161. Graceland

Elvis Presley’s Graceland: Unlike our trip from Oregon to Florida in 2006, Amy and I have packed our current cross-country itinerary with some of the greatest American road trip stops in human history. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Here’s how it happens.

The Wait: In our case, we waited a full 32 hours before actually getting in because we arrived on a Monday night to find that Graceland is closed on Tuesdays. Besides using this time to see Memphis (recommended), we also used it to download Elvis music and begin the process of saturating our consciousness with the sappy, tender melodies of the best selling musician of all time. When the big day finally arrived, we had already seen the Sun Studio space where the King cut his first record, all of the hotel signs along Elvis Presley Blvd. that boast “All King” beds, and listened to Elvis’s 50 greatest hits on continuous repeat about two dozen times.

The Tickets and More Waiting: Like any good tourist attraction, Graceland offers a tiered ticket system. Prices start with the basic mansion tour and rise all the way to something called the “VIP Entourage Tour” which would have cost us more than our entire week’s budget. We shot for the midrange “Platinum Package” which included access to the inside of Elvis’ jet planes. Tickets in hand, we moved to a second long line, waiting for the shuttle.

The Shuttle: Is necessary because Graceland is actually across the street.

The Mansion: The shuttle dumps you out at Graceland’s front door, a house that is a collision between a colonial mansion and a crappy split level Brady Bunch house. Never mind the outside, because it’s the furnishings you’re here to see. These furnishings, they do not disappoint.

Downstairs: This is where you are allowed to go. Equipped with an audio tour narrated by an actor who sounds like Sam Elliott but is not, you will shuffle in line through the common rooms, each one more absurdly and ornately decorated than the last, with the big payout assumed to be the Jungle Room. I actually found the Jungle Room to be the most disappointing, much preferring the rumpus rooms in the basement. The yellow vinyl padded room that features a wall with three color televisions simultaneously broadcasting god knows what. Or the billiards room with the paisley circus tent ceiling. And even the stairwell back up from the basement to the jungle room, with walls wrapped in green, deep-pile carpeting. But the jungle room itself? Orange lampshades, brown leather sofas and a couple of leopard print pillows. Yawn. Now onto the upstairs.

Upstairs: You’re not actually allowed to go upstairs.

The Grounds: Disappointed by not being allowed to see the upstairs bathroom where Elvis collapsed in an overdose heap of pills, you are now allowed to wander around the grounds, touring various outbuildings that house Elvis’ massive collection of awards, gold records, memorabilia and most famous jumpsuits. These jumpsuits, like the furnishings, do not disappoint.

The Jumpsuits: You are NOT allowed to touch Elvis’ amazing bejeweled jumpsuits, not even if you ask nicely twenty five times. Most of the memorabilia and jumpsuits are safely housed behind glass cases but those that are not are secured behind thick velvet ropes. If you reach across these velvet ropes, even just to make a harmless pointing gesture, your movement will be noticed by one of a thousand security cameras, prompting a voice to boom out over the loudspeakers, “PLEASE DO NOT REACH TOWARDS THE EXHIBITS, THANK YOU, THANKYOUVERYMUCH.” I did not try this, but saw several who did and witnessed the same reprimand each time. I like to imagine that if you don’t obey the loudspeaker, you will be sent to Graceland Jail.

Graceland Jail: I’m pretty certain this doesn’t actually exist.

Elvis’ Grave: If you manage to stay out of Graceland Jail, the mansion tour concludes with a look at the graves of Elvis and his parents, just out back behind the pool. The graves are covered with beautiful flower arrangements sent year round by fan clubs from around the world. Despite the fact that the King of Rock N’ Roll is buried in his backyard in the manner usually reserved for beloved household pets, I would actually describe this part of the tour as “pretty awesome.”

Other Exhibits and Gift Shops: When you book the Platinum Tour Package, you’re given access to several add-on exhibits, each one with its own gift shop. These included a museum of Elvis’ car and golf cart collections, a tour of the Lisa Marie jet plane with gold plated seat belts and a queen sized bed, an additional museum of less-popular jumpsuits and a brief display on Elvis’ short stint in the US Army. Most of these exhibits suck.

The Final Analysis: A day at Graceland is a minimum $50 commitment per person in your party, including some compulsory junk from the gift shop, so you may find yourself thinking long and hard about whether or not a tour of Graceland is right for you. Don’t think. Just go. And then tell everyone you know that it was one of the wildest, weirdest stops on your road trip because boy, is it ever. I’m in love, I’m all shook up.

Photos: The living room; Amy in the dining room; a fan in the Jungle Room; Amy with memorabilia; the billiards room and; graffiti outside on Elvis Presley Blvd.



 

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