Memphis, Tennessee

Golden Elvis

Elvis was one of the first things we saw in Memphis.

We drove in late at night, around 10 p.m. We had come straight over from Nashville, stopping only for dinner. We hit the circle highway around Memphis and, in figuring out how to get to the hotel, realized we were going to be driving right past the entrance to the bridge across the Mississippi River into Arkansas. We missed our exit, so across we went.

We were all very excited to see the river (even at night), and we were equally excited to reach a state none of us had been to before: Arkansas. A big sign halfway across the bridge welcomed us on behalf of the federal highway department to "Arkansas, Home of President Bill Clinton." We got over, turned around and came back. An equally big sign halfway across on the return side welcomed us to "Tennessee, Home of Vice President Al Gore." A symbolic bridge.

From there it was a few swift blocks to our hotel. We had been on Union Street in Nashville, by the capitol, and we were on Union Avenue in Memphis, about three blocks north of Beale Street, famous for the blues dives that had brought the blues out of the Delta and into the big city. (It's a lot safer on Beale Street these days than it used to be.)

We asked at the hotel front desk, and they said the best place to find food at that hour would be Beale Street. We didn't need to be told twice; as soon as we were rested from the road, we headed south. We walked up and down Beale, which stretches for a few blocks (the blues section, anyway), to scope out what was there before we picked a place and went in.

At the far end of the blues strip was a statue of the King. That's when we knew we were in Memphis.

We settled in for a fine deep-fried dinner at the Blues City Cafe. By now we had a running joke about dessert: Doug would ask if anyone else wanted any; everyone else would say no; Doug would order dessert, "and bring three forks." All three usually got used. Alex was the one who noticed the quietly appropriate neon sign on the cafe, with three intersecting forks on it.

Later on, when we were in the Delta, we learned that the Blues City Cafe was originally run by Doe's Eat Place, a famous Greenville eatery. The connection to the Delta made us think about a different set of connections to Three Forks. Who knows? It was a diner; three forks are an excellent sign, no matter what.

Next we went on to sample some Sunday night blues at the Rum Boogie Cafe, whose walls are lined with historic guitars from just about everyone who ever played, from Bo Diddley to B.B. King to Ike Turner to Jon Bon Jovi. Even better, the Rum Boogie Cafe is graced with the original neon signs from the marquee of Stax Records, both the Stax sign and the electric image of a stack of records.

Then in the morning it was up and off to Graceland. (Elvis used to shop for clothes on Beale Street, by the way, even back when it was a blacks-only district--the only reason we could think of why there was a statue of him here.)

Graceland across the highway

Alex and Doug got up before Ken and went out prowling around Beale Street by day, stopping in for an extended browse at Schwab's Drugstore, a grand old three-story emporium that has been in business since the early days of the blues. You can find everything from tourist schlock, cookware, hats, music, to what else?--oh, yeah, drugs.

After that we picked up Ken back at the hotel, then dropped by the Peabody Hotel lobby (adjacent to our hotel), and had a bite at a nearby diner, where we could get grits and pancakes and suchlike. From there we got our car back from the hotel doormen and headed for Graceland.

It was very easy to find: Head down Union Street a ways, take a right on a street that eventually becomes Elvis Presley Blvd., then keep going (past the Elvis Presley Blvd. Hotel) till you see it on the left. (The parking lot is on your right.)

The mansion is set back from the road; you could drive past it without raising an eyebrow. It would be a little harder to drive past the tourist attraction.

Elvis Presley Blvd.

The whole affair is of course on Elvis Presley Blvd.

Other Elvis-oriented sites:

The official Graceland site
Doug's recollections of his trip to the Elvis Inn, in Abu Gosh, Israel
The (unoffical) Elvis home page (lotsa links and an alternate Graceland tour)

Graceland: Interior . . . Exterior . . . Graves . . . Façade . . . Planes

Memphis: Graceland . . . Lorraine Motel . . . Stax Records . . . Sun Records . . . Highway 61

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