States Traveled To/Through: Tennessee
Soundtrack: Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits, Paul Simon (“Graceland”), Isaac Hayes, Sun Studios Greatest Hits, Bruce Hornsby (“Walking in Memphis”), Sirius Classic Country
Hotel: Westin Beale Street
Major Highways Traveled: I-40 West, I-240.
First, I have to give a shout out to the hotel chain of TownePlace Suites Marriott. When you’re traveling with a dog and a baby you want to stay at places that are convenient and welcoming to both. And they’re not easy to find, believe me. These places are just that and they are suites with fridges, stoves, dishware and separate living/sleeping areas, which basically means Mom and Dad can watch a little TV and have a civilized meal and a drink without waking up little Charley. This is much better than the typical scenario when traveling with an infant means that everyone is locked down in the hotel room after 8pm when the baby is fed and in bed. This ultimately means that Jill and I are huddled down in the dark with the lights off, whispering, and trying to eat dinner by cascading TV light…or in the bathroom. Yes we’ve done that. Oh, add to that that TownePlace has much needed laundry facilities (babies are filthy) and a decent free breakfast buffet and it was a win/win for us. But I digress…
The road from Nashville to Memphis is a pretty smooth and easy 200 miles straight down I-40. We spent it listening to a pretty stellar playlist that Jill made celebrating the best music to come out of Memphis and Sun records – Roy Orbison, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. The weather, baby and dog all behaved nicely on the way in today so it was quite a, dare I say, easy trip to Memphis.
Graceland and Beale Street were our main focuses today but how can we go see the beautiful mansion that Elvis lived in and paid tribute to himself daily with Wally in tow (Graceland is not dog friendly)!? So we found a Camp Bow Wow in Memphis (those of you that were in Maine for my 40th last May will remember that Camp Bow Wow is where Wally stayed when we were in the house in Portland) and dropped Wally off for the afternoon and made our way to the formidable house known as Graceland.
To say that Graceland is a tourist trap is an understatement but you expect that going in. Much like Disneyland, when you get there you park as close to the entrance as you can. And like everyone else you take your ubiquitous photo of the first Graceland sign you see (there will be many more) and make your way to the main entrance and ticket counter. Here you decide which of the 6 ridiculous tiers of pricing you want to entertain and pay, or have the time for, and then make your way in. We chose the basic tour to see the mansion but you can also your his airplanes, car museum and much more. I will tell you this – the pre-mansion experience is a pretty big letdown. The food is terrible, the atmosphere and people are terrible and you can tell that the people working there do not want to be there. Add to that the shuttle to the mansion which is ACROSS THE STREET and I started to wonder how quickly we could get out of there. But then you arrive.
Graceland, the estate, is pretty amazing, even if it is a bit (a bit?!) dated. You quickly become aware of a few important facts:
a) Elvis’ decorator just might be the same as Elton John’s decorator.
b) Believe it or not, Elvis was more talented than good looking.
c) He refused to let anyone shape his sound or “develop” him the way that “stars” are developed today. He had his own vision and he was his own producer from day 1. He never compromised on either of those things.
d) Elvis had 149 songs on the Billboard charts. Holy crap. And 18 number 1 hits. Number 1, I said.
e) Elvis had a “jungle room” in the basement. Probably the first and only of its kind. It is worth the tour just to see this room. There is carpet on the floor, the walls and the ceiling and the rest of the room is resplendent with giant oversized animal-shaped wooden furniture. It is some twisted homage to Hawaii and God knows what hijinks Elvis got to in there. I needed a few coats of hand sanitizer just walking out of that room.
After Graceland, we made a quick ride to Camp Bow Wow to pick up Wally. We think the road is having a not-so-great effect on our furry boy as they kept him in a room by himself for 3 hours shortly after being dropped off for getting into a few fistfights with the local canine regulars. While I picture him donning a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette in those situations, Jill was pretty mortified. Now Wally is getting a few extra walks each day of the trip to soothe his own anxieties. And maybe Wally and I share a smoke together outside when Mom’s in bed. J/K.
So…Beale Street. We finally arrive. We’re very tired. We park, check in, unload all of our worldly possessions and then re-pack up the kids to walk down Beale street before bedtime. Beale street is a pretty great concept – a collection of streets littered with bars and live music venues (or both) that are blocked off from auto traffic. This means that people can walk freely to and from each lovely establishment holding gigantic beers and getting their groove on. For us it looked a bit like this:
Jill: Hey honey, do you want a…
Jill: Yes, what kind of…
Carey: OH MY GOD, YOU CAN DRINK ON THE STREET HERE.
Jill: That’s cool! Do you want an IPA or something?
Carey: WE CAN ORDER BEERS TO GO FROM A WINDOW ON THE STREET?! THIS GUY IS GREAT! WHY DON’T WE LIVE HERE?
You get the idea. Beale St. reminds me a lot of 6th st Austin in that it is a small area built for mass consumption of music, alcohol and local culture but Memphis’ Beale St is smaller, more focused, seedier and…a whole lot of fun.
Speaking of Memphis and music (how could you not?), tomorrow we hit up Sun Studios and the Gibson guitar factory. I may not sleep tonight in anticipation.