We’d spent the day in Arkansas — hours on a hypnotic tunnel of golden trees known as Highway 40. I had begun loving the fall foliage in Oklahoma, but I was almost over it after a state-and-a-half of seeing the solid wall, with the occasional yellow Waffle House sign popping up. The trees created an orange barrier, and I wondered what was beyond them that I couldn’t see. And I wondered if any of the other drivers were floating in and out of the same autumnal trance.
My carrot, my goal to get through the state, was Memphis, Tennessee. Graceland, baby — home of the rock ‘n’ roll king in all of it’s glorious gaudiness — was all I wanted to see. But we were in traffic, sandwiched between big rigs and those flipping trees. It was getting dark. Would Graceland be open? I was on the phone with Maggie as we sat still on the freeway. “I don’t think you can see Graceland from the street,” she said. Disappointment. Not having showered since California, we didn’t really feel up to doing a tourist thing; we just wanted to see it. A picture, please?
We didn’t make it to Memphis until after 9 that night. There would be no Graceland in 2011. But after traffic and trees and the entire state of Arkansas, I fought my sister for a detour. Maggie had told us about historic Beale Street in Memphis, and I was determined to stop. I needed neon lights if I couldn’t step on the king’s lawn.
It was a quiet night on Beale, but the jazz music still blared from every door and a man played his horns in a courtyard. Thank you, Memphis. We tried to find parking — a tough task when you’re pulling a U-Haul in a busy city. I rounded a few blocks and pulled into a $10-a-spot, pay-at-the-machine lot. I only had one bill, though, one $10 bill. Problem, because, um, we took two spots. The sister, who was annoyed by now and not willing to contribute to my parking fund, had no intention of getting out of the car (crazy, I know) … she had her mind set on three hours north, our first hotel room in Nashville. I paid for one of the spots, switched my sweatshirt for a sweater (yes, sweatpants and flip-flops stayed), and promised I’d be back to the car in minutes.
Minutes was all I had. I snapped away with digital and film (coming soon), and had to rush back as the sister’s texts started buzzing my phone: “A cop keeps flashing his lights at me — hurry!” Seriously. Doesn’t $10 get me at least 10 minutes in Memphis?
So this is what I saw as I rushed around land of blues that jams until 5 in the morning. One day I will go back. One day I will sit in one of these clubs. I will drink beer from one of those bars. I will try the gumbo. And on that same trip, I will get my picture of Graceland.