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Liberty Bowl Travelogue (Day Three): Overton Park Zoo and Ducks at Peabody Hotel Indicate That You Can't Spell "Memphis" Without "Meh"

I mentioned yesterday that the Memphis Marriott is not the best hotel in which I have ever stayed, and I don’t mean to rip on the place, because it is a nice hotel, but there have been some issues, albeit ones which were entirely beyond the control of the Marriott management. Evidently, there was some sort of water main problem occurring the day before we arrived, which has caused difficulties throughout our stay. Briefly on Wednesday, the hot water ran brownish-yellow. This morning, there was no hot water.

Both of these issues were corrected relatively swiftly, which is good, although, since we are staying on the same floor as the Central Florida Knights’ band, I would have taken some degree of pleasure in deriding the unwashed UCF musicians with calls of "You stink!" during the Knights’ Liberty Bowl clash with the Georgia Bulldogs, had the problems with the hot water been left uncorrected at kickoff.

Because of the inconvenience caused by the water troubles, the Marriott provided us with a complimentary breakfast throughout our stay. When we went downstairs to eat this morning and picked up our daily comp tickets from the front desk, we spotted a full-color advertisement for the TennCo Express game day shuttle, which will pick us up at the hotel and take us to and from the game for less than what it likely would cost to park.

This sounded like a deal to me, so, after we partook of the breakfast buffet (and saw what I believed to be a Georgette eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant), I went upstairs and called to order our round trip shuttle tickets. The courier met me in the lobby, and, as I walked back to the elevators, I passed four college girls in Central Florida gear (I presume they were cheerleaders) who had just come downstairs. I caught the next elevator, which contained two older Knights fans. As I have done several times on this trip, I made eye contact, nodded, and greeted them, and they, like virtually every other UCF fan I have tried to engage in an exchange, ignored me.

I try to be accommodating of fellow fans, particularly when they support a Bulldog opponent who is not a Georgia rival, but, while none of the Central Florida fans with whom I have crossed paths have been rude or obnoxious, neither have they been friendly or even receptive to efforts at casual conversation. I wonder whether that reflects their level of confidence in their team heading into tomorrow’s game.

My family and I set out on our second full day of exploring Memphis, and, frankly, our Thursday was as disappointing as our Wednesday had been successful. For one thing, the Memphis city fathers have pulled a fast one on area mapmakers by convincing the rest of us that the city is bigger than it is. The directions we have gotten from Mapquest invariably have overestimated, sometimes by several miles, the distance between two points. For another, the architecture of downtown makes Memphis look like the entire city was designed and built between 1954 and 1963; in the context of its surrounding environs, Graceland’s permanent mid-’70s stasis actually represents a nod to modernity.

We spent most of the day at the Memphis zoo, where it quickly became evident that the Georgia faithful merely were late in arriving in town for the Liberty Bowl. We literally saw more fans in Bulldog apparel in the parking lot before entering than we saw Central Florida fans the entire time we were at the zoo. While there, we saw multiple supporters of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Memphis Tigers, Michigan Wolverines, Mississippi Rebels, and Tennessee Volunteers; we saw one fan each of the Florida Gators, LSU Tigers, Mississippi St. Bulldogs, and North Carolina Tar Heels; we even saw one guy wearing an Arizona Wildcats jacket and a New York Jets cap. However, we didn’t see a single Knights fan until the afternoon, and we saw only two at the zoo all day.

When Susan and I were planning this trip to Memphis, one of the big selling points was the zoo, which enjoys a very solid reputation. There certainly was some neat stuff there, such as the sea lion pool in the Northwest Passage exhibit, but, at the end of the day, it was just your basic zoo; the highly overrated aquarium was a letdown, as it would be for anyone who has seen the vastly superior facility in Atlanta, and the zoo in Overton Park has nothing on the one in Grant Park. (Also, this is neither here nor there, but polar bears make extremely uncooperative photographic subjects.)

For Thomas, the highlight of our trip to the zoo likely was the time he and Susan spent in the ice skating rink. (Elizabeth, who was a bit young for such a heavily-peopled rink and who shares her father’s aversion to being cold voluntarily, did not go skating, so she and I spent that time in the Teton Trek cabin, which has a stairway and an elevator, which is all a two-year-old needs to keep her entertained.) For me, the best part of the time spent at the ice skating rink was the point at which the disc jockey asked if there were any Georgia fans present and received a moderately raucous response. She didn’t bother asking whether there were any Central Florida fans present.

We left the zoo and proceeded to the Peabody Hotel. Because we were trying to cram so many activities into too few hours---I should have taken Monday off so we could have gotten here at least a day earlier---we passed several places I would have liked to have gone, including Sun Records, before parking between the FedEx Forum and the Memphis Redbirds’ baseball stadium.

The Georgia fans present in the lobby of the Peabody vastly outnumbered the UCF fans who were there to see the ducks exit the fountain and board the elevator. We arrived 20 minutes before the so-called "march of the ducks," which was at least 20 minutes too late, because the place was packed with folks like us who were in town for the Liberty Bowl, had never before been to Memphis, and understood that, when you’re in Memphis, going to see the ducks at the Peabody Hotel is just one of those things you’re supposed to do.

The opulence of the lobby is impressive, even though it was marred by the presence of a fellow selling bowl shirts to the Georgia fans. (Being as superstitious as I am, I believe it is bad luck, or at least a bad idea, to buy game-specific apparel prior to the contest. I mean, what do you do with that shirt if you lose? You certainly can’t wear it again; you have to burn it.) As for the ducks themselves, perhaps it was my poor vantage point or perhaps it was my highly refined sense of the absurd regarding self-evidently ridiculous behavior in which I do not myself engage, but they were just ducks getting out of a fountain and waddling from one point to another. If it happened in a Holiday Inn Express instead of in a fancy hotel, we would all make fun of it for its manifest silliness. All I got out of the experience was the ability to say that I have seen the ducks at the Peabody.

It had been our intention to leave the Peabody and walk to Rendezvous for some barbecue, but, after a long day that had been filled with a few too many long runs for short slides, we elected to head back to our hotel instead. Susan and the kids ended the evening by going swimming in the indoor pool, which was the selling point that caused us to choose the hotel we did; accordingly, Thomas, after jumping on the trampoline he received for Christmas and playing in the snow on the same day on December 25, also ice skated and swam on the same day on December 30. That was a positive development to take away from an otherwise less than exceptional day, but the Liberty Bowl is tomorrow, and a somewhat subpar Thursday still can be redeemed if we are in a position to know what it means to feel like a Bulldog on Friday night after beating Central Florida.

Go ‘Dawgs!