May 12th, 2007
Since I know you’re going to ask, yes, I made it to Graceland. Harry asked if I cried. No I did not. (Okay, almost.)
I WAS a bit sad that someone with so much early talent and good looks spiraled out like that. Elvis weighed 350 pounds when he died. He had spent most of his last years secluded in his room reading books on spirituality. (And taking pills.)
Graceland itself is utterly tacky. Not just because it gives us a slice of a tacky era, but the presentation itself is decidedly downscale. Signs are cheap. The grounds are poorly maintained. The shops are filled with snow domes, bendy Elvis dolls, ash trays, thimbles, spoons and key chains. There are movies and CDs, of course, but the only books to be found are the Presley family cookbooks and the Graceland commemorative books. That’s probably because any biography would present a decidedly different view of his last years from the rosy one painted on the tour. (He died of heart failure, according to them. Yes, technically his heart DID stop.)
Priscilla is fairly well marginalized and Lisa-Marie is featured prominently in the audio tour. (To be expected, I suppose since she still owns Graceland today.)
I do believe Memphis is the most friendly city it has ever been my pleasure to visit.
Now, that’s not to say I want to move here or anything drastic like that. I mean, it is a city whose officials feel the need to post billboards extolling the fine citizens to “Call on common sense before calling 911.” And there is clearly an issue with poverty that they’re working on.
Nevertheless, the people I met are fine, fine, fine (pronounced fahn, fahn, fahn).
I was chatted up by everyone I met, and I’m not just talking about “How are you today?” “Have a nice day.” People actually take the time to TALK with you, and especially to have a LAUGH or two. I had people flag me down after walking away from a posted map to ask if I needed help finding my way. A woman nearly threw out her back flagging me down as I was driving through town. When I pulled over she wanted to let me know, kindly, that my tire was nearly flat. Everyone wants to know where I’m from and the response is often “Oh, my! You like it there?”
The folks here display their sense of humor in a number of ways, most particularly in what they name things. There are establishments such as the Mo’ Money Taxes, Pony Up Cleaners and the Normal Hair Salon. (I guess they don’t do oily or dry hair.) And they have fine (fahn) names for roads too, like Getwell Road.
I was excited to say at the Peabody Hotel, home of those famous ducks that parade through the lobby and spend their days in the fountain. I have to say that what began as a drunken stunt by the hotel manager and his whisky swilling pal back in 1932 has probably contributed to keeping the Peabody alive in times when more grand hotels were biting the dust.
These ducks have become internationally famous. Twice a day—when the ducks parade in and when they saunter out—HUNDREDS of people with cameras line up on either side of the red carpet to take pictures, as if they were movie stars. HAVEN’T THEY EVER SEEN A DUCK?
Of course, the Peabody shamelessly promotes the duck connection in ads and with images of the ducks on everything from napkins to coasters to little soaps in the bathroom and embellished on the towels.
The hotel itself is nice enough—not great. It lacks the refinement of a place like a Ritz-Carlton (whose doorman and car valet greeted me by name when I checked out in Phoenix). But they do compensate for any lack of refinement with the aforementioned Memphis friendliness.
While here I also did a tour of the Memphis Botanical Garden and the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. More photos will be posted soon…
Posted In: Travel