What possessed me to try to wait tables in Memphis, IÕm not really sure. I had never been a waitress before, mostly due to a vow I had made to myself to avoid that kind of employment treachery at all cost.
When I moved here, though, the cost would have been starving to death for lack of a paycheck, so the sacred promise to self sort of went out the window. It was spring. I was hungry. I ended up slinging ribs on Beale through all of Memphis in May. It was quite an introduction to both the field and the city.
I sort of thought that the job would be easy. Take order, carry food, get fat tip, go home and roll around in a pile of money. This, of course, wasnÕt the case at all. Through a friend, I ended up working at the Blues City Caf. Blues City is ÒfamousÓ for its ribs and steaks, prepared by Chef Bonnie Mack and an entourage of cooks who make shocking amounts of food each day, all in an open kitchen in full view of the restaurantÕs patrons. This all works out fine and well if you are capable of taking orders and giving them to the kitchen in a way that doesnÕt unleash the fury of the chefs. I, of course, wasnÕt capable of achieving this feat, and managed to start culinary world wars in full view of all of my tables on a weekly basis. Why the kitchen would get upset at my delivering 5 tables worth of tickets at once I didnÕt understand at the time.
From the vantage point of a job on Beale Street, you really get a feel for the amazing number and variety of people that visit Memphis every year. Though I despised, no, abhorred working a restaurant job, I loved watching all of the visitors come and go. Happy drunkards, euphoric blues aficionados. I also got the chance to observe some quirks and nuances about the city that I otherwise would have never known. Take the ÒgypsyÓ population, for instance. Until I got an opportunity to watch the teen-aged gypsy girls saunter into the restaurant, I didnÕt even know that they were here. These girls were something to look at. Bright, bright make-up, brighter clothes, and the ability to tear apart a restaurant bathroom and then disappear in about 5 minutes flat.
I also got to meet my least favorite psychic of all time. This marvel of the mysterious, who gave palm readings in front of Tater RedÕs at the time, would come into the restaurant just about daily, making a dramatic show of his supposed abilities. When I had a reading done, he told me that I was too selfish to enjoy children unless they belonged to somebody else. You know, he might have been right, in actuality, but that doesnÕt seem like good business sense to me. If you want my $10, tell me that there are good things coming and that IÕll spend the rest of eternity with my true love on a bed of roses spread across the back of a horse that is forever riding off into the sunset. DonÕt tell me that your brother is a vampire in New Orleans and that IÕm a horrible person. I guess heÕs moved on to spread his knowledge elsewhere, though, as I havenÕt seen him around town in a while.
While working at the restaurant, I also got to know some interesting things about the people that live and work in the city. One of my managers, for example, was a former body guard for none other than JerseyÕs finest son, Jon Bon Jovi. The irony of this disturbing connection to my childhood was not lost on me. Another manager was a former road manager for Jerry Lee Lewis. It seems that everybody here, in one way or another, has had a hand in the music business. This creates an aura, of sorts, that is extremely distinct and entirely alluring.
Although Beale Street is, at best, a thin recreation of a time whose extant shadows might be better observed in less neon parts of the city, I think it is a good starting point if you want to get a picture of the city. If nothing else, sit and watch the pedestrian traffic, which is complete entertainment, in and of itself. Sure, Beale is essentially a living post-card that has little to do with the authentic experience of Memphis. As an inexperienced and, letÕs be honest, terrible waitress, it was akin to hell on earth. Nevertheless, if you believe that history can be felt via residual energies from the past, which I most certainly do, then you definitely need to feel out Beale when you come to the city.