After a motorcycle crash injured my leg, it was time to re-boot my life. The day of December 31 was Hasta la vista day to 30 years of practicing law. Fortunately, I was blessed to be in a position to see where my interests might lead. On January 8, I hit the road west. I've made the cross-country dash twice but this time three days of jail-break driving from Virginia to Arizona was not on the agenda. I-40 west runs through Memphis and the first place my interests took me was Graceland.
I hit town right after morning rush hour and found that engineers put a highway merger immediately before the exit for Elvis Presley Boulevard. A wall of speeding traffic nixed that exit. I took the next one and found my way to the visitor center, bought my ticket and boarded the bus for the ride across the street to Graceland.
A guide welcomed our group and led us between a pair of white lions and four tall white columns. The tour began in the entry with the living room's white sofa and chairs, white carpet, white Christmas tree and stained glass peacocks framing a grand piano and a TV console. Not exactly rock n' roll.
The white carpet on the stairs to the second floor was flanked by two rows of red poinsettias. Upstairs was off limits. She said it was for privacy. I'm thinking, unmade beds? Underwear on the floor? Elvis living in Howard Hughes-like seclusion? Then it hits me. We don't want people jammed up in the hallways and falling down the stairs.
That's All Right, Mama, lead on.
The formal dining room had another TV sitting on the floor, a silver punchbowl on top and a table set for a holiday gathering. A green Christmas tree stood at the far end of the table. Next we slipped past the carpeted kitchen with a TV on a counter, an iron skillet on the stove. Downstairs was a gem -- a yellow bar with matching leather stools, gleaming black walls, glass shelves with pewter tankards and white coral, a mirror ceiling and a strange pair of glass clowns. The yellow bumper along the edge of the bar cried out to be caressed but the black and white sign said Do Not Touch. Beside the bar was Elvis' media room, also in black and yellow, with three TVs in the wall where Elvis could watch all three networks at once like the network anchors did in the 1960s.
Then came the famous Jungle Room. This is a room of shadows, with green carpet on floor and ceiling, wood paneling, animal hide seat coverings and heavy, dark wood furniture carved with primitive faces and designs. It's the perfect refuge from the strictures of a formal living room.
No home or psyche is complete without one.
We moved on to rooms and buildings with old photographs, awards, movie posters, videos and other reminders of Elvis' family and career. It was the day after his birthday and the morning rain continued to fall. I didn't know if it was the date, the weather or all the reminders of Elvis, but when people talked, they talked quietly, as if we were in church or the King's chambers, which we were. Graceland wasn't a huge mansion intended to impress people. It was Elvis' home and it felt like one.
After passing through halls filled with gold records and movie costumes, photographs and posters, we came to Elvis' racquetball building. I thought, how much more could there be? Workout clothes? Favorite headbands? Racquets? Then I walked into a room with a ceiling a good two stories high. Concert costumes stood in glass cases. Dark walls were covered floor to ceiling with awards, records and other signs of his musical achievements. I wasn't the only one with my mouth hanging open.
It was the Sistine Chapel of Graceland.
If you didn't realize what a star Elvis was after seeing the collection in this room, it was never going to happen for you. People lingered in groups of two or three, trying to take it all in.
I stepped out of that wondrous room into a light rain and followed the path back to the house, the swimming pool and the small memorial garden by the pool where Elvis is buried. It seemed impossible that he was only 42 years old when he died. Flower arrangements from fans around the world filled the memorial garden. Buried between his grandmother and his parents, Elvis' grave marker is a reminder that even if fame isn't fleeting, life is.
After the ride back to the visitor center, I poked around in the gift shops, unable to leave until the spell of Graceland wore off a bit. I ate a cheeseburger and fries at the visitor center café and bought a CD of hits spanning Elvis' career. When I crossed the Mississippi on I-40 and said good-bye to Memphis, Elvis was singing Blue Suede Shoes from my CD player. It was hard for America to let him go. Years after his death, we kept him alive with Elvis sightings reported front-page in the tabloids. I guess we don't need those rumors anymore. He left us more than enough, but he left us wanting more.
Thank you, Elvis, wherever you are.