When we moved from New York, we packed a U-Haul truck filled with all we owned and headed back to California, our true home. We decided to take our time and amble across the country, visiting family and seeing sights we knew would never be destinations. A week into the trip, we pulled into Memphis. Our single goal - Graceland.
What the travel brochures or AAA Trip Tic don't explain is that Graceland is in the harshest ghetto of Memphis. Elvis' mansion sits on a very busy street that has now become the home of crack whores and all their attendant fun. The motels rent by the hour. Our first clue should have been the bullet proof glass of our motel's reception desk.
The outside of the motel looked grim but I said, "Hey, how bad can it be?" We were there for only one night and planned on taking the Graceland tour the following morning. It was late when we arrived in the city and this motel was right down the street. Convenience and a reasonable price were running through our minds when we made the choice. We checked into the dark, stinky room with its wafer thin pillows. We opted for a first floor room so we could keep an eye on the truck.
Then it sunk in. "What if they break into the truck and steal our stuff?" Billy asked with his face clouded in concern.
I pondered this new wrinkle for a minute then came up with a worse case scenario, "Honey, they aren't going to bother breaking into the truck. They're gonna steal the whole fucking thing."
The thought of someone stealing everything we owned was daunting. We had to think of a plan.
"We could sleep in the truck," Billy offered. Not a bad idea considering the truck looked far more comforting than the room we just paid for.
"OK but let's turn the truck around so the back of it is facing our door. Then maybe we could sleep in the truck in shifts," we both sat on the edge of the bed pondering the schedule.
We ultimately settled on turning the truck around with our cargo inches away from the motel room's window. We opened the blinds and window, turned off our lights except for the TV and drifted into semi-sleep. The next morning we woke with a start and quickly looked to see our truck was there undisturbed. After a quick breakfast at the neighboring coffee shop, we headed down the street to Graceland.
We knew we were in for a fun ride as soon as we loaded onto the bus. Our tour guide was a woman with complicated white hair atop a well-worn face. She explained, in an accent straight out of Central Casting, of the home's history. It started off as a second home for Elvis but he found solitude there he couldn't find anywhere else in the world. Billy and I looked at each other and started the church giggles. She went on to explain the complexity of its masonry and as we looked at the tacky red bricked house, we laughed harder.
The bus finally arrived at the top of the hill to its front door. Inside the upstairs was cordoned off. Elvis' bedroom would not be seen today or any other day according to our guide. "Some things are better left private," she coyly told the group, "and no flash photography!" It was an admonishment we took seriously.
Each room was more unbelievably garish than the next. The ceilings were unnaturally low for a house of this size. I would almost touch them. The downstairs "play room" where Elvis spent many a narcotic night was the highlight. Decorated in a Denny's color scheme, it was all carpeted. Floors, walls, ceiling. I suppose in the 70s, it was considered plush. Now it was just claustrophobic.
The tour was over and we hurried to the souvenir shop for the things you can't buy anywhere else. We walked out with a pen that had a little Elvis moving back and forth in front of the house, a set of plastic cups with "Graceland" emboldened on them and our snowglobe. It wasn't a cheap plastic globe either. It had a nice large glass globe on a wooden base with the statue of Elvis in front of his gates. There was a lot of glitter in it and Billy loved that part.
Off to "Taking Car Of Business," the on-site restaurant where they serve Elvis' favorite meals. We opted not to have the fried peanut butter and bacon sandwich and ordered the more conventional "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" cheeseburger combo platter. After we were done, we had one more thing to accomplish. While we had taken several pictures of the backyard, Lisa Marie's swing set and the graves of Elvis and his parents, we wanted to explore the outside wall.
The wall is marked with thousands of pieces of graffiti, scraped and penned by fervent fans from around the world. Lyrics, love notes and tiny stories about the meaning of Elvis covered every inch of the ten foot wall. We found one, near the ground that had a simple yet provocative statement. When Billy read it, he made his face that meant he didn't particularly like what he was reading. It was the same face he made when he found an unwelcome piece of onion in his food or a bad smell that entered the room.
"Come on, lean down and look at it," I said directing him with the camera to my eye.
"No," he playfully answered.
"Come on," this came more as a sing-song whine than a demand from me.
He kneeled down and pointed to a Sharpied note that said "I gave Elvis a rim job in 1960."
I look at the globe now and all of those details rush back into my brain, making me feel the history and fun we had, all at once. I look at the picture I took of that moment and I see that face of Billy's, that cute scrunched look, and damned if I don't get horny.
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?