Four Wheels Spinning – Stories from the States #4: Taking Care of Business – Memphis, Tennessee
Taking Care of Business
September 21, 2001
“For reasons I cannot explain, there’s some part of me that wants to see Graceland.” – Paul Simon
One of the things that is both a blessing and a curse in America is
that everything here is oversized. American houses are big, American cars
are big, and with no thanks from our waistlines, our meal portions are huge.
Americans aren’t satisfied unless they get more than they really need. We
thought that Memphis, Elvis’s hometown, would be the perfect over-the-top
Elvis Presley’s Memphis, the King’s version of a Hard Rock Cafe, sits
on the corner of Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Brian and I had
decided to go uber-tourist while in Memphis and thought it only proper to
eat in the biggest themed-restaurant the city had to offer. Not only can
you dine alongside the only pool table that can claim to have hosted both
the King and the Beatles, but you can feast upon artery-clogging meals based
on recipes from Graceland’s former chef. While the
Elvis-look-alike-rockabilly band played and dozens of TV screens flashed
memorable Elvis moments, Brian ate the King’s favorite meatloaf and I had
the most sinful dinner ever created: the fried peanut butter and banana
sandwich. I wasn’t a fan of Elvis before that night, but how can I not
worship a man that ate these decadent sandwiches like they were going out of
After getting our feet wet in the obsessive world of everything-Elvis
we felt prepared for a visit to Graceland the next day. We were hoping to
see the best that devoted fans had to offer: Elvis impersonators, women
weeping at his doorstep, and a lot of really big sideburns. So, it was
quite a shock to arrive in Graceland and find that everyone there was
normal. Thirty years older than us, but normal. In fact, Brian may have had
the longest sideburns there. Even Graceland itself was a modest-sized
house, the kind of thing you’d find in any well-off American neighborhood.
The one person we thought we could count on to go big had gone respectable.
Elvis’s grave at Graceland
But then we got inside this deceptive house and found the Holy Grail of
kitsch waiting for us. Fifteen-foot white couches, stained glass peacock
windows, green shag carpet on the ceilings, a whole room covered in one
fabric. And to our surprise, we found that Elvis, his parents and his
grandmother were all buried in the backyard. Elvis’s fans had finally
delivered. His grave was covered in flowers, poems, wreaths, stuffed
animals, and statues made of sequins, crafted with love by Elvis fan clubs
from every state. It was awesome. It was Graceland: a very special place on
Earth (or so the postcard says).
After combing the overpriced gift shops for a TCB shirt (that’s “Taking
Care of Business”, Elvis’s motto, for you non-fans) we headed back to Beale
Street for a night of debauchery in one of the only places in America that
has an open-carry policy on alcohol. Beale Street is one of the biggest
tourist attractions in Memphis even though there are only two blocks that
host a real party. There are a dozen or so bars, each claiming to have the
best barbeque and blues bands in the country but more importantly, each
establishment has a stand that sells beer and mixed drinks on the sidewalk
(so you don’t have to trouble yourself with actually walking into the
place). In the spirit of tourism, Brian ate full racks of b-b-q ribs, we
listened to live blues, and we drank our beers on the sidewalk.
We had gone big in Elvis’s hometown and now we were going to recover in
Kansas (we changed our route to get out west before winter weather closed
the national parks). We left Memphis, without finding a single pair of blue
suede shoes, and pondered the following: If you put Elvis and Dorothy (throw
in Toto for luck) in a boxing ring, who would come out on top?
There are no hostels in Memphis and the campgrounds are far from town.
To find a good deal on hotel rooms, stop in at the Tourist Center and grab a
copy of “Traveler’s Discounts”. With those coupons we were able to get a
hotel room for $40, about half the going rate for a room near Beale Street.
Graceland is a short drive outside of downtown Memphis but there are
plenty of shuttles and buses that run daily to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Graceland isn’t cheap either, but make sure to flash a student ID and a AAA
card to get a few bucks off the total price. With the ticket stub from
Graceland you get a discount on a meal at Elvis Presley’s Memphis restaurant
on Beale. Make sure to have the Fried PB and banana sandwich!