September 18 2009 by Jason Fogelson
Another big day today. We're going to Graceland.
We check out of the Best Western Suites after a quick free breakfast in the lobby. It's been a nice stay, but we've got places to go, and the King to see.
A short ride on the Interstate, and we're piloting Melvis down Elvis Presley Boulevard. On the south side of the street, there are the famous gates with Elvis's silhouette and musical notes. We pull in to the Graceland parking lot on the north side, and sit Melvis alone to wait in the shade. The guards at the gate are kind enough to let us know that there are lockers at the visitors' center where we can stow our helmets and jackets while we are on our tour, a great convenience for motorcyclists and others for just 50 cents. We pay our admission fee, and board a shuttle bus for Graceland Mansion and a self-guided audio tour. Each guest is handed a headset and a small Walkman-like device. A very pleasant, informative soundtrack guides you through the public areas of Elvis' home and grounds - the private areas (bedrooms and bathrooms) are off-limits. The famous Jungle Room still draws gasps of wonder, with its green shag-carpeted ceiling and indoor waterfall. My favorite room is Elvis's rec room, decorated in bright yellow and blue with his TCB lightning bolt logo on the wall and a mirrored ceiling. The trophy room provides a great historical look through Elvis's career accomplishments. It's amazing to look over all that Elvis did and then to realize that he died at the age of 42. He's been dead for over 30 years, and still people listen to his music, watch his films and visit his grave. Which is right there at the Mansion, at the end of the tour. In the light of Michael Jackson's recent demise, Elvis' story feels all the more current and tragic to me right now. Though Graceland is decidedly tiny, tacky and a little bit sad, it is an absolute must for any true music fan to visit.
A free shuttle runs from Graceland to downtown Memphis, Sun Studio and Beale Street, leaving on the hour from 11 am to 5 pm daily. We decide to leave Melvis safely parked at Graceland and hop the shuttle to Beale Street, where we have more tours planned.
Gibson Beale Street Showcase is a factory tour of one of Gibson Guitar's manufacturing centers. Gibson builds its semi-hollow electric guitars and a few others at this factory, including the ES335 and the B.B. King "Lucille" model. The tour takes us right into the heart of the factory, walking through the production floor and watching up close as luthiers (guitar builders) built, painted, polished and assembled the beautiful instruments with a combination of high-tech process and old-world handcrafting. It was an inspirational tour for a guitarist like myself.
Inspiration leads to hunger, at least for me. After a morning of Elvis and mid-day guitars, only more barbeque could answer the call. Charles Vergos' Rendezvous came highly recommended from many sources. We scuttle across Beale Street to the little alley across from the Peabody Hotel, and find the Rendezvous in a subterranean room. Because it's lunchtime, there's only one item on the menu: Ribs. Fine with us. We dive into two orders of ribs, and they are fantastic. If there are better ribs around, I'd be happy to find them and compare. For now, the Rendezvous ribs will fuel my fire.
We jump back on the free shuttle, full of ribs and eager to get back to Melvis for the next leg of our ride. We've gone as far west as you can go in Tennessee without hitting Arkansas, and now it's time to head back east.
We leave the Memphis area on Highway 57, discovering the elegant suburbs of Germantown, Collierville and Rossville. Suburbia quickly thins and turns to country again down a beautiful scenic stretch of road to La Grange. In Selmer, we switch to US 64, which seems to be the beneficiary of plenty of Federal Stimulus money, as it is being improved along almost every mile. Already a lovely route, it will be a fantastic modern road when it is done from end to end and an easy way to traverse Tennessee from west to east.
Part of the route is designated as "Buford Pusser Highway." Buford Pusser (1937- 1974) became the Sheriff of McNairy County at a time when corruption and lawlessness threatened the area. He became famous for bringing law and order while carrying a 3 foot wooden stick, and was immortalized in the "Walking Tall" movies of the 1970s. The town of Adamsville maintains Pusser's home as a museum in his honor, the Buford Pusser Home and Museum, open to the public seven days a week.
We ride in to Lawrenceburg just ahead of some threatening storm clouds, and see our first tiny rain drops of the trip as we pull in to the parking lot of the Best Western Villa Inn . Happily, the friendly desk clerk let us park Melvis under the cover of the front canopy for the night, safe from any rain that might fall.
Because of the threatening weather, we decide to stick close to the hotel for dinner - which means Shoney's next door. Not exactly fine dining, but to our delight, the special that night turns out to be "Breakfast Buffet for Dinner." I'm able to get my fill of grits, biscuits and gravy and fried baloney without having to jump onto a motorcycle right after.
We wish we could explore Lawrenceburg, home town of actor Michael Jeter and onetime presidential hopeful Fred Dalton Thompson, but we can only huddle in our hotel room and wait for the weather to pass.
Next: Tennessee, Day Four: Lawrenceburg to Chattanooga