cannot even begin to imagine. Yet, most importantly, they begin to panic about leaving. Not just Rhodes, but Memphis as a whole. In a sudden moment of fear, they may realize they still have not been to Graceland. Or, while they rode the Lynx, did they ever ride a Mississippi riverboat? And after graduation, will they ever have the opportunity again?
 
This article is for the seniors – or anyone who’s a senior at heart – as a checklist of the things you must do in Memphis before you leave. I turned to Professor Rebecca Finlayson, member of the English Department and co-author of the book An Insider’s Guide to Memphis to get the scoop.
 
 
If you’re a kid at heart…
Start your day off at the Zoo. Literally across the street from Rhodes, the Memphis Zoo offers free admission for Rhodes students every Tuesday from 2:00-5:00. Any other day of the week it’s $15.00. The Zoo has an incredible selection of animals, from monkeys to red pandas, big cats to baby birds. And in the month of March, they are also featuring a Dinosaur exhibit for anyone who never quite got over that Land Before Time phase.
 
Once you’ve gotten your fill of exotic animals, cool off with a trip to Jerry’s SnoCone, a hole-in-the-wall joint in East Memphis. According to Finlayson, it “is totally worth the outing”. With over 40 flavors and affordable prices, anyone with a sweet tooth can find something here to satisfy his/her craving. Finlayson recommends the SnoCone delux, which is a heavenly combination of snocone and soft-serve that will send kids of all ages into a complete sugar rush. 

 

Instead of letting all that uncontrolled energy go to waste, use it for a pit stop on your drive back to campus. Peabody Park is an outdoor spray park located right off Central. It’s basically a giant outdoor sprinkler, open for the public to play. (This writer’s dream come true.) Bring your suits and towels and frolic with friends for those hot spring afternoons in Memphis.
 
Hungry again after all that playing? A trip to Jimmy’s Hot Dog Stand should do the trick. It has everything from the classic on a bun to a dog piled high with any topping imaginable – all within a budget fit for a college student. It’s the perfect ending to a lighthearted day.
 
 
If you want to hear the music of Memphis…
…You don’t need to drop $35.00 to see Graceland. While the experience is definitely amazing, there are a plethora of other options to soak up the Memphis music scene.
 
Start your day with a trip to the Stax Museum. It is the home of American Soul Music, and the $11.00 student ticket is a lot easier to swallow than the Graceland admission price. In addition to other, more orthodox exhibits, they have an “Express Yourself Dance Floor,” with soul music playing and a video camera. Every visitor has the opportunity to demonstrate his/her killer dance moves…and then watch those dance moves only seconds after you leave the exhibit.
 
While you’re in the heart of the city, swing by the Gibson Guitar Factory. It’s the largest Gibson factory in the country, and offers tours year-round of the 16 workstations, needed to create the musical masterpieces.  Plus, the gift store is enough to make any guitar enthusiast drool.
 

On your way back to campus, stop by Sun Studios. It was here where a young boy named Elvis Presley paid $5.00 to record his first song in the 1950s. Take your picture outside the famous store front, walk inside to soak up the vibe.
 
Heading back to Rhodes, just short to turn into Overton Park. The Levitt Shell is a mini-outdoor concert hall, offering free concerts to the public every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night during the summer. It also holds the honor of being the location of Elvis Presley’s first-ever professional rock-n-roll concert. Every type of music performs here, from local soul to New Orleans Jazz. With the laid-back atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to bring a group of friends without breaking the bank.
 
If you want to hang with the locals…
 
Start your day in the Cooper Young district, at Burkes Book Store. It opened in 1875, and now stands as the only independently owned bookstore in Memphis. It also holds the honor of being only one of two bookstores in the country where John Grisham has held book signings. While the store stays up to date with recently published books, they also specialize in rare books and collectables. Even if you don’t buy anything, the funky vibe is great to experience.
 
If all that reading has made you a little hungry, then the next place you should head to experience Memphis like the locals is Cozy Corner Restaurant. While the restaurants looks more like a place you’d get tetanus than a place you’d want to go eat, Finlayson claims that the experience is worth it. “It’s good, authentic BBQ,” she said.
 
Finish up your day with a trip to Wild Bill’s Juke Joint. There’s live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and it draws a Midtown crowd. Rumor has it that Professor Johnson can be occasionally spotted there, playing on weekends with a band.
 
If you’re feeling outdoorsy…
 
Hop on the Greater Memphis Greenline, a cross-Memphis hike and bike trail created in the space of unused railroads. Currently, there is about 2.5 miles of path, which you can catch in Midtown (in the neighborhood across from Rhodes), and the ultimate plan is to create a series of trails that connects Germantown, Midtown, Rhodes, Uptown, the Mississippi River Trail, St. Jude’s and other notable spots. This is the perfect place for a stroll, or a bike ride without the threat of being hit by the oh- so-conscientious Memphis drivers.
 
If you want a view of Arkansas as you walk, make the short drive to Mud Island. There you can explore the quaint town of Mud Island while exploring River Walk Park, right alongside the Mississippi River.
 
However, if those hikes seem a little too tame for your weekend, try a trail of a different kind: Wolf River. There are three canoeing companies that will let you rent a canoe, drop you off at one end of the river, and then
pick you up a few hours later. You can race with buddies for a workout, or float leisurely along, observing the natural beauty in the Wolf River Conservatory. After all that activity, you’ll want to spend the evening relaxing. A movie, perhaps? An OUTDOOR movie, perhaps? 
 
On Summer Avenue, sits the Malco’s Summer Drive-In Movie Theater. It’s only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights starting in April, but every night includes a double feature, so you get two movies for the price of one! Grab some friends, a picnic blanket, and some popcorn, and you’ve got yourself a night of fun in the warm Memphis spring air.
 
Finally, if you want to be stereotypical…
 
It wouldn’t be a Memphis “Things-to-Do” article if I didn’t mention a few of the classics. Charlie Vergo’s Rendevous is a restaurant tucked in a little alley with big attitude. They’re world famous for their ribs, and have been featured multiple times on the Food Network.
 

The Peabody Hotel sits right across the street from Rendezvous, and everyday at 11:00 AM and 5:00PM the lobby fills with hundred of people, as the Peabody Ducks make their march from their rooftop home to the lobby fountain, and then back. Whether you’re an animal lover or not, the 20-minute extravaganza is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Make sure to get there early, though. The best viewing positions are all taken a half-hour before the show.
 
Finally, though I bashed the price, Elvis Presley’s Graceland may just be worth the investment. For around $35.00, you can tour Elvis’s house, trophy room, racquetball court, meditation garden, and backyard. On Saturdays, you also gain access to his car museum, airplanes, and any special features they are promoting. The gift shops  (yes, plural) themselves may be worth the 20-minute trip. Need Elvis socks? They’ve got them. Elvis pot holders? You bet. Elvis chess-set, steering wheel cover, and Mother Day Flag? Check, check, check. You can even by an exact replica of one of the jumpsuits Elvis donned in the 70’s…if you’re willing to drop a few thousand dollars. Whether you were an Elvis-lover or barely knew who he was before arriving in Memphis, touring his home gives you an added appreciation for the King.
 
And finally, Beale Street. Enough said. 

 

For seniors, or for those who wish they were seniors, much lies beyond the Rhodes gates. Go, explore!
 
 

A sassy small-town blogger who thinks she's a princess and loves the color pink.
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