Friday, June 26, 2009

Accomplishment #34: Take a Road Trip (#23) Part 1

[Okay, this is going to be broken up into two parts, because I went a little overboard, and I'm too lazy to edit what I wrote two weeks ago.]

When I was a senior in high school, all the other kids talked about what they wanted to do for their post graduation, last high school hurrah summer. A lot of kids, including my close circle of friends, were going to Hawaii. The luckier ones were going to Europe. Me, I got a job at Crown Books in a strip mall next to a Loehmann's. Some vacation.

But I didn't want the beach or castles. What I really wanted to do -- my ultimate dream vacation -- was to take a Winnebago (with a chauffeur, because I'm smart like that) on a cross-country road trip. Me, some friends, the not annoying and unobtrusive chauffeur, and the open road. And Wall Drug and Graceland and the World's Largest Ball of Twine and thrift shops galore.

That, obviously, did not happen. For one thing, how would an 18 year-old secure a Winnebago and a not annoying, unobtrusive chauffeur? And the money and time to get one's kicks on Route 66? That $3.35 an hour I was making at Crown Books wouldn't cut it, and I had to register for classes and find cool towels and extra long twin sheets for my dorm room by mid August. And yeah right -- like my parents would say, "Okay, honey! Have fun on your madcap adventure!" as I rode off into the sunset in a cloud of smoke with a bunch of other irresponsible teenagers and unobtrusive chauffeur. Pffft.

However, my parents (shockingly) did give me permission to go on a road trip that very summer, over Fourth of July weekend. My two best friends and I drove down to Southern California, where we stopped at Pea Soup Andersen's and creepy Santa Claus Lane, went to Disneyland, played quarters with two boys from Arizona (I lost), went to Knott's Berry Farm, walked along Hollywood Blvd., and slept in the car in the Denny's parking lot the last night because we didn't have a hotel room. Good times... that we still laugh about 20 plus years later.

Marci, me, Hap-pea and Pea-Wee. Taking the photo: Traecy. Whee!

Since then I've done that trip to Southern California countless times -- sometimes with friends, often alone (and got my first speeding ticket in the King City Speed Trap while listening to, of all things, Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel")*, and once with a rat named Lucifer at my feet.

{*NOTE: I wrote this two weeks ago, before MJ's untimely demise. FREAKY!}

But I still have that dream of the open road (and the Winnebago and friends and unobtrusive chauffeur) and the whole USA. I want to see Mt. Rushmore and the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, fairy themed miniature gold courses and the Carlsbad Caverns. I want to see all that amazing Americana that's fading fast, and visit the places I've only read about in books. And even though I make slightly more than $3.35 an hour now, I'm still not exactly financially solvent enough to do it.

So when my boss suggested that we go on a road trip to the South -- Birmingham to Oxford to Nashville -- to visit accounts, I jumped at the chance. Southern literature is my most favorite genre, and to be able to actually see chinaberry trees and kudzu and Piggly Wigglys and where William Faulkner lived... heaven! And have my work pay for the rental car and expenses? Awwww yeah!

So first we flew to Birmingham, AL for a meeting, getting in late afternoon. There wasn't much time to do anything and we had to do work related stuff, but we did go to the 5 Points South area, which was cool, especially Charlemagne Records (where I bought a Frank Sinatra box set because it was cheap) and this:

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
It looks like Hap-pea or Pea-Wee!

The next morning we had our meeting, and left directly to drive to Mississippi. I think my boss thought I was weird because I had to stop and get Doritos (a road trip MUST), and he also thought I was weird because let's just say we don't have the same taste in music. He knows all new stuff that I don't care about, and I was happy as a clam shooting along the highways of Alabama, listening to Frank Sinatra sing "America the Beautiful" while he politely writhed. It was too good. I wistfully looked at all the thrift shops as we sped past, but I knew that I was pushing my luck and weirdness factor with Old Blue Eyes singing schmaltz and didn't press it. After all, I was with my boss. A little bit of professionalism was necessary.


I have a deep love for Elvis. I had a little, um, phase many years ago where I was obsessed. I thought about moving to Memphis to work in the Graceland gift shop, just for the hell of it. I even went to the Butterfield's auction and grabbed the crotch of the tuxedo Elvis wearing when he appeared on Frank Sinatra's Timex special, and asked the curator if they were selling the gun Elvis used to shoot at Bob Goulet on TV. I've even been known to win a trivia contest or two. So yeah. I love me some E.


And, had I been with my friends, I would have screamed, "OHMIGOD! PULL OVER! TUPELO! ELVIS! GLADYS! OHMIGOD!" and then launched into "Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love." But since a little bit of professionalism was, in fact, necessary, I kept the squeals down to a minimum and asked, "Ohhh, can we go? Please?"

"I don't know," my boss said. "We need to get to Oxford soon," and checking his iPhone, he told me to merge onto the upcoming highway to go south.

I thought I was going to cry. Here I was, in Tupelo, and I was missing one of the greatest landmarks of all time. Where Elvis was brought into this world, along with his stillborn twin, to spread joy and sunshine and total freakdom to the masses. I watched the exit go past, and bravely drove on.

But Elvis was looking down at me, in the guise of crappy navigational skills. "Whoops, wrong way," my boss said. "We have to double back."

"Then can we please go to Elvis's birthplace? It won't take long, I promise, I've always wanted to go, it's my total dream... and besides, we work for a TRAVEL company and we're SUPPOSED to do stuff like this!" I guess I was vehement enough and he agreed, and I happily turned on my blinker and exited, telling my boss useless and little known facts about The King, while he ignored me as best he could.

I thought I was going to PLOTZ. I waited politely for my boss to get out of the car, but practically ran to the teeny tiny house where THE KING HIMSELF was born, only to be told by the big haired tour guide lady that it was $12 to go inside. "Come on," my boss said. "I'll buy you a ticket. I've never seen you so excited about anything." (Which makes me wonder just how unenthusiastic I am at work.)

"THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER!" I shrieked, and ran to the Visitors Center.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Elvis Mecca. One of 'em, anyway.

"I'M HERE ALL THE WAY FROM CALIFORNIA!" I announced to the old ladies behind the counter.

"Woll, isn't that niiiice!" one of the ladies said. "You should sign the guestbook."

"I'M GOING TO!" I said. "BUT FIRST I NEED TO LOOK IN THE GIFT SHOP!" And I did, where I bought Elvis Presley recipe coasters, buttons, and a CD, because it was imperative that I heard "Bossa Nova Baby." "DO YOU LOVE ELVIS?" I asked the lady who was reading a romance novel behind the register.

She sighed. "Sometimes."


"I can tell," she said.

Meanwhile, my boss was talking to his boss on his iphone. "You will never guess where we are -- in Tupelo at Elvis Presley's birthplace! Karen made us come here -- I have never seen her so excited. Now anyway..." I could not fathom how anyone could talk about work when we were standing in The KINGdom, but there you have it. When he finally hung up, I pointed at a picture. "THAT'S ON HIS BIRTHDAY RIGHT AFTER HIS MOMMA DIED," I explained. "ELVIS WAS SUPER BUMMED. AND THEY MADE IT INTO A MOUSEPAD, LOOK!" And my boss was very nice and bought me the mousepad featuring Depressed Elvis, because he thought I needed a souvenir. Because, you know, everyone needs a sad Elvis picture.

And then we paid our $12 to go into THE VERY HOUSE WHERE ELVIS WAS BORN. It was just big-haired tour guide lady, me, my boss, and then two latecomers -- two elderly people that I instantly felt sorry for, because I was going to be obnoxious. I couldn't help it. It was Tupelo Tourettes.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
A little too excited.

The lady started her spiel, and I couldn't help myself. "IS THIS THE VERY BED WHERE ELVIS WAS BORN?" I asked.

"Well, no... this is all furniture that looks just like what the Presleys would have had. But that is Vernon's hat."

"COOL!" I said.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Vernon's hat!

She went on, talking about Elvis, but something was missing. "AND DON'T FORGET JESSE GARON HIS TWIN!" I instructed Big-Haired Tour Guide Lady. It would be criminal to leave him out. She looked startled.

"Honey, Jesse Garon was stillborn."

"I KNOW THAT," I said. "BUT HE WAS STILL BORN," without realizing what I said.

My boss looked like he wanted to fall through the floor.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
almost the very bed where The King and his twin were born.

So I shut up and listened to Big-Haired Tour Guide Lady, who told us some very informative facts:

Vernon and Uncle Vester built the house themselves

They didn't have wallpaper, they used newspaper

They were broke and lost the house and moved down the street, but then moved to Memphis

When Elvis got all rich he bought the house and the land and turned it into a park for poor kids to play in

they took baths once a week in an old washtub and Vernon had to heat water over a fire, and he'd heat the iron for Gladys, too, because they were poor and proud

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Cute kitchen, but I would have decorated it a bit differently.

And then she told us other stuff but I was too busy wondering about the unmentioned outhouse, and if the weekly baths meant they were stinky, and why Gladys didn't throw Vernon out because he was kind of a dog, and if, in fact, Elvis and his momma had a kind of weird relationship, because that's what Dee, Vernon's second wife said. (I think I know a bit too much.) And considering the house was as big as a postage stamp and there wasn't all that much to say about it, the tour was over in roughly 3 minutes, but it was still the best twelve bucks ever spent.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009

So then we were shuffled out of the house and I knew my boss wanted to leave right away, but there was STILL so much to see. Like a church and a fountain and a statue of Elvis around the time of the prizewinning Old Shep performance that got him on his way:

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
We make a really good couple

But being that it was a road trip, and a road trip with my boss (so I couldn't whine and stay longer and roll around on the grass or something), I knew it was time to go. Sadly I looked at the little house where the Magic happened (oh ewww), and bid it farewell. And I was so grateful that Gladys and Vernon settled here and TCB-ed and made baby Elvis who grew up and enriched so many lives. And I was grateful that I got to go to Tupelo and Elvis's birthplace after all, thanks to bad directions.

And I was grateful for another cheesy photo op:
Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Almost the car that the Presleys drove out of Tupelo to Memphis

And then it was time to get back into the rental car and head toward Oxford, our next stop. I wanted to blast "Bossa Nova Baby" as I sped off into the sunset in a cloud of smoke and I would have, if my boss wasn't in the car talking on his iphone. But I sort of did it anyway and yelled, "BYE ELVIS! I LOOOOVE YOOOUUU!!!"

And now you, too, can blast "Bossa Nova Baby," one of the best Elvis songs EVER:

Stay tuned (or not -- believe me, I don't blame you) for Part Two, in which our heroine gets busted at Faulkner's grave at midnight, and nearly gets into a fight with a Crazy Lady in a hotel bar in Nashville. Hot dog!


The Sardonicist said...

haha! what a great trip!! i'm not a big fan of elvis (i know, "BLASPHEMY!!"), but even i would want to stop there. and yes, i can't believe your boss gave you grief about it!! does he not read the books your company produces? they are FULL of those off-the-beaten-path-but-you-MUST-see places!!

Teresa Kravtin said...

Everybody needs a little Mississippi!

Empress Jade Vintage said...

I'm so glad I found your blog; had so much fun reading about your adventures. I love road trips!

Kim @ The Girl Can't Help It said...

That sounded freaking awesome! Your next road trip should be up yonder way to the northeast. We can cross the border over to dirty jersey and I'll take you on a tour of all the old metal diners. It *is* the diner capital of the world, you know. I'm sure your boss would approve a fully-paid diner tour, no?

Sparkleneely said...

Skorpeo -- exactly. one does not need to know Elvis's momma's nickname (Satnin) or be a huge fan, but going there is must-see Americana and it is just so so so cool. And weird. My boss... he likes off the beaten path in Thailand or something like that...

Teresa -- I had a lot of it and loved it! I want to go back!

Empress Jade -- I'm so glad you found my blog, too, and the feeling's mutual about yours!

Kim --you are ON. I think next to Elvis, metal diners are my favorite thing. Except when they're combined -- you know, like that faux Hopper Elvis, Marilyn James Dean and Bogie in a diner picture. You know what I mean? Aw crap, just THINKING about that makes me cranky.

Sexy -- uhhhhh. domo arigato, mr. robotto.

Eartha Kitsch said...

What Sexy said.


I read this with such glee! I love your joy and the way that you described the whole thing. Please take me on your next road trip. Pleaaaaaase?

gswolfe said...

OK, I just laughed out loud in my office, bringing the ire of my co-workers in my direction. Sorry! Couldn't help it. "Tupelo Tourettes" was the funniest thing I'd heard all day.

A great read!

Robin said...

DEEELightful story!! I giggled, I smiled, I admired your outfit and wanted to go to all those places with you and act SILLY!! :)
Can't wait for Part Two!!

Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate said...

Fabulous post! You just gotta love road trips...and a road trip with Elvis, what could be better?

Thanks for the entertainment.


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Amanda from Seattle said...

The absolute best is that your sweater matches the color of the car! seriously, it is like you planned it!!

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