I've lived in Tennessee all of my life and had never seen the western half of the state. So, last week I set out to fix that with a road trip to Memphis... Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll, and Elvis's Graceland... at least that what the brochure said.
Day One, Thursday, 9/25/03
I left the Knoxville area Thursday and proceeded to barrel down I-40 West. After a long but pleasant drive, I arrived at my hotel in East Memphis around 3:45, checked in, threw my luggage into the room, and immediately left to head to downtown Memphis via Poplar Ave. to catch the duck march in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel at 5:00. I made a few wrong turns but got the car parked and was strategically in place in the lobby by 4:30, amidst a large army of stale-smelling retirees who hobbled off their tour bus.
To kick things off, the "Duck Master," as he refers to himself, informed the crowd of the history of the duck tradition at the Peabody and then went on to tell us of his personal hobbies - such as duck hunting, duck collecting, duck taxidermy, duck-tossing, and games of duck, duck, goose - and the fact that he was recently divorced from his "feeble-minded duck-indifferent poor-excuse for a wife." He then read some of his favorite inspirational passages from Mein Kampf.
The ducks proceeded down a red carpet to the hotel's elevator to end their day's duty of swimming, crapping and peeing in the lobby's grand fountain. At one point, the lead duck hesitated whereas the Duck Master gave him a swift painful blow to the back with a cane and a yell of "ACHTUNG, SWINEHUND!" to get him moving again.
Fearing for our safety, I left the hotel immediately... down the hallway past these two devil dog statues.
I walked a couple of blocks and located Beale Street.
Of course, Elvis is everywhere in Memphis, especially in gift shops. I bought the "Dead Elvis" bust pictured above (on the left) for my son at Tater Red's Lucky Mojo's & Voodoo Healings store. Also, I found out that Beale Street shopkeepers don't like it when you walk in and yell out "YOU GOT ANY ELVIS STUFF?"
The next thing I did was take a trolley ride that looped around downtown and the Mississippi riverfront. Here are some photos I took along the way...
After I was escorted from the balcony by security guards, my girlfriend and I returned to Beale Street and enjoyed some delicious ribs at the Blues City Cafe.
Day Two, Friday, 9/26/03
My plan for the start of this day was to get back onto I-40 and cross over the Mississippi River via the Hernando DeSoto Bridge into Arkansas, turn around and come back, I had never been to Arkansas and I guess I just wanted to add it to my lists of states that I've been to. It seemed a good idea at the time.
After I crossed over into Arkansas, I got off at the first exit and promptly saw a roadside sign that read:
So, I immediately got back on the interstate and rushed toward the safety of Tennessee...
I got off the interstate at Elvis Presley Blvd. and encountered a gritty part of town near the airport. I made a wrong turn soon afterward but started smelling bacon frying and figured it was coming from my destination. Just before I turned into the Graceland parking lot I saw The Heartbreak Hotel. Yep, it's a real hotel and get this... it's really at the end of Lonely Street.
I parked the car, entered the visitor center, and purchased a ticket for the tour. I had to stand in line for about 20 minutes before boarding the shuttle van to cross the street and enter the residence grounds.
We on the tour were issued little digital playesr and headphones for a guided audio tour. As the van crossed the road and passed through the famous gates, the tour guy told us to hit #3 on the player's keypad. The recorded announcement welcomed us to Graceland, followed by Elvis singing "Welcome to My World." Yep, it was as corny as it sounds. It's a good thing everyone had on headphones... that way they didn't hear me say "Oh, sweet Jeezus!"
At that point, I removed my headphones and disregarded the audio tour from there on out.
We entered the front door and into the foyer. The first thing that struck me was how small it was inside. Well, a much smaller home than I expected a multimillionaire superstar to have. The living room to the right and the dining room to the left were elegant enough... the tackiness came immediately afterward.
A lot of these photos may be a bit blurry because flash photography is not allowed inside the residence, and I had to try hold the camera extra steady and rely on the existing light... with varying results. I'm not quite sure why you can't use a flash in there, but I think I remember overhearing the tour guide say that in the past, camera flashes have disturbed the spirit of Gladys Presley, Elvis's dead mother, and she is one mean old ghost... with a insatiable hunger for live human brains. We sure didn't want any of that.
Next stop was down a flight of stairs with mirrored walls that led to the basement where the "TV room" and "pool room" are located...
Back upstairs, or down a hallway, I can't recall (the place is like a claustrophobic maze) we passed by the small kitchen and the "jungle room"...
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the "jungle room"...
Well, I've never been to a real jungle, but I've seen pictures and I don't think jungles have wood paneling or green shag carpeting on the ceiling. All of Graceland is just as Elvis left it when he died in 1977, but even by the 70s standards, this is pretty bad. Once again, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos... but this time, in this room, I had a good reason for being shaky... I was scared.
Down another hallway, we enter a room filled with Elvis artifacts such as these...
After we left the main house, we were herded into a small building that contained Elvis's father's office. More wood paneling and drab office furniture and file cabinets made it look like a sleazy bail bondsman's office.
Another small building contained scores of framed gold records, trophies, plaques, and more Elvis outfits...
I noticed something painfully obvious while studying Elvis's clothing. The wardrobe supplied by Hollywood and worn by The King in his movies and TV specials was cool and sleek looking even today. However, the outfits Elvis chose to wear on his own time, mainly in the 70s, was... well, to put it bluntly... nothing less than classic pimp clothing.
Judging from the house's decor and the style of clothing I just mentioned, millions of dollars cannot buy good taste.
Um... uh... well... okay. Let's move on, shall we?
Next was the "racquetball building" that didn't contain a racquetball court, but more outfits and gold records... a 30 foot ceiling's worth...
Back outside once again, I strolled past Elvis's surprisingly small swimming pool and head to the "Meditation Garden."
After I recovered from my fainting spell brought on by years of pent up feelings of Elvis repression, I dried my tears of loss and was helped back to my feet by the "Grief Squad"- a group of uniformed Graceland employees (with glittery teardrops embroidered on their powder blue quasi-Elvis jumpsuits) who on standby just in case of emotional overload incidents such as mine. They handed me an "I Survived the Meditation Garden" commemorative pin and escorted me to the shuttle van pickup station. I thanked them and told them that even though it was fun, I was sorry for standing on the dining room table... kind of. Obviously, they weren't aware of this earlier transgression and assumed I was delirious.
I caught the shuttle and left Graceland and returned to the visitor center across the street, where I toured Elvis's personal plane, the Lisa Marie, before we left Graceland and Memphis.
I drove down to Mississippi to stay the night and gamble at the casinos in Tunica. This was my first venture into this fine state. Wow, two new states in one day!
After checking into a hotel in a town called South Haven, I drove a few miles to the casinos. The casinos were not situated as I would have thought, as compared to the Las Vegas strip. They are in clusters of two to three separated miles apart by cotton fields. It was rather strange seeing rickety farmhouses in the midst of these cotton fields whose closest neighbors were gambling casinos.
I went to the Hollywood Casino. They had quite a bit of movie props and costumes (and even MORE Elvis wardrobe) on display. I played the slot machines for 4 or 5 hours and ended up losing about $7 overall, which I consider a win anyway if you think about all the cash that is separated from its original owners in that joint.
On the way back to the hotel, driving past the cotton fields, I swore that I could smell the unmistakable scent of marijuana. Is this how cotton smells at night? If anyone out there knows, tell me as this still has me wondering.
Day Three, Saturday, 9/27/03
Time to go home. I headed back through Memphis and got on I-40 East for my return to Knoxville. On the way, I stopped in Nashville to visit Opry Mills (a mall) and the Opryland Hotel...
I arrived home at about 9 p.m., a little factoid if any of you out there are taking notes. It was sort of a quick, express vacation, but I got to see and do things that I had been curious about... Memphis, Graceland, and gambling.
Thank you for your time and attention.
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