Saturday, June 16, 2007


Interstate 40 ambles across Tennessee a solid 200 miles from Nashville to Memphis, and yesterday I spent the whole ride with Paul Simon's "Graceland" stuck in my head. "Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee I'm goin' to Graceland..." and so on and so forth. It was a long drive.

I'd like to think that Americans can be forgiven the mistake of picturing Memphis as populated solely by Elvis impersonators and the legions of adoring fans who treat Graceland like Mecca, kind of like how most Americans think of my home state of New Jersey as nothing more than a wasteland of freeways and factories. Thankfully, neither is the case.

If Nashville is famous for the home of country, Memphis is famous for the birthplace of blues and rock and roll. Starting in the 1930's, farmers displaced by industrialization moved to the cities. In Memphis, blacks took refuge on Beale Street, a place where live music in the form of jug bands and other types became a tradition. The street became a hodge podge of styles and ideas, eventually taking shape into a new genre.

Nowadays the street continues to offer live music, but it mainly caters to tourists. Vendors hawk "big ass beers" while the mostly white crowd shuffles by in a happy stupor, much like what I suspect Bourbon Street In New Orleans is like. By night the neon signs provide a garish glow as scores of police officers show up to keep order.

It might be kind of sad if it wasn't so much damn fun. I spent hours yesterday listening to a live show in a park, clapping and laughing with the other tourists. When it got dark, I wandered up and down the street, ducking in and out of dark bars and taking in the music everywhere I stood.

This morning I went to Graceland. Graceland stands ten or so miles outside of Memphis, past used car lots, pawn shops, old motels and generally unsavory characters. Come upon Graceland, however, and the street becomes Disneyland: massive parking lots, lines for tickets, shuttle buses, and the wonderful opportunity to part with your money approximately every three feet. Parking costs $6, and with a student ID and a AAA card I was able to get the basic mansion tour for $21.25. I could barely afford to eat today.

According to Frommer's USA, Graceland is the 2nd most visited home in the United States. 1,000 bonus points to the person who can name number one on the list.

Elvis bought his mansion in 1957 at the age of 22, but remodeled in the seventies, and the result is unintential comedy. The place is hysterical and a testament to the poor tastes of the era. Or possibly just Elvis.

The "jungle room" with the green shag carpet was even better, but the lighting wasn't good enough in there.

Having been born four years after his death, I missed the hysteria over Elvis, and don't quite understand the hype today. But there's no question the man lived like - dare I say it? - a king, however garish and outlandish it all might seem to us now.


48statebus said...

the White House?

Memphis sounds like fun, I wish we were gonna spend more time there now but we're trying to get to route 66, and westward pretty quickly in order to do the whole "48 states in 48 days" thing

Scotticus said...

Well done, friends from the 48 state tour. 1,000 bonus points to you.

Yes, Memphis is a blast. I highly recommend it, even if it's only a few hours to see Beale Street and Graceland.

the chef said...

I guessed the White House too even before I read the comment from "48statebus" (if that is his/her real name?!?!).


It's not fair, he/she posted the answer to the question at 5:45 pm on Saturday while at that very moment I was poised to serve 200 people dinner at 6 pm..

Oh well... I'm giving myself 1,001 bonus points for working a 13 hour day, serving over 600 meals... and shit... it was my birthday.

Your blog has become a highlight of my busy days Scott... imagining I am out there on the road.
I am living vicariously through you and your adventure.

I've got some thoughts on these couch surfer host people that I need to explore. Watch for a blog in the coming days Scott and shoot back if you feel the need.

Every time I comment I want to say "Keep up the good work!" but, although it's all good, it really doesn't seem like work.

How about... "Keep on truckin' and be safe Scott!"

(dontcha' love the shameless plugs?!?)

P.s... Did you hear Roger got fired?

A line from the classic cinematic juggarnaut "Friday" keeps playing in my mind...

"How you gonna' get fired on your day off??"

bgibs said...

I guessed the White House too!
We are leaving tomorrow for a cross country trip as well and I am really enjoying your blog. The writing is beautiful - but the perspective and dry humor is really what keeps me coming back. Well done - I look forward to every day's entry.

Hoot said...

I guessed Monticello but my excuse is that I'm trying to forget that the White House exists. I'm also pushing off on a cross-county roadtrip (with bgibs) tomorrow so I am finding Scott's blog to be addictive. And to parrot so many others...the writing is great.

Scotticus said...

You people like me! You really really like me!

Thanks for reading guys.

Happy belated birthday, Jason.

HOLLAmania said...

i was gonna say paris hiltons room but maybe the white house is the correct answer....

the white house and paris wouldnt let me in...cause i had a beard