Man, we’re becoming Memphis regulars. Let’s see. 2009 South Regional, when OU beat Syracuse and lost to North Carolina. 2011 Thunder-Grizzlies. 2013 Thunder-Grizzlies. Now 2014 Thunder-Grizzlies. I was in Memphis for all. Plus the Big 12 has signed up with the Liberty Bowl, so maybe OU or OSU is headed to Memphis some December soon.
And like I wrote last year, Memphis has won me over. I enjoyed my time here last spring. Looking forward to this trip, too.
We drove over Wednesday, five men strong in an Expedition rented from Reynolds Ford in Norman. Me, fellow writers Anthony Slater (A.C.) and Darnell Mayberry (RFD), videographer Damon Fontenot (Johnny Damon) and photographer Bryan Terry (the Burden).
And Johnny Damon drove the whole way, letting us work. Thanks to sometimes-reliable technology, we can stay on the internet even while motoring across Arkansas on Interstate 40. I wrote my Russell Westbrook column, which you can read here, plus a blog and a Westbrook Q&A. A.C. and RFD did similar stuff. And we were able to transmit it back to the office en route, instead of waiting until we checked in to our Memphis hotel.
To reward Johnny Damon’s sacrifice, we let him pick where he wanted to eat. He chose the famous Rendevous rib joint, probably the most acclaimed place in Memphis. Johnny Damon never had eaten there, so I was more than happy to go. Even though I had been and wasn’t impressed, back in 2001.
And this time, same deal. Wasn’t all that impressed. I had ribs and so did everyone except RFD, and the ribs just weren’t that good. Johnny Damon and A.C. Slater gave the ribs a 6.8 on a scale of 1-to-10. I gave them about a 4.0. These are dry rub ribs, which is no big deal either way. I can always put more sauce on. But these ribs just aren’t as good as what you get most places. Certainly not as good as Central Barbeque in Memphis. Or Van’s Pig Stand or Ray’s Smokehouse back in Norman. So I don’t understand the Rendevous reputation.
We got a Greek salad and some barbeque chicken nachos to munch on, and they were OK. And the sides were 50-50 — good beans, funky slaw — but very small portions. I just don’t get it. But anytime Johnny Damon drives me to Memphis and wants to go back, I’m all in.
FOLLOWING THE NBA
We didn’t leave OKC until about 1:45 p.m., after the Thunder practice, so we still were on the road when the playoffs began. I followed the Heat-Bobcats game via nba.com and gave the group frequent updates. The Mavs-Spurs were in a great game when we arrived at the Holiday Inn Select in downtown Memphis. The sports bar in the hotel had NBATV, so we could get Dallas-San Antonio if we wanted. But by the time we got up to our rooms and dropped off our bags, the Mavs were up 21 and the game was over.
So we focused on Portland-Houston, which was in the second quarter by the time we got to Rendevous. We sat by a television and watched a bunch of that game, then the guys went out on the town to watch the rest. I went back to my room to finish off the Blazers’ victory.
But it was a struggle. Our televisions are not high-def. Which makes it hard to watch. I’m convinced that high-definition television ruins analog TV for you. Not psychologically. Physiologically. In the same way that if you start using reading glasses because you sort of need them, after three or four weeks, you absolutely do need them. Your eyesight worsens. Same with TV. Your eyes have forgotten how to focus on analog television. Your eyes rely on the high-def. And when it’s gone, you’re sunk.
Sometimes your mind drifts and you can’t keep working for seven straight hours. A story in The Oklahoman on convicted murderer Jerome Ersland drew my attention. He appeared in court to plead guilty of possessing contraband in prison. His only response was, “At least it got me out of solitary.”
So we started debating prison life. I said I would want solitary. A.C. said no way, he’d want to be in the main population. Said he’d want a social life. I asked him if he wanted a cellmate. He said sure, as long as he’s a cool guy.
I told him he sounded like he was taking a cruise. It’s a prison, for crying out loud, and if it’s got solitary, then it’s got some bad, mean dudes. Solitary confinement sounds like the high life of that situation. Eventually, we went back to writing about the Thunder’s defense.
The highway construction on I-40 in Arkansas is getting ridiculous. It’s been going on for literally 15 years. And it never seems to get better.
Somewhere beyond Little Rock, with still maybe 100 miles or so to get to Memphis, suddenly traffic went down to one lane. With no explanation other than a police car sitting on the shoulder up ahead, lights flashing. Our man Johnny Damon did not consent. He kept driving the outside lane and we passed literally dozens of cars and got up to the flashing lights, which proved to be a county sheriff’s cruiser. So we kept driving. Finally came upon a sign that read one-lane road ahead, two miles. Nothing about getting over.
So Johnny Damon kept going. We passed probably 200 cars. One big truck honked at us. And nobody was behind us. Yet no signs of saying, get over. No warnings of, merge now, like we have in Oklahoma. Finally, we get up close to where the interstate merged from two lanes to one, and there was all kinds of room to get over. Trucks were spaced probably 40 yards apart. We got in the inside lane, didn’t cost anybody any time and took our place in the one lane. Got through it in about 10 minutes and were on our way, having saved ourselves probably 30 minutes.
And didn’t feel bad. Why wouldn’t drivers use both lanes as long as possible. Just because it goes down to one lane doesn’t mean you have to ignore the two lanes for three miles? I don’t get it. Can someone from Arkansas explain?
I don’t think I’ve ever come into Memphis after sundown. But we did Wednesday, and it was cool. Beautiful sight, the lighted Mississippi River bridge, providing an entrance to the Memphis skyline. I love the Mississippi and the Memphis setting, with downtown hard by the river.
It’s always hard to get rooms this time of year in Memphis, for whatever reason. But RFD found us rooms at the Holiday Inn Select, across the street from the famous Peabody Hotel and just a couple of blocks from FedEx Forum. So we might not even use the car the whole week. Just walk everywhere.
There’s lots to do and lots to see and lots of basketball to devour. I’ll keep you updated.