Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 – Distance Travelled 214 miles
As I quite deliberately drove to Memphis to see Graceland, I suppose it would be unfair to say that, by the evening, I felt I had more or less wasted the entire day. I did not go because I am a huge fan of Elvis, I went to see what was there. And I did. I am content that I did, but quite frankly, the almost sickly excess of the whole experience did nothing for me !
The day actually started quite well. The receptionist pointed me down the road to the Piccadilly Cafeteria (3968 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116 – in the Whitehaven Shopping Plaza). It was only about three hundred yards away, but still conscious of my need for a bit of exercise, I walked a mile or so past it and came back to it. I found a seat and ordered a pancake breakfast because I was feeling a bit fatigued and I thought the sugar might help. Mercifully, by careful negotiation with the waitress, I managed to keep my consumption down to a level of only slight excess. I say slight because all around me people ate twice what I managed to force down merely as an appetiser for what was to come. The sheer amount of food some people were able to consume astonishes me even in retrospect.
I walked back towards the motel and noticed a large number of people on the path in front of the mansion Graceland mansion (3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116), so I walked up to see. Yikes ! This was the queue to go in and there was already, in my estimation, at least a thousand people waiting with more arriving every second. Coaches were literally pouring into a large car park opposite. I had my wallet, I joined the line and I was glad I did because in a matter of minutes, the queue stretched out behind me like a long tail. I realised that I did not have my camera, but if I went back to fetch it, I would lose my place. It took close to an hour to get to the front where I was relieved of $30 dollars for the experience I was about to enjoy. Although I do use the word “enjoy” advisedly. In a way, I cannot deny, it was fascinating and also like a photograph of what it had looked like on the day, twenty-nine years before when Elvis had died. It was totally “period”, but it also hinted at a level of self-indulgent excess that was completely staggering. It was all, perhaps, a little sad. Obviously, nobody ever dared say to Elvis “this is too much”. Even his Cadillac in the adjacent Auto Museum (3797 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116) was a garish pink ! I trailed around for a couple of hours, surrounded and jostled by scores of adoring fans, many of whom were dressed as Elvis. I do not mind his music. Once in Thailand, Lucie and I had a very enjoyable evening in a bar where there was an “Elvis Impressionator” (that is what the sign said !) and we were both amazed at how many of his songs we were familiar with. But this slavish devotion, on such a huge scale, was a little bit spooky. When I finally emerged, the air felt delightfully fresh !
I only just managed to make it back to the Day’s Inn in time for the noon checkout, although they did seem quite relaxed at my tardiness. I rode across the road, parked for a couple of snaps by the “Graceland” sign and hit the road for Alabama.
To make things slightly more interesting, I chose a slightly extended route which would take me to Tupelo, where “you know who” was born (Elvis, not Lord Voldemort). This was NOT, I stress to make some ghoulish homage to his birthplace, but principally to make sure I enjoyed a little bit of yet another State, this time Mississippi.
I first headed almost directly across Memphis on Winchester Road in an easterly direction before a sign helpfully pointed me towards Tupelo down Route 4, which, as I crossed into the State of Mississippi, became Route 78. This, in turn, changed its designation to Interstate 22. Sometimes it seemed the authorities were deliberately out to confuse.
I continued on the I-22 for some distance. The way ran through forested hills and low mountains which were reasonably picturesque but nothing to really write home about. The clouds were low and the air was damp and it was periodically raining lightly which made the road surface, a bit rough in places, slightly treacherous. This was particularly noticeable when, from time to time, some huge truck thundered past. It was not really that far, but when I came at last to Tupelo, it felt like I had ridden a long way. I was completely “Elvised Out” so I declined the multiple invitations to visit his birthplace, which would have entailed wet city streets. I continued on the I-22 as far as Tremont, where Muscle Shoals was signposted and I swapped the I-22 for Route 23 heading north. In keeping with the day I was having, the light rain continued and I consciously swapped the 23 for Route 76, which became Route 24 as I crossed into the State of Alabama. A few miles later, I had to change again when the signs for Muscle Shoals indicated that Route 247 was what I needed. I held to that road, through many more miles of mountainous, thickly forested country until I finally came to Route 72 only a few miles from my destination. I was damp all over and fairly cold, so the sight of the Tennessee River in a deep valley that, in some places was practically a gorge failed to inspire me as it might, otherwise, have done.
When I came to Muscle Shoals, there was a new twist because the road forked into Route 72 and Route 72-Alt. The 72 went into the town, so I chose that and, with the unceasing mist of falling moisture starting to erode my will to continue, if not to live, I chose the first place to stay that I noticed through my steamy visor. This was the Red Roof Inn (2807 Woodward Ave, Muscle Shoals, AL 35661). It was totally standard in that it was cheap, clean and had everything I wanted which was a shower, a bed and to be out of the rain.
While I sat there it stopped raining at least, but it was getting quite dark. I did not really fancy riding anywhere, but I had sort of wanted to see famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (3614 N Jackson Hwy, Sheffield, AL 35660) where Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded their first album (although it was not the one issued first, music buffs) and to which they refer in the song “Sweet Home Alabama”. A helpful little free map in reception showed this to be almost straight up the road I was lodging on. I grabbed my helmet and was up there in under 10 minutes. It was a surprisingly uninspiring brick building, decked out with little lights. Well, I saw it. On the way back to the inn, I also spotted what is the equally famous Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) Recording Studio (603 Avalon Ave, Muscle Shoals, AL 35661). I confess I had not previously heard of that one, but thanks to my little leaflet, I found out that Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin had walked through that door. As had a singer called Bobbie Gentry. Whilst less well known, Bobbie was attractive enough (in my youth) for the lyrics of one of her songs to be the reason why I can infallibly spell Mississippi without even thinking about it.
I was feeling a little bit hungry by then and, as I parked, I could see an illuminated sigh for Captain D’s (2710 Woodward Ave, Muscle Shoals, AL 35661) almost opposite the inn. This turned out to have a fish and seafood menu and I chose a warming Gumbo soup, followed by a rather pleasant plate of white fish, shrimps and crab cakes. One of the side-dishes with this was called “Hush-Puppies”. This called to mind a suede shoe of my youth, but which turned out to be little balls of fried corn flour. Cholesterol City, but strangely moreish. The rain had intensified, so I confess the rather sweet Pecan pie I finished the meal with was a final capitulation to comfort eating after a drab day.
Back in the hotel, I washed a few things through, put everything damp on the radiator, took a long, hot shower and fell into a deep sleep in which a Pink Cadillac almost certainly figured in my dreams.