I woke up feeling the pain of too much time spent in the car, and way too much of Elvis’ home-cooked goodness. I wanted to get out and stretch, so I decided to go for a walk down Elvis Presley Boulevard. It was a beautiful day outside, and I was having a moment. I spent a lot of time lingering at the front gates of Graceland, reading the graffiti and peering over the wall at the distant gravesite, until Heather called and asked where the hell I was. They were packed and ready to go.
We went downtown and stopped at A. Schwab. It’s basically an ancient five-and-dime that happens to have a decent supply of voodoo essentials. We stocked up on oils, mojo bags, enchanted powders, bizarre candles, and my favorite, St. Jude room deodorizing spray. Then we headed over to the Peabody Hotel for a spectacle that was not to be missed: the Peabody Ducks.
The Peabody Ducks lead a charmed life. They inhabit a penthouse at a swanky hotel, and twice a day, the Duckmaster herds them into the elevator. They descend to the lobby and parade down a red carpet through throngs of starstruck, camera-wielding tourists to a set of mini duck-stairs, which they regally ascend in order to pile into the overdone Italian marble fountain. They swim laps, trying to avoid the grasp of the many children who would have just a moment of their glory. They swim. They swim some more. Presumably, at some point, the Duckmaster herds them back up to their mysterious castle in the sky, but we didn’t stick around long enough to see it. Even though they are the most glamorous ducks in the universe, they’re still just ducks. And they swim in a fountain.
After a lunch infested with yuppie businesspeople talking too loudly, we decided it was high time to get the hell out of Memphis. So we did the next logical thing: we headed to Mississippi. In case you haven’t been, here’s what it looks like:
Anyway, we drove all of 30 miles to Tunica, a city built entirely of casinos and casino-related properties. In the grand tradition of riverboat gambling, the only rule about the casinos is that they have to float. So they’re on these giant barges, which have pits excavated underneath. And they float.
On the way to Tunica, sandwiched between the bland anonymity of I-55 and the gaming wonderland on the river, we passed through the town of Hernando. Obviously untouched by the wealth of the casinos, it was a good reminder that poor in the Deep South and poor in the North are two unimaginably different things.
Grand Casino has a sprawling campus consisting of a floating casino done up in five different (supposedly distinct) styles, two large hotels, an arcade, a golf course, The Willows, and acres and acres of engineered ponds and dead grass. We splurged on the nicer of the two hotels, which set us back an alarming $50. I did the dance of joy upon discovering an espresso shop in the lobby. After about 15 minutes in the room, we decided it was time to go shoot things.
The Grand Casino website describes skeet-shooting at The Willows as ‘golf with a gun’. I don’t know why this made it such a draw, since I don’t like golf, but it suggests exactly the right amount of crazy to be appealing. So Jay and I hopped our own private shuttle, got ourselves some bigass shotguns and a ‘trapper’ named Ray, and went and shot stuff.
Jay beat me by a point, but I think I did pretty well. The first time out, I hit 7 out of 8, and Ray called me Annie Oakley. That’s good enough for me. Oh, and we learned we weren’t really skeet shooting, we were shooting sporting clays. Ray explained the difference. I didn’t understand, or maybe it was the earplugs. Ray also pointed out the tallest building in the entire state of Mississippi. It’s a 13-story casino hotel.
Now, study the picture on the right closely, and remember. That’s the exact moment that Jay Patrikios became a certified Gun Nut®. After that incident, at least 30% of our conversations surrounded why he thought he should own a gun (“to shoot stuff!”), why I thought he shouldn’t, with Heather playing devil’s advocate, as usual. It wasn’t pretty.
After shootin’ stuff, we took another shuttle to the casino and had dinner. Then we watched Jay play and explain blackjack long enough that I started to figure out what was going on, and timidly joined in the game. I had four $5 chips, which I figured would be gone within minutes, and I was dreading the inevitable ridicule from the other players at the table that would drive me from the casino in tears, with a crowd of people chasing and hurling rocks. Instead, I played for at least half an hour, asking him what to do with almost every single hand, and ended up almost doubling my money. Beginner’s luck. I liked it a lot. So much that I’ll be avoiding the casino in the future, or there’ll be trouble.