The Great American Road Trip – Episode II
by Carolyn McLaughlin
We drove through Virginia and into Tennessee all night on Interstate 81 South. The first really long overnight trek of many, we were still driving towards Memphis at 7 in the morning. The dawn approached us as usual, but we felt like we were an accomplice – like we had helped the sun to rise. Enjoying the tapes that had been a priority when packing, we had a good laugh when one of the guys, Dan, threw in Paul Simon’s album Graceland.
There was a wacky tension developing though, between the Brits and the Yanks. Melissa and I had already been very reserved about touring the capital, because we had seen D.C. before. Now we teased that Graceland was more of a cliche than anything else, and besides, we wanted to head further south where, in May, we’d be guaranteed warmth and sunshine. But really, we knew we wanted to see it for ourselves. We’d be able to say in casual conversation if Graceland ever came up, “been there, done that.”
So there we were in downtown Memphis, realizing that this place was a universe for the Elvis existence. We found a deserted parking lot and caught a few hours of sleep before breakfast and then, the King.
Graceland is as well run and clean as Disneyland. Everyone is friendly and efficient. There are Elvis tunes blasting out of every speaker in the different shop areas and exhibits. His smiling face and the eyes so many fans fell in love with gleam out from every postcard and framed portrait in sight. There are scheduled shuttles that take visitors up into the mansion. A white iron gate with musical notes prepares you for the decadent tour. Graceland itself is not that large, and the exterior architecture is quite stylish in a refined modern way. I had visions of a sprawling Southern plantation that could have easily outdone the likes of those seen in Gone With the Wind.
Alas the Presley estate was not that large, while the furnishings of every room actually portrayed the real extravagance. The dining room and kitchen excluded, every room set a mood. This mood cast notions of a rock star that must be equipped with a living environment ready for entertaining. Elvis had no shortcomings. His living room looks like a jungle with dark green carpet and large wooden and leather furniture. His TV room slash bar looks more like a tropical reef. The couches are bright yellow with black and silver finishing. The floor is tiled and almost glows. Across the hall is a billiards room with colorful fabric on every wall, which continues onto the ceiling where it is gathered in the center, with a light hanging above the pool table.
The tour goes on out to Lisa Marie’s playhouse and the original recording studio and office Elvis used. Further along the walk there are horses behind a wooden fence in an open field, and the major studio he recorded in, one wall covered with all his awards. There is a pool and garden, and the graves of Elvis and his parents. Another building on the property is a true memorial to all that Elvis ever was. From his music and motion picture accomplishments to an accelerated black belt, he was a man of many pursuits.
The experience at Graceland ended with a free 20 minute movie on the star, and an usher directing everyone towards the exit. Her button stated, “Don’t Be Cruel – I’m in training.” No need, every employee was exceptionally well-mannered. The only thing they could be guilty of was the tedious celebration of one well loved entertainer.
And so our second major stop was to experience the legacy of Elvis. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Instead I was just very quiet. Graceland was strange. A lot of time and space devoted to one person. It’s more for the fans than anything. Melissa said she enjoyed it more that she thought she would, mostly because she’s always positive. Rob and Dan were less impressed than they thought they’d be. On the way out of the gift shop with Elvis icons everywhere, we decided that the King was still quite alive, but probably rolling in his grave.
Next week: We left Memphis and had our first night of camping somewhere in the woods of Mississippi. Our campsite was an RV park not quite in season yet. We had the swimming pool to ourselves and enjoyed long showers. We weren’t allowed to build a fire, but we didn’t mind. The PB&J sandwiches were tasty enough and the ice keeping our beer cold was plentiful. We mused our adventure of the day and looked over our new atlas which would lead us to New Orleans the next morning.