I’m practising my Willie Nelson songs to sing along with Murray when we get to Austin, Texas tomorrow, but I’ve had an encounter with Elvis too, so it’s been a rock/western medley of a weekend.
We’ve had a busy week preparing to go away for our first major trip of the year. Purdue is on Spring break for a week and Peter has a conference in Nashville, Tennessee the following week, so we will be away from West Lafayette for two weeks.
Sue helped us get in the “Texas mood” by having a farewell TexMex dinner for us on Friday night. She is a very creative and imaginative hostess, and looked spectacular dressed in her cowgirl gear. Daughter Heidi loaned me her 10 gallon hat so I could also be in theme, but I think it must have been a 12 gallon variety, as it was only the rim of my glasses that prevented the hat devouring my entire head. The table centrepiece was a riding boot (filled with flowers) and the serviettes were bandanas. Peter and I were presented with Western ties to enable us to dress appropriately on our Texas tour. We had a wonderful night, but headed home reasonably early as we needed to rest up in preparation for the hectic schedule prepared for us in Austin.
Saturday morning was wet and windy as we left town and headed down through western Indiana and across southern Illinois. The weather eventually improved enough for us to be able to stop at a few antique shops and to venture into historic Cairo. This “riverboat” town is located on the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the grand mansions and once elegant main business area bear testimony to its glory days of yore. Its current state of depression and disrepair tell a sadder tale. We then drove on into Missouri, down the eastern side of Arkansas and then across the border into Memphis, Tennessee.
Since we were down that way, I could not miss the opportunity to visit Gracelands and pay my tribute to The King. Now, after many miles of driving in a number of countries, Peter and I have come to a clear understanding of our particular talents in finding or way through big cities – I drive and he navigates. It appears that our talents in these regards are exclusive and complementary. Unfortunately our arrival in Memphis found him driving and me navigating. Suffice to say, we ended up in Mississippi before Peter was able to find a place to pull over, for him to take the map and for me to take the wheel. With the proper balance restored, we soon found ourselves settled in a (very crummy) motel about 100 yards from Gracelands itself. The good thing about our wayward entrance into Memphis was that we managed to add three new states to our tally in one day – Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I’m now up to 23 and Peter, 25. We walked next door for one of “Tony’s famous hamburgers” and then returned to our motel for a well-earned sleep. Some other options for accommodation were the “Heartbreak Hotel”, just across the street, or another nearby motel which offered all-night free Elvis movies. Decisions!
Tours of Gracelands started at 10am which meant a late start to our second day’s travels, but the wait was well worth it. While we waited for the Gracelands folk to rise and shine, we had a quick breakfast and headed downtown to explore a little of Memphis. The huge pyramid-shaped basketball stadium and entertainment centre is a most amazing structure. I was sorry we were not able to get inside to investigate it further. We also went to the Sun Studios where Elvis made his first recording. It didn’t open until later in the day, but by peering through the door, we could see that the walls were adorned with memorabilia of Elvis and some of the many other famous names such as Roy Orbison, Ringo Starr, and Conway Twitty who also used the facilities. We then headed back to get in queue to see Elvis’s place.
The mansion is set well back from a very busy thoroughfare now called Elvis Presley Boulevard and sits on about a 16 acre site. The tours run like clockwork and there appears to be no shortage of adoring fans ready to pay out to get a glimpse behind the legend. Several blocks are devoted to Elvis museums, displays, or gift shops. My mind went back to Liverpool when Hannah, Peter and I sought vainly for a place where we could buy some Beatles souvenirs. There was one shop down near the Cavern nightclub, but it was closed! They could learn a thing or two from the Elvis spectacular.
We were directed to our shuttle bus which is one of many that run continuously from the museum and gift shop complex across EP Boulevard to the mansion, and we were supplied with headsets and audio equipment that enabled us to customise our own narration. We entered the ground floor of the house looking into the living and dining rooms, on through the kitchen and into his pool room, which was decorated with about 350 yards of richly patterned fabric. The fabric was pleated and draped to cover the walls and ceiling. His “jungle room” was just as fascinating. Here he had installed green shag carpet on the floor and ceiling and included decorator items such as a huge circular fur covered chair. Needless to say, I have lots of ideas now to help me decorate my next home!!!
The display also told his life story, including his early family life, his TV performances and the resulting debate they generated, his time in the army, his marriage, and his post-army career. All his platinum and gold records and other awards are on display as are many of his extraordinary costumes. Of course, I would have been more excited if it were a Cliff Richard display, but even Cliff acknowledged the influence that Elvis had on his own career. In fact much of Cliff’s early work is a not very subtle imitation of Elvis, even down to the pouty look.
We said “Thank you, thank you very murch!” to the fine folks at Gracelands and resumed our journey. Within a few minutes we were back into Arkansas and we decided to take the main Interstate route to Little Rock to get a few miles under our belt for the day. From there we took a more scenic route along some less major roads through some hills, by some more little antique malls and shops which caught our attention, and then into Hot Springs. I was totally amazed and enchanted by this town.
Set in the hills far from anywhere, Hot Springs is like a transplanted piece of Victorian England. Beautiful hotels and bath houses have been constructed to house the natural hot waters which gush from the earth. For many years, people have come to luxuriate and restore their health in these elegant bath houses. The town has a prosperous and vibrant air, with many craft, souvenir, and antique shops adding to the holiday atmosphere.
We still had many miles to cover, and continued on the very back roads of Arkansas until we crossed the border into Texas just on dusk. We stopped for petrol and dinner and continued driving for another hour to give us a reasonable trip tomorrow down through Dallas and into Austin.
You’ll have to ask Nick the answer to last week’s quiz. He has all the details on that one. This week’s question should be relatively easy, so I expect lots of replies!
What famous (or is that infamous) US leader is associated with the two towns in Arkansas we visited today, Little Rock and Hot Springs?