We knew our Graceland visit would eat up most of our full day in Memphis, but first we needed to find breakfast. I was surprised at what an unappealing area surrounds Elvis’ mansion. Apparently there are plans underway in the city to upgrade those environs, and they need it badly. It’s simply a cruddy strip.
We couldn’t find anywhere to have breakfast, not even near the Interstate, so we ended up driving to downtown Memphis, where we settled on an iHop. Everything was fine, except S.Hooligan insisted on loudly using such terms as “Yo, Slice!” in an establishment where most of the clientele and serving staff were African American. The last thing we wanted was to be disrespectful or seem to make fun of anyone. S.Hooligan didn’t intend to show disrespect (any more than she does to anybody else–general disrespect is a way of life with her), but you can’t proclaim “Yo, Slice!” with a certain attitude when you’re a skinny white bread girl. If our server minded, she never let on, although she did laugh out loud a couple of times at something else S.Hooligan said. (Don’t ask me what it was. Sass and wit stream verbally from that girl in an unrelenting flood when she’s on a roll.)
We drove back to Elvis Presley Boulevard in plenty of time for our scheduled visit. It wasn’t what I was expecting. There’s an entire complex across the street from the mansion grounds–huge parking lot, a strip mall full of souvenir stores and small attractions, and a mini terminal for shuttle buses carrying pilgrims, as Paul Simon called them, to Graceland.
It was another hot day, so I wasn’t thrilled with the realization that we’d have to stand in a line outside waiting for our shuttle bus. Sure, it was under cover so we didn’t have to bake in the sun, but it was still draining. On top of that, there was a screen with a montage of Graceland and Elvis–and it was the same damn Elvis that had stared down at me from the hotel wall all night. (That same montage appeared on billboards for Graceland all over the city, so once again I faced the truth: Elvis is everywhere.)
While we waited, we were handed individual tablets we could use throughout the mansion and grounds. It made more sense to me than wearing huge earphones to listen to the exhibit narrative, but it was something else to lug around. At last we boarded our bus, which whipped across the boulevard, through the iconic gates, and up the driveway.
In front of the mansion, we all spilled out of the shuttle–and waited. Other busloads were ahead of us, still waiting for entrance to the mansion. There was some shade at least, but the general heat made it all such an ordeal. I really didn’t care about seeing Graceland in the first place. I’m only a so-so Elvis fan. However, it’s such a part of pop culture it seemed impossible not to go while we were in Memphis.
I was taken aback at how small the mansion is. I’d seen it enough on television, but it had grown in my imagination to resemble Tara. Graceland, at least from the front, is rather modest as far as mansions go. Some of the McMansions that rise up along suburban streets are more over-the-top.
Once inside, I found everything much tackier than I’d expected. Somewhere in the house, I’d assumed, there were elegant rooms befitting a King, at least for show. I guess these befitted a king with lousy taste. The living room shimmered, but in a gaudy way that suggested the little jewelry boxes I saw in Woolworth’s as a child: cast of pot metal to look ornamental, with a phony gold or silver finish, sections painted in bright shades to resemble enamel. It probably cost a fortune to dress that living room, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend two seconds in it.
Once I saw the Jungle Room and similar gathering spots in the mansion, I realized the living room was a stylistic high point. At the same time, Diamondqueen was in her glory. Everything reflected the worst of ’70s decor, including the insidious orange, gold, and olive green, which Diamondqueen adores. I got bored with wrinkling my nose and simply endured the rest of my visit. J.Hooligan seemed to be enjoying it. S.Hooligan stuck to Diamondqueen, annoying her as much as possible.
Outside we saw things as unassuming as a swing set and as full-blown as the patio burial plot. One advantage of having a tablet was each visitor individually could watch “extras,” such as video of Elvis and one of his miniature horses in the very pasture that stretched out before us. Just when I thought my back was going to crumble from being on my feet for so long, we entered a darkened hall filled with memorabilia of every kind. Some I appreciated from an iconic standpoint, such as Priscilla’s wedding dress and one of Elvis’ shiny bright jumpsuits. I had long since turned off my tablet, though, and was winding as quickly as I could past groupings of awed admirers gazing in rapture at one or another tableau of “stuff.”
Diamondqueen had purchased multiple-attraction tickets, so when we emerged from the mansion complex, we waited again in the heat for another shuttle bus that would take us to still another display. In that building, at least, there was a small air-conditioned theater that played an entertaining video about Elvis, including performance clips. If nothing else, it was a chance to rest and cool off. And the video was kind of fun to watch.
After another wait for another shuttle, we were deposited back across the street where we’d started. One of the admissions we’d gotten as part of our ticket was to a collection of Elvis vehicles. Fortunately, it wasn’t huge and didn’t take too long, although S.Hooligan got a hare up her butt about something and carried on for the duration.
We did stop in a few souvenir shops. It’s unnerving to see Elvis at so many different stages of his life on so much merchandise, even taffy.
After that, we made our way to the van. Fortunately our hotel was only about a block away. However, saturated as we were with Elvis by that point, it hurt my soul to be confronted by all the murals and posters and music over the pool loudspeaker. All I wanted was to get back to the room and lie down for a bit–except there was Elvis, staring down at me from that damn wall.