On the Road
Tuesday we hit the road bright & early on the tour bus. 16 youth, 9 adults, & the driver - 26 of us altogether. We left the rain behind in Dallas, thankfully. We pulled in to Memphis on schedule round about dinner time. We unloaded the bus, checked into the hotel, freshened up, & hit the sidewalk for dinner. What was supposed to be a short walk was actually about 10 or 12 blocks & much further than any of us were really enthused about after spending the day traveling. But the grumbling ceased as soon as our dinner hit the table at Gus's Fried Chicken. Man. Was that chicken ever good. Salty. Spicy. But YUMMY! We trekked back to the hotel & gave the kids a brief swim time before devotionals at 10:30. I sent my charges to the pool & devos while I took a little nap. They came back a little about 11:30 & had free time until their 1 am curfew. Oh yeah. You read that right. 1 am. I assure you, that was the only night the kids got to stay up that late. We chaperones saw to that. B/c as long as the kids were up, some part of us had to be supervising. Needless to say, the time dropped back significantly. And I think the kids sang better for it. Don't get me wrong, they did their fair share of grumbling about it. In the end, while they may not actually say so, I think they were thankful for the extra rest, especially given the amount of walking we did the rest of the tour!
Day 2: Walking Downtown
Despite the limited amount of sleep the night before, I awoke early. I got up & got ready before the girls ever stirred. Had a nice quiet breakfast in the lobby by myself. I went back upstairs & made sure the girls were up before I headed out for a morning stroll. There was a park close to the hotel so I headed there first. My friend Jana had warned me about the extensive homeless population, but I don't think I was really prepared for it until I met it face-to-face at the park. I took a few quick pictures & then decided a morning walk on my own with camera in tow screaming "I'm a tourist" didn't seem like a good idea. So I headed back to the hotel. Our first stop of the morning was St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Wow. What an incredible facility. We enjoyed a fabulous tour where we learned about the hospital - its ideals, its mission, its outreach, its incredible ministry. For me, this was the most poignant part of the tour. It made me stop & think, stop & appreciate, stop & consider. At some point, I will go into this small portion of our tour in more detail b/c it meant that much to me. From St. Jude, we picked up lunch & headed back to the hotel. We then hopped the monorail for Mud Island. We didn't have a lot of time here, but what we had was certainly plenty. The kids most enjoyed the replica of the Mississippi carved into the concrete. This miniature allowed you to walk from the Mighty Mississippi's mouth all the way to its end. Along the way, there were placards explaining the river's impact on the communities that sprung up on its banks. While the kids enjoyed wading in it, the adults enjoyed the historical lesson the replica provided. From Mud Island, we walked up Front Street for our paddleboat ride aboard the Memphis Queen. I really enjoyed the neat historical information our tour guide provided. The kids enjoyed the nap. From here, the kids had free time for the afternoon until we left for dinner at Rendevous BBQ. Oh wow. That was some terrific bbq - it didn't quite fall off the bone like my father-in-law's does, but the flavor was outstanding. And equally as impressive was the speed with which they processed us through there. Can you believe a group of 26 was in & out in just an hour? Yeah. Neither could we. We headed back to the hotel for devotional & an early night in bed (11:30...yippee).
Day 2: Walking Tour
Today we did 100% of our touring on foot. And it was hot. After breakfast, we hit the road & headed for Beale Street. Some compare Beale Street to The French Quarter. Perhaps that's true. I'm not sure. We went early in the morning, not too long after the nightlife has been put to bed. The kids enjoyed walking down Beale & doing some shopping. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to hear some live music, but as I said, it was way too early for any of that crowd to be walking the streets. From this little excursion we headed to the historic Orpheum Theatre. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who was just as enthusiastic as the kids. You could tell she really enjoyed the theatre & was sure that the kids enjoyed it just as much. We got to see every facet of the theatre - from the auditorium itself, to the stage, to backstage, to the pit. The kids really enjoyed this stop. From here, it was time for lunch at The Pig on Beale. My friend Jana suggested I try the bbq nachos here. I must admit, I was very skeptical. But I took her word for it - and they were wonderful. But I can't believe I managed to eat the whole plate! We definitely needed a little walking after such a huge lunch. And walk we did. To the Civil Rights Museum. I can't say that any of us were really in the right frame of mind to enjoy this stop on the trip. The kids were hot, tired, & full. Not a good combination when you want them to absorb so much information. And certainly not good for any kind of reflection. But they did at least walk through the exhibit & perhaps took something from it. We left the museum for The Peabody Hotel & the afternoon march of the ducks from their fountain in the lobby back to their habitat on the roof of the hotel. Then it was time for dinner at Huey's. If you asked the kids, this was probably their favorite meal of the entire trip. Why? Well, they got to lob toothpicks at the ceiling - completely encouraged by staff & management. It seems it's a bit of tradition at this restaurant. Dinner is where I parted ways with the group. While they went to a Memphis minor league baseball game (team name escapes me now) & were serenaded by a Christian rock band pre-game show, I met my friend Jana for a glass of wine & a nice visit. It was so great to see her! I met the bus back at the hotel, picked up the group from the baseball game, and we hit the road for Bartlett. The kind folks at BUMC hosted us for two nights in their fabulous facility. The savings on hotel stays allowed us to do so many of the wonderful things we enjoyed while visiting Memphis.
Day 3: Midtown
We got started a little later than we intended due to a little kink involving breakfast. But we finally got on the road & started our day at The Memphis Zoo. The zoo is not as large as the two we enjoy in DFW. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up greatly for in quality. What fabulous exhibits & what terrific care is taken of the facilities. We wished we had more time to spend there. It really was worth it. After a quick bite at the zoo, we headed to Graceland. I'll be honest, I was not in the least bit enthused about visiting. But everyone - from my mom to friends to unexpected co-workers - encouraged me to go "just once." I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The 30-minute audio tour was very informative & I actually enjoyed the brief tour. I wouldn't have wanted anymore time, but I did enjoy my short visit. I even have the t-shirt to prove it! We rushed from Graceland back to the church for a warm-up, quick dinner, & our evening concert. Several have asked why the kids didn't sing more in Memphis proper. Well. I'm sad to say that Bartlett was the only church - of the 30+ we contacted - that extended the invitation. So the kids did most of their singing before leaving DFW (4 performances) & got to attend Bartlett's concert at First UMC Dallas (how ironic). The kids gave a terrific concert in return and it was certainly well-received by all who attended.
On the Road Again
We hit the road early Saturday morning in hopes of getting home a little earlier than scheduled. A portion of our group would be heading out at the wee hours of Sunday morning for a mission trip to New Orleans. The more rest we could give them, the better. So we hit the road with little more than snacks & put about 80 miles between us & Memphis before stopping for breakfast. From there, we stopped as quickly & infrequently as absolutely possible and did manage to arrive home about 7:30 (about 90 min past our mark).
When Nicki (the director) asked me to travel with the kids, I agreed but with hesitancy. I remembered the days of my youth & what my group was like back then. Sure, we were good but we were every bit the bunch of "typical teenagers." Everyone assured me that this bunch was good & not to expect much in the way of misbehavior. I, of course, held out for that one in the group. But I have to say that this group of kids is really terrific. Sure, they're typical teenagers in every way. But I felt like they were leaps & bounds better than my group was at that age. We had one minor infraction of the rules that was dealt with swiftly. Otherwise, I can say without reservation that these were some very well-behaved kids, and I would not hesitate to travel with them again. They really were a joy & pleasure to be around.
I would call this trip a success in every way. It was well-organized & well-planned. As in every group trip, you learn things - things you should do again & things to avoid. This trip was no exception. But all in all, the experience was positive & the good things we learned far outweighed the list of things to avoid in the future.
Now I'm glad to be home - in the comfort of my own (Sleep Number) bed!