A Fish StoryOpinion
Longtime readers of this column may recall that, about 15 years ago, my family and I made history by being the first people to camp out in a Bass Pro Shops store overnight. And before you start making any plans, I should point out that we got permission from the folks at the BPS headquarters in Springfield, Missouri first.
We were planning to travel through Springfield anyway, and I sent an email to my friend Katie Mitchell, who is the communications manager for BPS, and asked her if we could spend the night in the store there. The Springfield store is Johnny Morris’s flagship, and it’s huge. People could actually be living in there, and I doubt anyone would notice.
Katie thought it was a fine idea, so she got us set up. Our three boys were about five, seven, and nine, and they had a blast running around in the store until about one in the morning. Then we rolled our sleeping bags out in some tents that were set up in the camping section and enjoyed the most air-conditioned, mosquito-free, skunk-safe night I’ve ever had in a tent.
So, for my wife’s 31st wedding anniversary, I decided we’d do the same thing again. Except this time at the BPS Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. And in a room in the Big Cedar Lodge, which is inside the store. And without the kids. Definitely without the kids.
There’s an interesting story behind the BPS Pyramid in Memphis. The building went up in 1991, a joint project between the city of Memphis and Shelby County. It started out as a sports arena with over 20,000 seats. I think the idea was to capitalize on the name of the town. There used to be a city in Egypt called Memphis, which was the capital of the country during the Old Kingdom, and the site of the first Bass Pro Shops store, next to the Nile River. They sold mostly stone fishhooks, and bobbers that sank, because they were really rocks. Ancient Egyptians must not have been particularly smart.
My impression is that the Memphis, Tennessee pyramid idea didn’t float much better than those bobbers, since it hasn’t been used much for games since 2004. For 10 years it just sat there, a gleaming 321-foot-tall pointy glass building next to the Mississippi River. It was nice, but lacked purpose. Kind of like a Jeep that’s only driven on pavement.
And then, one day, Johnny Morris was fishing on the Mississippi River with Bill Dance and Jack Emmitt, who was the first BPS fishing manager. They sat in the boat, fishing and looking up at the pyramid. Johnny was thinking about putting a store in it, but couldn’t decide, so they were debating the pros and cons.
Finally, Johnny said, “I’ll make it easy. If we catch a catfish that weighs at least 30 pounds, we’ll put a store in the pyramid.”
And just a little while later, Jack hooked a big one. When he got it into the boat and they weighed it, the fish tipped the scale at 34 pounds. As Bill Dance tells it, they let the fish go, but there are two great big bluecats in the huge aquarium in the restaurant at the top of the pyramid, so I’m skeptical.
The pyramid is huge, comprising somewhere north of half a million square feet, and has a bowling alley, an archery range, and fishponds and aquariums inside. It also has an aquarium with alligators in it, which I think the store in Shreveport also has. As far as I know, the pyramid is the only BPS with the hotel located inside, but I don’t think that tops the Springfield store, which has a barber shop in it. If you’re shopping long enough to need a haircut, an intervention may be in order.
There’s a restaurant on the ground floor of the pyramid, but the big attraction is the one on top, which has the huge aquarium right in the middle. It also has an overlook outside, with a glass floor, which affords a fine view of the Mississippi River for diners who happen not to be my wife. If the floor had given out while I was on it, the west side of the pyramid would have made a great 300-foot slide.
The only way to the restaurant on top is to ride the elevator, located conveniently right in the middle of the building. Two sides are glass, so you can watch the inside of the store get smaller and farther away as you go up. My wife didn’t much care for that, either.
Our room was on the third floor, with a balcony overlooking the inside of the store. There’s no swimming pool at Big Cedar Lodge in the pyramid, but when we got to our room and checked out the bathroom, we found there was a lifeguard stationed at the tub. His name was Frank. Biggest bathtub I ever saw. We decided to give Frank the night off, since there was also a shower.
I can recommend Big Cedar Lodge in the BPS Pyramid without reservation. On the other hand, a reservation might not be a bad idea. Just stay away from the alligators. Frank doesn’t care to rescue people from the gator pond . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never bathes in tubs with diving boards attached. Write to him at [email protected]