Sunday, April 29, 2012

Memphis mania

April 28, Memphis, Tennessee
Visiting Graceland had not been something high on either of our lists, but traveling full-time in a motorhome has broadened our perspective causing us to seek out different experiences than what our former lives might have predicted. Vic grew up with Elvis more than I did. He remembers watching Elvis’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and following the big news stories that followed his tours and his stint in the Army. Visiting his childhood home in Tupelo a couple weeks ago also piqued our interest making us curious about what this popular tourist attraction is really like. (It’s the second most visited home next to the White House.)

Our trip to Graceland began with a three-minute walk from our coach to the entrance gate—now that’s convenient. We opted for the Platinum tour which included seeing his car collection and the two airplanes he owned and some other special additions.

Impressions: Graceland was more modest than I had imagined it. It was a beautiful farmhouse with about 13 acres that Elvis purchased for 100,000 when he was 22 years old (in 1957). Since he lived in it until the ’77, the interior design reflects the late 60s and early 70s era—dark paneling, Formica countertops, avocado sink, shag rugs and big RCA console TVs—certainly evocative of our childhood homes. Of course, some of the d├ęcor was over-the-top glitzy just like his proclivity for bling and rhinestone-studded pant suits, but not too overdone. What I liked is that I could actually picture him, his parents, his grandmother, and daughter Lisa Marie living there. I can also relate to his desire to move from Tupelo to a city with more opportunities (after having experienced the contrast ourselves), as Memphis was already gaining a reputation in the early 1950s as an important place in the music industry because of Sam Phillips and his Sun Records recording studio.

Elvis heard about LBJ watching the news on three TVs, so he had to do the same.
This RCA TV was a gift to Elvis from RCA records.  I remember having the same RCA TV console growing up.
Lisa Marie's swing set

You don't see too many pools with diving boards anymore.

There were rooms and rooms of golden record awards like this.

Elvis' original Gibson guitar

The famous pink Cadillac that he eventually gave to his mother

It was warm while we here—in fact, Saturday tied a record high of 86—but there were many signs of spring—dogwood, magnolias, and azaleas were all in full bloom. There were photos on display of Elvis and Lisa Marie sledding in the driveway, with the Graceland acreage all blanketed with snow, adding to my appreciation of the climate here as a place where you can experience distinctive seasons. W e saw a film clip interview of Elvis when he was discharged from the Army and was asked what he missed most about Memphis. His reply was, “Everything.” Enough said. . . .

After spending about three hours at Graceland and its accompanying museums, we made our short walk back to the campground, got a bite to eat, and rested up for our night on Beale Street—about a fifteen-minute drive. We headed out about 8:00 and things were already in full swing. Entering the nightclub area requires going through a security checkpoint where they check ids, search bags, and wand you with a metal detector. Hmmm. Some young girls told me this was new, but necessary as the place gets a little crazy. About six blocks of Beale Street was cordoned off with police cruisers in front of the barricades. Inside this area it felt like a giant adult festival with a cacophony of music blaring from at least twenty different venues. Just as we entered the street, a girl approached me to buy vodka jello shots served from a large plastic syringe. Drinking in the streets was part of the festivities.

Jellos shot sales

Festive party goers

Street scene

Barefoot dancers in the street
Cool record store
Gotta love these toilet seats!
I had researched the music options ahead of time and the place to go for classic Memphis tunes was the Rum Boogie Cafe. Their motto here is Eat. Drink. Boogie. Repeat. and the place was a’hoppin. With only a five dollar cover charge, we were treated to a fantastic night of music from the hometown band called James Govan and the Boogie Blues Band. The atmosphere was great too—the walls covered with over 150 guitars from the likes of musicians such as Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, Savoy Brown, and Bo Diddley. I have enjoyed Blues venues in several American cities, and only Chicago comes close to what I experienced in Memphis where  the historical vibe of the music pulses in your vein along with the melody.

James Govan, lead singer of the Boogies Blues Band
At one point during the evening listening to James Govan sing Al Green's "Take me to the River," I actually found myself thinking, "I could live here." Caught up in a moment of Memphis mania, I felt a special affinity with Elvis regarding his passion for this city.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Free at last, Free at last. . .

April 23-26, Red Bay, Alabama/ Memphis, Tennessee

Yay! All repairs on the Big EZ were completed by 1:00 p.m. on Friday. On my last blog entry, we were into week three at the Tiffin service area still waiting to have two major repairs done on the motorhome.  After a fair amount of pestering Billy in door #3, we learned on Tuesday afternoon that we were next up for the replacement of cap rails on both sides of the motorhome. With this news, we expected to get a phone call at the end of the work day on Tuesday telling us which service bay we needed to be in by 7 a.m. the next morning for the cap rail work.  No phone call came and 7 a.m. Wednesday morning came and went.  By now we were getting pretty anxious for something to happen and found ourselves trying to weigh the need to see Billy again vs. waiting patiently without complaining. At 8:30 a.m. we got the call to come to bay #28 for the cap rail work!  We could hardly believe we were in.
Finally in a bay for new cap rails

The cap rails were replaced by 2:30 that same afternoon, and because our roof is black, they did not require a second day of painting. With only two work days left in the week, we wanted to be sure our last repair, the replacement of our driver's side slide floor (the main reason we came here) was on track to happen the next day. Sure enough, we were now next in line for the slide floor.  Again, we expected to hear from someone about which bay to go to in the morning, but no news came.  This is when I went into obsessive Bay Watch mode--checking to see if they were all full and checking the progress on each slide replacement being done. The slide floor work is supposed to take about three hours, so they should be able to do two a day. Once lunchtime passed with no phone call, our hopes were for getting the work done on Thursday were dashed.  About 2:30, however, one of the beater cars drove up to our site with news that they ran out of time to get started on our slide, but wanted to measure the floor and have it made and ready to go for installation at 7 a.m. Friday morning!  Whoo--hoo. 
One of the famous beater cars

Things were definitely looking up. We could hardly sleep Thursday night with the anticipation of getting up before 6 a.m. to empty all the cabinets on the slide and have the motorhome at bay #9 before 7 a.m. for our final repair.
Slide removal

Slide in sling

Rotted wood in slide floor

No wood in this new slide floor

All went well and they completed this work before "dinner"--their lunch which is 11:20-12:00.  We still had a cabinet door that needed to be installed after lunch, then our list of repairs was declared complete.  The best part was the bill.  All the work was covered by the warranty--except the cabinet door which we were responsible for breaking. (Vic caught the knob on his cargo shorts.) The nineteen days of "camping" were also marked "No Charge" as we were still in our one year from purchase date window. So, like many others who ride away thrilled at the end of their Tiffin service experience, we elatedly pulled out of the dust bowl and made the three hour drive to Memphis, happy to have the wheels rollin' again.

One of our reasons for coming to Memphis was to see Graceland and eat some authentic Memphis ribs.  We chose to stay at a campground right next to Graceland, Memphis Graceland RV Park, and about fifteen minutes from historic Beale Street downtown.  For the reasonable daily rate of $36, this park is lovely and walking distance to Graceland.

After setting up the motorhome and showering off the last of the Tiffin parking lot dust, we headed to the most well-known BBQ joint in Memphis, Charles Vergos Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs. We both experienced culture shock walking down the streets of an urban city after almost three weeks in a dry county where you could only buy iceberg lettuce in the store. 

The old coal chute Charlie turned into a smoker.

 The rib place did not disappoint, nor did Beale Street.  We had no idea what a happening place this would be. I learned that in 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the home of the blues by an act of Congress!  The place is full of nightclubs including B.B. Kings--where legend has it he often shows up to jam--the Rum Boogie Cafe, and Silky O'Sullivans amidst several other neon-flashing attractions.
A glimpse of Beale Street--from internet photo

After learning more about this city of the mid-South, we are most likely going to extend our stay here as we find ourselves wanting to return to the clubs on Beale Street tonight after touring Graceland, to visit the National Civil Rights Museum, to see Ya-Ya and Le-Le the Giant Pandas at the Memphis Zoo, and maybe take in a riverboat ride on the Mississippi!  It's exhilarating to have such freedom to explore a new place, a place where, on a more sobering note, Martin Luther King gave his final speech: "I've Been to the Mountaintop."  Stay tuned as we tour this fascinating slice of Americana in Memphis. 

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war

I'm going to Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to
Graceland. . . .