Visiting the civil rights museum was a heavy portion of our Memphis trip, so we decided to end our visit with some southern comfort food. I had been waiting eagerly to eat good ribs since I was in Texas 3 years ago. I knew that Memphis was known for good BBQ, and like any city that has a foodie reputation, it can be difficult to choose the right spot to experience it. When I googled “BBQ in Memphis”, there must have been as many listings as there are residents. Serious FOMO was kicking in—there is such a thing as too many choices.
We picked Central BBQ because it was close to the museum and got a bangin’ rating. They have tons of seating, so we chose a spot along a wooden counter that faced open-air windows. I got a half rack of ribs, baked beans, and sautéed turnip greens. Absolutely nothing disappointed. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, slathered in rich and tangy sauce. The crust on the boney edges was caramelized to perfection and made for a flavorful crunch. I wasn’t terribly hungry (for once) going into lunch, but I didn’t leave much more than a napkin on my plate. The only downfall was the 3 or 4 flies that buzzed incessantly around our ears as a result of our outdoor seating choice.
After Memphis, we were bound for Little Rock, AR, which would be my 39th state. I got a nice taste of some open roads as we entered our 75 MPH speed zones along Route 40. After a quick stop at a welcome center (always the cleanest bathrooms on the road), we picked up some pamphlets that contained motel coupons at the advice of the attendant (a good new road trip tip). She scratched her head and told us there would probably not be anything open by the time we rolled into town in a couple hours. Heeding this warning, we made it an easy night and ate dinner at a local Chinese buffet that was 3 minutes from our Econolodge before heading to bed early.
The next morning, we went off to explore the supposedly quaint and cool neighborhood of Hillcrest. Our Lonely Planet book actually referred to the owners of a restaurant there as “Hillcrest hipsters”…watch out Brooklyn, Arkansas is encroaching on your monopoly. The area was actually very cute, with lots of shops and rustic looking restaurants and coffee shops along a long street. We got some amazing espressos at River City Coffee, which was adorned with a record player and several HRC Equality stickers (woohoo!). After perusing for a few, we went to visit Little Rock Central High School, the school where the Little Rock Nine became the first black students to attend an all-white school. After a stop at the visitor’s center to see a few exhibits and pick up some information, we went to see the campus. It’s an operational high school to this day and surprisingly diverse compared to far too many public schools across the country (about 55% white and 40% black). After taking an Urban Policy course over the summer, I learned how glaring segregation remains in modern day education. Despite policy-based attempts at creating diverse and equally resourced environments, schools with predominantly black students still remain under-resourced on a large scale. Seeing Little Rock Central was sobering in its own respect, because we cannot deny how far we’ve come even as we address how
far we still need to go.
Our stopover in Arkansas wasn’t long, but we had several hours drive ahead to make it to Tulsa. Since it would be my 40th state (a nice milestone), we wanted to be sure we could get a good picture of the state sign, so we made it our mission to defy the GPS and find a road small enough to cross the state line that would allow us to stop our car and stand beside the “Welcome” sign. Wish us luck….