Hittin' the Road with Elvis

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

by Samantha Adler

Graceland was a major stop on my cross-country road trip. I am a life-long Elvis fan who comes from a long line of Elvis fanatics (my grandmother was once one of those screaming girls heard in all his live recordings). I reserved tour tickets a month in advance for my last morning in Memphis. But I had begun to see signs of the King way before I arrived in Memphis. I couldn’t pass through any establishment in Tennessee without seeing his face on the wall or hearing at least one of his top hits. It was the perfect build-up.

I arrived at Graceland early Sunday morning and waited in line with about fifty other eager beavers. Elvis’s estate, for all intensive purposes, has been turned into a theme park with gift shops, ice cream stands, restaurants serving his favorite banana and peanut butter sandwich and a well-oiled bus system. But I gleefully soaked up all the cheese.

My love for Elvis began in the 3rd grade when I had to do a report on a singer from the 1950s.  His effortless cool and the way he took the world by storm fascinated me. I took out book after book from our school library about the late singer. I learned he quickly became an icon with an original style, blending blues and pop to create Rock and Roll.  The assignment spurred conversations with my grandmother about her admiration. She had seen him perform in concert and even got into a fight with a girl for a scarf he threw into the audience. As time went on I became obsessed, I dressed as Elvis for Halloween and put on lip-sync performances for family.  I even came up with a weird conspiracy theory about how The Beatles’ rise and Elvis’s mid-career fall were linked, and refused to listen to any Beatles song for a year. I was a weird, passionate and ill-informed kid.

The Graceland tour was led by John Stamos (yes, Uncle Joey) via a personal iPad that hung around my neck and airline-esque headphones. John Stamos explained about the grounds as the bus weaved through the front lawn towards the house. It was a small, white colonial-revival style mansion with two floors and a basement. A few rooms were filled with extravagant items: original china, chandeliers, guitars and art pieces. But most were designed for living, with a few personal items strewn about on shag carpets and 70’s décor.

The living/ jungle room*, perhaps the most famous room, was niche but homey with green shag, animal print, musical instruments, comfy looking couches and a teddy bear in residence. This was my favorite room of the house, as I’ve always dreamed of a bedroom designed after the Rainforest Cafe. I guess Elvis and I have similar taste, although Elvis’s take on it was a bit more posh.

Little did I know, this was only the beginning of the Elvis road trip.

I set off, leaving Memphis to drive down the Mississippi.  I followed the Blues Highway along the big river, stopping occasionally at places that marked milestones in the blues music’s birth and evolution. Elvis is a huge part of the genre’s contemporary musical history, bringing blues basics and style into the pop spotlight. And he was still a treasure along the way, his music ringing in local restaurants and his face etched on gas station souvenirs.

These reminders had “Elvis & Me” burning a hole in my luggage. It wasn’t long before I was sneaking a read during downtime at campsites and in the passenger seat after my driving shift. It isn’t a brilliantly written novel, not even close. But it gives a rare view into the life of an untouchable icon and broke down the walls fame had put up. Elvis and Priscilla met when she was only fourteen, right after he had made his big break in the late fifties. The book was Priscilla’s perception on their marriage, his creative processes and his private life. While wildly talented, it turns out he was somewhat of a child who didn’t understand boundaries or the purpose of negative feedback. I did take everything with a grain of salt, considering that the author was his ex-wife and the cover art was everything about the 80’s you hated. It was nice however, to view this deity that followed us around as human.

When I made it to Vegas, he was everywhere again. Elvis impersonators walked the strip and his face was plastered all over as if he was joining Celine Dion in a headlining gig. As I learned in Graceland’s Museum, Vegas was where Elvis made his huge comeback. Returning from failed Hollywood endeavors, he started to perform live again. This is when the famous embezzled jumpsuits were coined and the bigger-than-life image of Elvis we know today was born. His success on the stage brought upon “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii”, a live TV performance. It broke records, with more people watching Elvis than the first man to walk on the moon, and solidified his place as the King of Rock’n’Roll. This was the Elvis that my younger self impersonated with a glittery plastic jumpsuit, wiry black wig and adhesive sideburns.

This is also where I finished up “Elvis and Me”. My road trip buddy and I found an amazing, unbelievable deal for a room at the Vdara when we were mapping out our trip (always check for weird deals*). A comfortable hotel room was heaven after five nights of camping in the temperamental SouthWest summer. Immediately we ran to the pool to escape the Vegas heat. After a dip, I sat by the pool guiltily hiding the cover of my trashy biography from any fancy hotel walker-by. It felt appropriate to finish reading as we left a place to special to the story.

I had driven the Elvis road trip: through musical histories that inspired him, places of professional triumph and his private spaces. He had an amazing career and an extravagant life. But it’s the places he left that stick with me the most. These places have an electrifying energy, soaked in history and probably remnants of those Rock and Roll parties. These places are just as important to the story as the King himself.


* The Jungle Room serves as the den in the Graceland mansion. Its design has a Polynesian influence, known for its green decor, shag carpeting and waterfall lining the wall. The decision was based on Elvis’s favorite vacation spot: Hawaii. The room was later converted into a recording studio in the 1970’s.

* Look for deals on Bookings.com. You’d be surprised about what hotels/locations are offering cheap rooms! In this specific example the Vdara, a normally pricey hotel on the strip, we found a crazy deal a month in advance. We believe this is because the Vdara is one of the only big hotels without a casino. Always hunt for the discounts :).