Sunday, August 30, 2009

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation, Part 1: Going to Graceland

Growing up, I never really liked Elvis Presley. I didn't get what the big deal was. Both of my parents overplayed the oldies radio station in Ft. Wayne while we rode in the car, which overplayed Elvis. By the time I reached high school I vowed that if an Elvis song came on the radio the channel would instantly be changed. There would be no Elvis in my life. No hunka hunka, no pelvic twists, no nothin'. But something shifted in me this summer. I had only applied for one job position with the legal department at the Indiana Department of Education. It was the end of May and finals had ended about a month ago. I still hadn't heard from the IDOE. I felt a bit lost. As much as I had psyched myself into not working for the summer, I knew that all of the feelings of confusion and displacement I had been feeling for the past two years while in law school would only intensify if I didn't work. I need purpose. I wasn't getting that from law school. I felt like I had made a mistake; I had missed what God wanted me to do. I needed to take a pilgrimage. I needed to be inspired. I needed to be reminded of who I was and am, and where my passions and desires lie. And something inside of me wouldn't let go of the conclusion that I needed to go to Graceland to figure it out.

While waiting out a magnificent summer storm in the School of Education's library, I struck up a gchat conversation with my best friend, Stacie. We were both bored. She was planning a wedding and her future in Guam with her new husband. I was planning my first day of work at a "grown up job" (as I got the position at the IDOE...this is a whole nother blog post) and my glum future of more "grown up jobs" as a new lawyer.

"We should go to Graceland," I said to her.
"That sounds fun. We'll have to look at our schedules and figure something out."
"What are you doing this weekend."
"Well, nothing actually."
"Then let's go."

Five hours later, Stacie was in Bloomington and we were packed and giddy as ever to get to Memphis. Every hour, on the hour, we played Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" to keep in high spirits. There was definitely some Marc Cohn thrown into the ipod playlist, along with Johnny Cash, Paul Simon and gospel music. Stacie and I talked and laughed and thought. Just being with my best friend reminded me of who I was. The events and circumstances of my life over the past two years apparently created a murky obstruction between me and me, making me insecure of myself and my abilities, and forgetting how to enjoy just being me, without the worry of my status academically, occupationally, or relationally.

The trip in general seemed to be driven by fate, but one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, outside of Graceland, was orchestrated by a higher power than coincidence. On our first gas stop, we pulled off of the ramp and into a BP surrounded by backwoods. As we pulled in, I noticed the guy (I would say gentleman, but something tells me that he would've been offended by such a polite address) at the pump kiosk next to us as he raised his eyebrows at Stacie and me, and raised my nausea and gag reflux. "Here we go," I thought to myself. We got out of the car to stretch and fill the tank when we were startled by the staccato honk of a car horn. I thought it was my car, as odd as that sounds, because there has been some sort of fuse short that causes my car alarm to randomly go off. At the sound of the horn, I involuntarily moved for my keys and the automatic lock button, when I was surprised to find that the honking had stopped, and a woman sitting in the driver's seat of the car while the aformentioned guy pumped gasoline into her minivan, rested a cigarette between her fingers and dangled it out the window in a way that made me nervous we might all blow up if she flipped the ash while she exhaled, looked at me and in a conciliating manner said, "Woap. Just my titties." I looked at Stacie. Before we could respond, the eyebrow-raising, gas pumping guy interjected his opinion into the matter. "Thank God for Boobies!" to which the double-D horn honking boob woman interjected a little anectdotal nugget of wisdom to all of us at BP. "They either catch food or catch the horn." I had nothing. Sometimes, I can be witty, but this situation was beyond me. All I knew to do was laugh, and that's just what I did. I laughed to the point that I had to dash to the bathroom. When I came back out to the car, Stacie was finishing up at the pump and we were rearranging our stuff in the car as we prepared to switch drivers, when, from around the corner (the same corner where all of the action took place with the horn honking knockers) a teenage girl appeared holding a pink, helium-inflated balloon on a ribbon. I like to think of her as an angel. "Do you want this balloon?" she asked of us. We didn't really know what to say. We didn't need the balloon, but it was just such a sweet, albeit odd, gesture. "You don't want it?" Stacie responded in that way that Stacie does, which is a combination of shock that you would want to give away something cool like a balloon, and shock that borders disgust that you're actually offering something as ridiculous as a balloon to strangers. "We don't have room for it." "Um, sure, okay," we said. We were a bit perplexed at how they didn't have the room for the balloon, seeing as there were three of them in a minivan with no luggage, but we were happy to skootch up our seats and sacrifice what little leg room we had in the two-door VW Beetle to make room for the balloon. After the perplexity wore off, we looked at the balloon and noticed a graphic on it. "Lambert's Cafe, Home of Throwed Rolls." A few miles later, we saw a billboard also advertising Lambert's throwed rolls. This was not just coincidence. This was a sign. We decided that on the way back to Indiana, regardless of how far out of the way it might be, we were going to stop at Lambert's Cafe. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. Cracker Barrell, on crack. And, it became the home to one of the greatest memories I have in my friendship with Stacie. While sitting waiting for our absurdly large entrees to arrive, Stacie and I decided to record ourselves requesting rolls and instead of catching the roll, we would be caught off guard by the throwed roll and get hit in the head by it, maybe even knocking my glasses off of my face. I've never thought anything was as funny as this. We kept it up the entire drive home, recording ourselves getting hit with a roll while driving the car, while pumping gas, and even while reading a book in bed. (see videos below)

There were other memorable moments, such as witnessing roadkill armadillo for the first time, driving past the pyramid in Memphis and being thoroughly creeped out by the weird statue of Rameses at the entrance to the pyramid and being even more creeped out by a black cat darting out in front of our car at exactly midnight, getting spray-on Elvis tatoos, being offended when our waiter said he could tell we weren't locals (probably because of our Elvis tatoos), witnessing the Peabody Ducks march to the fountain, counting well over 75 people wearing plaid shorts while at a baseball game, the music on Beale Street, A.Schwab's, and Stacie reading off street signs and telling me that we were coming up on "Schmain St.", which turned out to be "S. Main St." But all paled in comparison to Graceland.

I showed up to Graceland as an excited tourist ready for tacky. I left Graceland in awe. You start the tour in the mansion, which was even more delciously tacky than I could have ever asked for. The den, the pool room, the jungle room. All unbelievable in their decorum. I was snapping pictures left and right, and acting in a way that I'm sure I was more than obnoxious to those around me. But then, we headed outside of the mansion, to the garage where we watched a clip of an interview Elvis gave when he came back from serving in the army. Something started to shift in me. I started to realize, for the first time, that Elvis wasn't just a novelty. He was a real person. Before I could fully develop an admiration, I was scooted off to the record hall, where all of Elvis' awards (sans his international awards) are housed. I was completely paralyzed as I took the turn around the corner and saw the hallway that seemed to stretch for eternity, with nothing but gold and platinum records covering the walls, and shelves of grammies and awards. It's hard to put into words what exactly someone has, but Elvis had that. Back and forth throughout the tour, I was confronted and reminded in a back and forth rotation of how down to earth and normal Elvis was and how outstanding and unique he was. Characteristics that seem to conflict with one another but somehow both existed within the capacity of this one man. That's what made Elvis so special. That's what drew people to him. That was that "something." It was fascinating. He transcended all boundaries. One moment I won't forget on the tour was while we were in the racquetball room. A room full of all generations, literally from all around the world, jammed in this room with four 30 foot high walls covered with international awards and displays of some of Elvis' most memorable stage outfits, practically in silence, outside of Elvis' music reverburating off the walls, all mesmerized by one man. A father leaned down to his little daughter and pointed at a television screen, excitedly saying, "I got to watch this concert live on television when I was about your age."

I have tried to find the right words to express how I feel about Elvis today. Adoration, respectful, captivated, attracted. These are a few words that come to mind when I try to explain what I thought after leaving Graceland. But it just doesn't seem to fully convey my sentiments. I suppose the only thing that I can really say to communicate my opinions on Elvis is that at the end of the tour when we reached his grave, I became so overwhelmed by his presence that I choked up and started crying. Going to Graceland and vicariously experiencing a sliver of Elvis' life impacted mine in a rather surreal way. I never thought of Elvis being in that elite group of individuals that I aspire to, like Benjamin Franklin, my grandparents, and Gilda Radner, but he's there now.