When I travel across the country, I often ask myself if I could live where I’m visiting.
Last night, I had a terrific dinner downtown Memphis at the Mesquite Chops on Union Street. The food was a great mix of traditional dishes with a twist. The blueberry crème brûlée and the spicy deviled eggs were especially intriguing and the duck perfectly cooked.
Earlier, on Beale Street, two young African American brothers performed cartwheels and back flips, hosts and hostesses gave away fliers advertising drinks and food, and music blasted from doors opened on dark, steamy bars.
It was easy to envision Otis Reading, BB King, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash or Elvis walking on the street.
My husband, the Elvis Presley’s fan, had booked us rooms at the Heartbreak Hotel. If you are used to the comfort of the big hotel chains, the Heartbreak Hotel will disappoint you. But there is in the absence of Wi-Fi and HBO, something freeing and very kitsch, totally appropriate at Graceland.
The mansion is not a mansion in today’s standards, but when Elvis bought the property, he was only twenty-two years old, and Graceland became his beloved refuge where family and close friends gathered.
And did he need some privacy!
Even though I’m neither a huge fan of Elvis nor an expert on his musical career, I found the visit of Graceland, set in a woodsy natural-looking park, somehow moving.
Elvis Presley’s success still resonates today. His name is familiar to all of us. Most of his songs are hits and still played. That I knew.
But walking through his house and his gardens where he is buried alongside his stillborn twin brother, his parents and his grandmother brings another dimension to the man who shook the music scene in the 50’s.
Later a shuttle carried us to the shops, the automobile museum that harbors Elvis’s cars and motorcycles collection, his two private jets he used for concerts and personal pleasure, and the dinner that serves typical 1950’s food.
My son and I craved a milkshake. We were up since 6:30 a.m. and it seemed just the right drink to enjoy before heading east to town to the Lorraine Motel.
The motel sits on Mulberry Street and the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot is now decorated with a white, red, and blue wreath. Two replicas of the cars driven by the people who accompanied him to Memphis are parked right under the balcony. The National Civil Rights Museum is hosted in the motel.
Across the street two African American women stood behind a small table, urging people to boycott the museum, which they insisted is an insult to Martin Luther King’s memory. They condemned the government for orchestrating the murder of the civil rights movement’s leader.
Two days ago Rodney King passed away. The words he said when Los Angeles exploded still express a palpable malaise in this country: “Can’t we get along?”
So now that I’ve left Memphis and am on the road again, I can say that it would be a cultural shock to live in Memphis, yet there is in the south a je ne sais quoi (the comfort food, the sweet tea, the gracious hospitality?) that begs for another visit.