“Goin’ to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee”–Paul Simon

Greg was about five years old when Paul Simon released his Graceland album.  I have wonderful memories of the two of us singing along all the way to daycare, Greg’s little blonde head bobbing in time to the music.  I never thought that decades later, we’d be visiting Graceland together! Elvis purchased Graceland when he was 22, and for the time, it was quite a mansion, but not so much by today’s standards.  According to the audio guide, this is the way the living room looked when he lived there. Growing up, I wasn’t a big Elvis fan, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate how much he contributed to popular music.  His achievements are impressive, and the Graceland tour does an effective job highlighting them.

Elvis’ racquetball court is now a display room for his hit records. Pretty impressive, when you see them all amassed in one place.

How sad that his life ended the way it did.   Are there many music superstars that have been able to manage their celebrity? I’m thinking of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the list goes on and on.
The Graceland complex is a marketing machine. We bought the “platinum” tour, (but found a half price ticket on the Internet) which got us into the car museum, the planes, and a couple of rooms with videos of Elvis on tour. Here’s Greg, doing his Elvis imitation, as he climbs into the Lisa Marie, an early jet, that was customized with a bedroom, living room and conference table. Ah, those most definitely were friendly skies!
Other than the mansion itself, every site is accessed through a gift shop containing every item imaginable with Elvis’ name or picture slapped onto it: pajama tops and bottoms, trivets, key chains, sunglasses. It is a money machine…and I’m sure, very good for the city of Memphis, providing jobs for lots of its citizens.
One of the things that I loved most about my former job was my wonderful customers. I traveled to Memphis at least twice a year for the past 10 years, visiting International Paper. We would conduct our meeting then enjoy a fantastic dinner together. Let me tell you, Memphis has some of the best restaurants in the United States!
This time, I had no business responsibilities, but was fortunate enough to spend time with Jim, who graciously took us to lunch and gave us a tour of places I hadn’t discovered on prior visits. The highlight was his partner’s studio.   Brantley has done some amazing pieces, one of which is hanging in the Memphis Civil Rights Museum. Enough for this post…but more on Memphis to follow.

Country, soul, rock and roll–Tennessee’s got me singing the blues

Well, we never made it to the Grand Ol Opry, but we DID stay in the Opryland area, at the Radisson, which was  a more cost effective choice than Gaylord’s Opryland Hotel.

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The Radisson offered a free shuttle that took us to the Gaylord Opryland complex, where we had lunch.  That place was clearly the country western fan’s version of Disneyworld: gorgeous setting, but mediocre, over priced food.

Had we really wanted to attend the Opry, our just-in-time planning would have failed us. Considering that I thought Rascal Flatts was a singer’s name, it wasn’t a huge tragedy that we didn’t get tickets. Instead we made our way downtown, to enjoy the sights and sounds of Broadway.

Looks like Mike and I weren’t the only ones to decide that memorial day weekend was a dandy time to get married.

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Have you ever worried that sitting on a bar stool is bad for your health? Nashville has effectively addressed that issue. Where are the Sombrero sisters when I need them?

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Gives new meaning to “pedaling your body all over town”.

After enjoying the musical offerings on the street and in several bars, we made our way back to the hotel for an authentic barbecue dinner, with authentic country western singers, that will undoubtedly be discovered and soon be playing across the street on the big Opryland stage.

On to Memphis, home of the King!

Go west, young man (and mother)

Day Two’s destination was Knoxville. We weren’t in a particular hurry to get there. I’m sure it is a perfectly lovely city, but it just didn’t SPEAK to us.

Natural Bridge on the other hand, almost shouted “stop! Ya gotta see me!” , so we did, and we did. Once inside the Natural Bridge complex, and it IS a complex, we decided to forego the wax museum, the toy museum, the Native American village, and yes, even the Natural Bridge, in favor of the caverns. Hey, they had large pictures of the bridge. I can’t imagine that the real deal
would look a whole lot different. Besides, it was getting a tad hot, and we figured the caverns would be a nice, cool break from the heat.

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We weren’t disappointed. The caverns were quite beautiful, and the sweet young guide did a stellar job telling the story of their creation, as we descended 34 stories into the earth. At least they SAY it is 34 stories. I find that highly doubtful, given that we not only walked down, but back up. Regardless of the depth, it was a fun experience.

The moss on one wall almost had a Jurassic Park vibe to it.

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It was fairly dark down there, so it was a bit of a challenge to get a photo that does the stalactites justice, but I gave it a shot, so to speak.

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Although day two covered almost 400 miles, the drive wasn’t tedious. Great company, glorious scenery and enough stations on Sirius to keep us entertained and in a Tennessee state of mind–who could ask for anything more?

We managed to get hungry just in the right spot…near Daleville, the home of the Three Little Pigs Restaurant. Now, I’m not an expert on barbecue, but I have to say, they had the finest pig I’ve ever tasted. Plus, we loved the decor.

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I'm thoroughly enjoying letting this trip unfold, with little to no preplanning. It is quite a novel experience for me, the Organization Queen. Greg pointed out we are practicing "just in time" delivery, something that Toyota does…and look how successful THEY are.

Our last minute hotel choice proved to be an excellent one, just west of Knoxville, one exit past the Adult SuperStore. No, we didn't stop. Something told us there would be several similar establishments along the way. We sure were right about that, but we were moving too fast for me to snap a photo of the billboards.

Wanting to relive the Cinco de Mayo experience, we chose a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and managed to catch a birthday celebration. The waiters sang, dressed the birthday boy in hat and serape and did SOMETHING to get that white gunk on his face. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough with my camera to capture exactly what.

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Heading to Nashville for Day 3.