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Road Trip Part 3: Going to Graceland and Sleeping Under the St. Louis Arch

I’m going to Graceland!

I milked the amenities of The Graduate in Oxford, MS – extending my stay to the last minute before checkout so that I’d be rested for my adventure. Then I downloaded every version and cover of the Paul Simon classic Graceland so I could listen to them on my 1.5 hour drive to Memphis, Tennessee. In full cheesy glory I listened to all of them bobbing my head all along the way. Charlotte stared at me from the passengers seat unclear about what was in store – because she was going to Graceland too. It was way too hot to leave her anywhere – so she was going in with me, in her trusty dog purse.

Now I am not an Elvis fan really – but I do believe in pilgrimage – and a proper Southern Tour includes a visit to The King’s house. Elvis was a true American rags to riches fairy tale, and a true American tragedy of Southern proportions. Born of poor sharecroppers in Mississippi his “talent” was what got him and his family access to money, which he and they all spent quickly on gaudy things (and his manager and family exploited him). He also lived the life and loved it – probably. He never left the United States, he didn’t even have a passport. He died on the toilet of a heart attack brought on by working himself to death and being hopped up on drugs to do it. His story really is the American Dream. Or a quintessential rock star motif/archetype that has unfortunately played out too many times in too many ways.

So at Graceland – we all shall be received, as long as we provide a minimum of $79.95. That entrance fee is the minimum to get to see Elvis’s home – as a bonus you get your photo taken ($35 extra to take it home) and walk through a maze of museums filled with Elvis’s stuff. In one museum they literally have his weight set and a Coleman cooler on display. There is a museum of all of the cars Elvis purchased, Elvis in the Army, a museum of how Elvis influenced performing artist style, one filled with all of his gold records – and after every single museum in another gift shop with different and similar gifts to the others. I ran out of steam after 8 museums and I counted at least 8 gift shops – but I am sure there were more.

And let us not forget the restaurants – BBQ, ice cream, coffeeshop, malt shop, cafe etc…all Elvis themed and expensive. But since you paid $10 for parking and at least $80 to be here you are not leaving, you are paying the $20 bucks for three sticks of catfish, some sad hush puppies and a pile of greens.

Graceland is large and a complex of pure American Way productized wonder. Elvis in death is still making money hand over fist – even when he is buried in the backyard next to the pool and meditation garden.

Let’s talk about the mansion tour for a moment. My experience. First – I didn’t pre-buy tickets so it was a miracle I got in on the 2 o’clock tour slot (but as a bonus I had time to have lunch and hit the gift shop – which I thought was the only one initially). The tour of the mansion starts with a video timeline of Elvis’s career (just in case you have no idea who he was) and then you get on a shuttle to go across the street from the complex to the actual mansion. You pass by the Lisa Marie airplane on the way (with its own gift shop). Then you unload in front of the house and wait your turn as you take pictures with the mansion behind you.

It was VERY hot, probably a heat advisory level on this day in Memphis, so I was getting tired and irritable and inpatient by the moment. I was wearing black and the dog was heavy in her own black bag on my shoulder. The line was long and we all weren’t in the shade and we had to listen to some guy talk about something by the door – but I couldn’t hear him at all so it was lost on me. I also opted out of the awkward ipad listening device thingy/guided tour (hoping I could just move through the mansion at my own quick pace snapping photos along the way – oh I was so silly). By the time they let us in to the slow cattle corral of a line of humans inside the mansion I was sooo ready to go – but then I couldn’t move because there were way too many humans in the house all at once.

Added bonus, my self guided tour was going to be narrated by the amazing 7ft tall obnoxious Dad from Oklahoma. He kept saying things like “Let’s get our money’s worth!” and “honey there really is carpet on the walls!” and “look at that monkey statue!!” among many other gems of the obvious. I wish I could have taken notes because my memory does not do his commentary justice. Big, tall, loud and corny, straight out of Dad jokes central with a penchant for tacky as hell – that was my unofficial voice of Graceland. Thank the stars or else I would have just been bored looking at the extremely loud furniture and decore.

Elvis’s style was anything but drab. And Graceland by modern standards is barely a mansion. I would be surprised if the square footage was more than my neighbors in Florida. And what they display in the tour – receipts for every purchase made by Elvis for the house – is crazy. I get showing the house’s deed, but receipts for the pool table? I’m honestly surprised there wasn’t a list of what was in the fridge the day he died, or a framed “Elvis grocery list” as there was literally everything else.

The other surprise to me was that he is actually buried there. In the backyard by the pool. I guess- why not? It protects the graves (potentially, in perpetuity, but he didn’t know his house would become a national historic monument). He didn’t know he would be a product in death as well as life. I wonder if he even thought of himself as a product? or an artist? or if at the end he was just going through the motions? Did he have joy? Did Elvis have joy? I hope he did – he seemed (seems) to bring a lot of joy to others. (I received a lot of joy at the IDEA of going to Graceland, more thanks to Paul Simon than Elvis, but still there was joy in the process).

I skipped the other buildings on the tour and got back on the bus (Charlotte still in her trusty dog purse at my side) and headed back to the museum circus. I did what I could to get through the majority of it, but they just kept going and I was getting really tired. I had to get a coffee, have a sit, and then decided I just needed to go.

It was too much for one day and I still had to drive to St. Louis that night. Sitting in my air conditioned car with the dog, sipping my coffee I magickally booked a room within a stone’s throw of the Gateway to the West (the St. Louis Arch) with the bonus of underground valet parking.

I drove straight through to St. Louis and when I got to the Hyatt in downtown I had a straight on view of the Arch and found a cluster at the valet parking station. It was a St. Louis Cardinal’s game so the self parking lot was full. The Hyatt is also immediately across the street from the stadium. Sportsball. I put on my best smile, and with a little help from the valets, Charlotte and I were soon walking up to the desk to check-in. I didn’t mention the dog in my purse at this stop, I did not want to mess up the room, even if the hotel was dog friendly.

I was starving so I made it to the 15th floor, dropped the dog, took a picture of the Arch immediately outside my window, freshened up and looked for the hotel restaurant. I completely missed that there was a steak house and found myself in the BBQ sport bar watching the Cardinals game. But I was able to eat the best brisket mac & cheese ever.

My waiter was super aware of the existence of the UP, which told me I had officially left the South and crossed into the Midwest. The Southern pilgrimage exploration was officially over -everything from from here was going to be farms, flat and recognizable.

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