Walking in Memphis alone

One of the most liberating things you can do as a single 26-year-old woman is to travel to a city you’ve never been to before alone.  

There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you finally make it back to your own bed.

Memphis, Tennessee has always seemed like a magical place to me thanks to the famous song “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn.  I remember one day I was listening to the song and thought to myself – as cheesy as this is – one day, a bucket list wish is to walk in Memphis while listening to that song.  I kind of shrugged off the idea at first thinking, well, no one else I know would want to do that. Maybe I’ll wait ‘til my next boyfriend and see if I can drag him along to do that with me.

But then on April 27, 2018, the stars aligned for me to cross that goal off my list, if I was brave enough to do it alone.

I happened to have an extra day off work and I noticed a conference I was really interested in was happening in Memphis that same weekend.  A pastor I really admire was speaking and there was a session on how to write and publish a book, which I’ve always had an interest in doing. I quickly thought through my friend list of who might want to go with me, but I realized everything I was wanting to do in Memphis was so unique to my personal interests, I decided to not invite anyone. I decided I wanted it to be just me and God on this one – my first trip fully flying solo.

So I made the 6 hour drive by myself from Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a little scary because I had to drive through the entire state of Arkansas and it brought back unpleasant memories of a terrible car accident I had three years ago on Interstate 49 when I had gone to visit a friend in Fort Smith. Honestly, the fear could’ve stopped me. Instead, I chose to stick to my plan.

Arriving in Memphis from the west is surreal.  

You come in on the beautiful Hernando de Soto Bridge over the Mississippi River with a view of downtown Memphis and a Welcome to Tennessee sign on the bridge itself.  As I drove across the bridge, it felt like crossing the finish line to victory.

I checked into my hotel on Beale Street and walked around listening to the famous song in my headphones to be able to cross that off my bucket list, but the real magic of Beale would come later.

There were a couple times that panhandlers approached me or I caught a creepy man staring at me, but as a TV reporter who has had a lot of experience working without a cameraman, that’s something I’m used to.  The key is to keep moving as if on a mission and have minimal engagement.

I toured Sun Records. It felt incredible to be in the very room where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded their first records, among many others.

I got a taste of Memphis BBQ at the Bar-B-Q Shop in midtown.

I used to cringe at the idea of eating alone in a sit-down restaurant.

But that’s crazy! There’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially in a city where you don’t know anyone. I enjoyed my food very much because it was all I had to focus on.

Then I decided to be brave, take a leap of faith, and go back to Beale now that things were picking up on a Friday evening.

I dressed cute, but not too cute because didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself since was totally alone in a city I don’t know.  I knew exactly where I wanted to go – Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café & Honky Tonk, where the piano on the neon sign immediately caught my eye when I walked through earlier.

As I left my hotel, I started feeling a little nervous, insecure and even afraid, but as I started to soak in the amazing live music and atmosphere around me, those feelings faded away. I ordered a Blue Moon and sat at a table inside the bar that was right next to an open window overlooking Beale Street.  I enjoyed the incredibly talented musicians on stage while also taking in the action on Beale just to my right. It was so amazing. I felt joyful and couldn’t help but dance in my seat. I found myself truly enjoying my own company, which was unexpected, because I had feared feeling awkward alone.  I blew myself away when I didn’t feel that way.

When the band stopped playing, I ventured back onto Beale, drink in hand, because you’re allowed to carry drinks on the street there. I met a kind older lady who said I reminded her of her niece. She took a picture of me ten feet off of Beale.

I’d stop to listen to various performances for a bit, and even watched some guys who were doing a crazy amount of back flips and handsprings right in the middle of the street.

The music and sounds of Beale spoke to my soul.  It was an exhilarating experience – the most magical place.  

I think being alone really helped me to soak it all in even more, and I enjoyed every moment.  I finally understood the inspiration behind the “Walking in Memphis” song.

You can be totally alone on Beale, but not feel that way at all. I was shocked by how comfortable I felt in my own shoes, how much joy and at peace I felt. I felt like I belonged. I did go back to my hotel to watch a movie once it got dark, because didn’t want to risk getting murdered, but when I left to walk back to the hotel, I didn’t want to leave. I was longing for more.

The next day, those feelings of ease and joy remained as I watched the famous Peabody Hotel Marching of the Ducks and then explored the Cooper-Young District. I was making myself right at home. It was empowering realizing here I am completely alone in a different state I’ve never been to before, yet I’m totally fine. Not only fine, even better than that. I was thriving. If I can have fun and be happy alone in a foreign place, I can be happy anywhere. My confidence was boosted. And I realized that enjoying your own company is so important.

If you don’t like hanging out with yourself, how do you expect your partner to enjoy hanging out with you?

I ended my trip with my conference where I was inspired by other writers to write, and inspired to let go of things that I no longer need to carry.  Past rejections, heartache, disappointments, regrets, mistakes, worries and fears. Since it was a Christian conference, this was a spiritual experience for me.  I felt like God was showing me that He will use all parts of my story for good. All of those past hurts, mistakes, disappointments, He’s already got me covered. It’s all part of the story, but it’s all going to work out perfectly because God’s plans for me are far better than I can imagine.

I believe this Memphis trip was a divine appointment, an experience my soul needed in preparation for whatever may lie ahead.  The drive back felt the longest, but I felt so proud of myself when I finally made it back home.

I now know that I have the courage and ability to travel alone, just me and Jesus.  And I discovered some major perks in taking a trip by yourself. It was nice not having to compromise or cater the plans to what anyone else wanted to do.  It was just me calling all the shots on my own time table, and I can’t remember the last time I had an experience traveling in that way. Usually I take trips like this with friends or family and let them do all the planning. This was very different. I got to know the city in a more intimate way.

You can’t wait to start really living your life once you have a man.  Yes, being in Memphis for the first time completely alone made me incredibly vulnerable, but that’s what made it such an adventure.  It was a crazy thing for me to do! However, I learned some things about myself, found some healing and some inspiration, and a sense that my world of opportunities is bigger than I realized. Being single isn’t as limiting as it might seem. I hope to one day have a husband to share trips like this with, but maybe right now is the perfect time to take those trips that he might not want to go on, or trips that I might not want to share.

There’s a world of experiences out there and sometimes you might just experience it best on your own. I feel fearless, strong, inspired and accomplished after my first solo trip.  

I’ll gladly take some company next time maybe. But I’m incredibly grateful I had at least this one chance to fly solo in the land of the Delta Blues.

Just like the song talks about, it’s an experience I can always re-visit in my memory.  I will never forget the magic of walking in Memphis that Friday night and the way it made me feel, with my feet ten feet off of Beale. Something about it awakened my soul and made me feel alive.  I took a chance on taking this trip alone, but I’m so glad that I did.