Road Trip of the Southwest United States, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, Kentucky

Little kids sounded the morning knell, much like how an air raid siren warns of impending disaster. I’m not suggesting that we had a bad day, but it’s not exactly the way I’d wanted to start it off. Our waking patterns were reestablished that morning: Dhar first, soon followed by me, then Rebecca, and Stefan some time later. The morning was not nearly as cool as the night had been, the sun had come out and started warming the air.

In the daylight we got our first good look at the camp. It was similar to the one we had stayed at in Colorado Springs: no attempts to spruce it up at all. But this particular KOA didn’t even have the beauty of nature to fall back on. There was no creek, no view of mountains, no feeling of isolation. A Days Inn lay between us and Elvis Presley Boulevard, and a high wooden fence was erected behind us.

The morning shower ritual was enacted, our regular runs to the KOA office for postcard duties and post-registration performed, all pretty much to schedule and rhythm. Except the post-registration. That particular KOA wasn’t a very well-managed one. The esthetics of the camp were obviously not of any concern, nor was the fair treatment of the guests. We had parked in a site that had no hook-ups of any kind, thus we were supposed to pay only for a site of that type. However, so the staff claimed, we had an RV, which automatically meant we had to pay for a hook-up site. Stefan did not give into that kind of logic, and argued with them for at fifteen minutes before they finally caved in and charged us only for a basic site. It became brutally obvious that the KOA had only been built to service visitors to Graceland, with no concern for anything other than profit.

Our breakfast was the last of the donuts. Still cold, still sticky-sweet, they were still good. The plan of the day was simple: visit Graceland, and cover more distance heading home. Stefan and I had originally not wanted to be home too early, but Stefan had also said he wanted to be home on the Saturday (it was a Wednesday on that date) so we also wanted to make sure that we were within striking distance of home.

Hitting the road took only a few minutes that morning — not having to unhook the Behemoth from the utilities takes a great deal of time off your clock. We turned right to head further south on Elvis Presley Boulevard. In only a few moments we had arrived at the Home of the King. On our left was the legendary estate, on our right the visitor’s parking and other museums that were parts of the Graceland tour.

The parking lot had only a quarter of the 300+ spots filled. For us, this was a good sign because it meant that once again we had skirted the crowds — a big plus for Dhar. As we headed to what we assumed was the main entrance, we passed a few people wearing Elvis t-shirts heading towards their vehicle. We were entering a dimension beyond sight and sound … just around that bend: The Elvis Zone.

The ticket lobby was almost deserted. In the middle of “tourist season”, this room would probably be packed with avid Elvis fans (the kind whom I wanted to avoid). Immediately on the left of the doors was a bank machine. Realizing that my $100 from Las Vegas had almost run out, I opted to make another $100 withdrawal before doing anything else.

By the time I got to the ticket wicket with my newly acquired cash, the others had already bought their tickets. When I bought mine, not only did I get a second ticket (explained in a moment), but I ended up on a different tour number! Mildly annoyed at this, I was told that the tour number really didn’t matter. I assumed that the numbering system only really came into play during the heavier visitor days.

Now for the second ticket business. We bought access to all the exhibits available, a total of five venues: the Graceland mansion, the Automobile museum, an personal items collection, a 15 minute movie about Elvis, and the Lisa Marie. Normally all these are printed on the same ticket, which has five tear-off portions. The ticket clerk made a mistake however and had to print me two tickets.

While I was purchasing my tickets, Dhar was trying to withdraw $100 from the bank machine in the lobby … without success. I wanted to tell him he wasn’t going to have any luck no matter where we went, but I figured he didn’t want to hear it. Besides, he still had a fair bit of Canadian money he could exchange at a bank.

We exited through the “front doors” (we had come in through the “side doors”) to the departure station, where a tour guide tore off the mansion ticket and handed us a pair of headphones and a small black box about the size and weight of a small car. I had thought the tour would be guided by the Graceland staff. But things were done a bit differently there — the black box was a rudimentary cassette player that took visitors on a 45 minute tour of the Graceland mansion. The idea was fairly simple: follow the cues and you’ll hear things in sync with the voices.

We boarded the small bus that would ferry us across Elvis Presley Boulevard and up to the front doors of the mansion. Just before leaving, the guide told us to turn the cassette players on. I did so, and started listening to the calming male voice that welcomed us to Graceland. I made a judgment mistake though, believing the voice asked us to keep the players off until we were inside Graceland. This put me five minutes behind everyone else for a while.

Reaching the top of the hill upon which the mansion sat, we disembarked and followed the tour guides’ directions into the house. To say the least, I wasn’t prepared for what lay within the doors. The first thing we saw upon entering was a staircase about 15 feet from the doorway. This ran up to the second level of the house, closed to visitors. (I know, “Oooooh! A staircase!” But that’s the point — it wasn’t some grand balustrade, it was just an ordinary set of stairs.)

The Voice directed us to our right, towards the Piano Room. It was so called because of the piano at the far end. (He may have been the King, but that doesn’t mean he was terribly original.) The room was about 15 feet wide and 30 feet long, divided partially in the middle with a pair of brightly coloured stained glass peacock windows. The colour scheme in the room was mostly white, with several gold accents on the walls, ceiling, piano, and on the couches.

The Voice then directed us to the stairway that we had seen on our way in. We were told that Elvis used to give karate demonstrations there for his guests. For a brief flash, I honestly thought I could see Elvis doing just that. It was then that I came to know the reason why so many people return to Graceland: it’s real. Not a museum piece, not a recreation … this was how Elvis had lived, this was where his life was lived out for two decades. The decorations, the carpet, the design of the grounds … everything came from his mind, undiluted with time or renovations.

Again The Voice turned us to the left to see the Dining Room, opposite to the Piano Room. It wasn’t a very large room, maybe 20 feet square. The table had places for about half a dozen people. Two large televisions were in opposite corners of the room. The Voice suddenly gave way to Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ widow. She began to tell us about some of her memories of her life at Graceland, living with the King. She would do so several times during the tour.

I had a problem with Priscilla, but it wasn’t anything to do with her marriage to Elvis, or her current life. It was her little speeches … they were all fake. I will be one of the first to say that Priscilla isn’t the world’s foremost actress. She does wonderful dead-pan comedy, particularly next to the King of Dead-pan (Leslie Nielsen), but drama isn’t her forte. I could tell within seconds that she was reading off a script:

The Voice: Priscilla Presley tells us of her life at Graceland… (The Voice and music fades out)

Priscilla: Elvis loved having people over for dinner, usually with the guys. (Speaks reminiscently) He’d sit at the head of the table and tell some of the funniest stories you ever heard. (Laughs slightly) (Slight pause) He was kind, caring man…

This annoyed the hell out of me. I don’t know if it was Priscilla who wrote the script, or Graceland Enterprises for the purposes of the tour. Either way, it was not they method I would have used to illicit a portion of the tour from the widow of the King. The best method, in my humble opinion, would have been to take Ms. Presley on a tour of the house in the same order as visitors, and have her tell unprompted stories as she went. Edit the voice cuts later on and splice into the tour tape. The scripting of the stories nearly ruined the tour for me.

From the Dining Room we passed into the kitchen, added to the tour only after Elvis’ aunt had died a year earlier — she used to spend all her time in the kitchen. Although I had never truly thought about it before, I had an expectation of a huge kitchen with a huge fridge, giant counters for use by a team of expert chefs, coloured completely stark white and gleaming chrome.

If there is any room that speaks more about a person than any other, it’s got to be the kitchen. It was small, 10 feet wide about 20 feet long. Wooden cabinets, deep brown carpeting, and standard appliances. It was the same kitchen you could expect to see in just about anyone’s home, there wasn’t anything special about it. Stepping into this man’s kitchen, all my views of this eclectic, mysterious, phenomenal man all came crashing to the ground — Elvis was no different than anyone else, he just led a more extraordinary life than most.

Around a corner and down the stairs, we arrived in the TV Room, so named for the three televisions set into the far wall. The colour scheme was mostly yellow (my sister swore upon seeing the pictures that Elvis was colourblind), with two couches, a glass table, a wet bar, and a small ceramic monkey in the centre of the table. The TVs were the result of Elvis hearing that then-President Johnson watched two at a time.

Walking back out of the door, we crossed the staircase hall into the Pool Room. About 15 feet square, the room had only one purpose, the pool table that sat proudly in the middle. But the table wasn’t what caught my eye — it was the 2,000 feet of multi-coloured fabric that was pleated all over the walls. Gaudy to some, I actually rather liked the idea (though cleaning it must be a big problem). The Voice mentioned that a tear on the table (which I hadn’t noticed until The Voice drew my attention to it) was caused by one of the “Memphis Mafia” (how Elvis’ entourage was often referred to) .

We then exited the Pool Room through another door, passing through a small non-descript room, and up a flight of stairs into the Jungle Room. The name came from the decor of the room, which included a fountain on the left wall, deep pile green carpeting on the floor and the ceiling (oh, the styles of the 60’s and 70’s), and the most hideous-looking furniture I have ever seen in my life.

The Voice told the story of how Elvis purchased the furniture. He was apparently walking through downtown Memphis one day, and happened to see the chair and a couple of couches sitting in the display window of a furniture store. He loved them so much, he bought the entire set and had it shipped to Graceland immediately. The couch was so big the windows had to be removed to move it inside. Why he bought the set, I don’t know: the fabric alone is reason enough to worry about Elvis’ decorating sense — it’s brown and beige zebra-striped fake fur. It’s ghastly.

The Jungle Room has the fame of being the site of Elvis’ last recording session. His last album was recorded in the Jungle Room, and was released just before he died on August 16, 1977. I was five years and one month old on that day, and I remember my mother being rather shocked at the news. Being so young, the event passed by me without notice.

We then progressed out the back door into the back yard of the mansion. We walked under a large roof (where I assume Elvis parked his cars, since I couldn’t see a garage anywhere) to an office building about 100 feet away from the house. As we crossed the short expanse, The Voice told us of Elvis’ passion of driving his converted snowmobiles (becoming grass-mobiles during the spring and summer months) around the yard, which often scared his daughter Lisa-Marie half to death. Elvis also enjoyed games of firecracker tag with the Memphis Mafia, shooting roman candles at each other.

In the office (on prompting from The Voice) we watched a short news reel that had been taken in the office when Elvis had returned from his stint in the Army. The office had been his father’s, and was left almost in the same manner that it had been in when Elvis died. Adjacent to the office was a small shooting range Elvis used from time to time.

We then proceeded along another concrete path towards another building. The Voice told us of the Presley’s love of horses. Several horses were on the Graceland grounds, but no-one mentioned whether or not they were the original residents. The Graceland grounds were suitable for horses, the back yard was at least the length of a football field, and possibly the same distance in width.

The next building was a small museum, carrying visitors from The King’s humble start, right to his last performance. The first room was the beginning of it all, Elvis’ start in the early 50’s and all the trouble he got himself into with that dynamic pelvis. Misunderstanding a cue, I turned my tour cassette off and ended up having to wander about in the room much longer than I wanted to just so I could catch up (there was no “fast forward” button).

The next room was known as the “Hall of Gold”, and contained every award Elvis had ever won. Ten feet wide and 50 or 60 feet long, the blue passage glittered with gold records on both sides. At the very end of the hall was an enormous plaque Elvis had received for all the money and time he had donated to various charities in the Memphis area. Elvis was one of the last great performers who regularly gave back to his community. Today’s Gen-X musicians would never consider such deeds — they’re either too absorbed in themselves or too desperate to die.

At the end of the “Hall of Gold”, I (now separated from Dhar and from Stefan and Rebecca) entered another portion of the museum, which picked up where the first room had left off. More history of Elvis, starting with his Army uniform. Various pieces of fan mail, posters and costumes from his movies, a huge painting, the one and only Gold Lamay suit, the black leather outfit from his televised comeback special, the Eagle suit from his Hawaii concert, his karate jumpsuit and his black belt, and his police badge collection. All around was his famous “TCB” logo, stylized with a lightning bolt. It stood for: “Taking care of business in a flash.”

Then it was out the door and across another concrete pathway to another building in the yard. This was originally a racquetball / squash court, but was now another museum to his many album sales records. But the focal point of the building wasn’t the glittering wall at the far end, it was the piano that sat behind the protective glass wall. It was there that Elvis played his last song, on the evening of August 15, 1977. Feeling a little tired, he rested awhile before going to bed. The next morning Elvis was found dead, the morning he was supposed to start his next tour.

By this point I had caught up with Dhar, who had stopped his tape a while ago in hopes the rest of us would catch up. Dhar had become rather bored with the tour and had flipped the cassette tape over and rewound part of the tape (there was a “review” button), in effect fast forwarding through part of the tape. The two of us then exited through the side door and walked over to the Meditation Garden.

The Meditation Garden is the final resting place of Elvis Aaron Presley … for those who believe he’s dead. Elvis’ mother, father, and grandmother all rest there as well. There’s even a memorial plaque to Elvis’ stillborn twin brother. According to The Voice, flowers arrive continually all year long (with significant increases on Elvis’ birthday and on the anniversary of his death), and are left until the real flowers wilt and the fake ones look weather-beaten.

The tour ended at that point, and Dhar and I shared a quiet moment staring at the quiet grave. But for me, there was something more to the mansion — there was a spirit there. I don’t know if it was Elvis, or just the essence of who and what he was. But you could feel there was something there, watching you, welcoming you, wanting to tell you all there was to know, saying good-bye as you left. In the Memorial Gardens, that spirit is most strongly felt.

Rounding the swimming pool at the side of the mansion, we walked around to the front to pick up our bus back to the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard. There we finally got our first good look at the house. Despite all that we had seen, it didn’t look all that different than many of the houses in my home town. It wasn’t huge, but sat on a very large lot. It looked comfortable, and undoubtedly was. It was a home someone was proud to have owned.

The bus ferried us back to the rest of the Graceland attractions. There we returned our tour cassette players, and started to view the rest of the museums. The first in our list was Elvis’ automobile collection. Elvis loved his cars — he had a lot of them.

Entering the museum (and having another ticket torn off), we walked around a corner to the first part of the collection: a series of motorcycles and tricycles Elvis once drove. While I was taking a picture, one of the other visitors decided that he would try his luck at touching a piece of Elvis … and set of the security alarm. It seemed that all the vehicles in the exhibits had a grounded security system, the slightest touch set it off. The man jerked upright, slightly shocked, and hastily walked away. A security guard rounded a corner a moment later, looked around, then went back out front.

In front of a large wall of lights that curved over-top was an Astin-Martin, the kind of car that James Bond used to drive (before he switched to a BMW). The lights bounced beautifully off the shiny black car, making an interesting view.

In the middle of the main portion of the museum was a replica drive-in theatre (complete with removed front seats from cars) where a 15 minute looping movie of the cars in Elvis’ movies played. I caught glimpses of it, but never watched the whole thing.

One of the vehicles from Elvis’ movies was the pink jeep from Blue Hawaii. It’s tacky, it’s pink, and it’s the kind of thing that seemed to prevail though many movies of that period. It was also, sadly, a fake. According to a plaque in front of it, a previous visitor had pointed out that the original jeep was either destroyed or bought by someone else, Elvis had bought a replica.

One of the most ugly cars in his collection was a Stutz Blackman, built by the Stutz Motor Company. It’s striking lines and very angled shape leads to a very displeasing car to look at — as my friend Scott put it, a very 70’s look. Like it’s name, the car was black … so black you couldn’t tell where the edges of the car were.

I think Elvis had a penchant for pink vehicles — a pink Cadillac was also on display. But not his pearl and gold Cadillac. A sign put on one side indicated that the well-known limousine was on permanent display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Then it was into a small gift shop, the theme centering around the automobile collection.

The next museum contained more items from Elvis, mostly of a more personal nature. These included Lisa Marie’s crib and baby clothes, Elvis’ desk and pens, a couple chairs, some clothes, and one of the lamps from the 70’s redecoration. According to an accompanying sign, the lamp was all that remained of the last redecoration before Elvis died: red shag carpets on the floors, walls, and ceiling; the gaudy gold lamps; essentially outrageous things that most sane people wouldn’t be caught dead with today. When Graceland had been set up for a tourist attraction, the decor was reverted to one that had been in place in the 60’s. Then it was through another gift shop.

Outside the temperature was warm, without being uncomfortable. We were all a little tired from all the walking and viewing, and above all we were hungry. But we also wanted to get through the rest of the attractions and hit the road so we could go to a bank and get Dhar some American funds.

The next stop was the movie, which was a brief history of Elvis’ early years and the philosophy of life he had. Then it was through another gift shop.

Our final stop was at the Lisa Marie, one of Elvis’ two private planes. Northwest Airlines had their grubby little fingers in this affair, setting up a mock check-in counter. You also had to pass through an Elvis Fan Detector (in the style of a normal airport metal detector). On the walls of the “pre-flight lounge” were various bits of trivia about the use of the Lisa Marie, including the details on Elvis’ notorious middle-of-the-night flight to Denver for peanut butter sandwiches.

The Lisa Marie was a Convair 880 built in 1958 by General Dynamics. Elvis bought the plane in 1975 and gave it an $800,000 dollar makeover to suit his needs. (Elvis’ second plane, a Lockheed JetStar, cost him nearly $900,000 and was less than half the size of the Convair.) Elvis named the plane after his daughter, and designated it 880EP.

Both planes are permanently grounded, the engines removed and the avionics disabled. One of the Lisa Marie’s engines sat over to one side for visitors to view. The others were donated to high schools and technical institutes to assist students in learning to build jet engines.

Dhar and I looked at the JetStar first, which Elvis called “Hound Dog Two” (the Lisa Marie was “Hound Dog One”). Compared to its much larger companion, it wasn’t worth the look. Stefan and Rebecca however, had to see for themselves. Dhar and I waited at the foot of the Lisa Marie’s stairs for Stefan and Rebecca to join us.

We climbed the steps and stepped through the forward hatch. To our left was the cockpit, shielded by a sheet of Plexiglas. To our immediate right was the forward bathroom (similarly shielded), complete with brass taps and a gold-flecked sink. Just beyond that was the first compartment. This was primarily chairs with a single coffee table on the left hand side. A TV at the side of the room repeated stories and information about that compartment of the plane. All the furniture was leather, but covered in plastic.

The next room was the conference room. This had a long conference table, surrounded by ten leather chairs. Here too all the items had plastic covers … assumedly so visitors wouldn’t destroy the valuable museum piece. Lisa Marie Presley held her seventh birthday party at that table. Just beyond the table was one of the first air-phones, which Elvis had installed for his use.

The conference room, like the other two rooms, had a large TV in it. The plane also had a videocassette player, which Elvis used to watch movies. I was really surprised (and oddly proud) to discover that Elvis and I shared a common liking of certain movies. Among his favourites were Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, and Monty Python’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The last compartment of the plane was Elvis’ bedroom. A queen-sized bed occupied most of the space (also covered in plastic), complete with an FAA-standard seat belt across the middle of the bed. The tail section bore the bathroom, similar but larger to the forward bathroom, and included a shower. Then it was out through the rear hatch and down the stairs to the tarmac.

We entered our last gift shop a moment later, on our way out of the Graceland attractions. As we entered into the shop from the Lisa Marie, we saw a desk to one side with a collection of cookbooks on display. They were written by Elvis’ uncle Vester. A mannequin sat behind the desk, a likeness of Uncle Vester. At least I thought it was a mannequin … until I saw it move.

I nearly jumped out of my skin. So did Dhar. For a moment, I had to stare at the sickly-looking old man to make sure that he was in fact human, and alive. Sure enough, ol’ Uncle Vester was sitting behind the desk, peddling his cookbooks to anyone who cared enough to step forward and pick up a copy. I say “cared” because you couldn’t help feel sorry for the man — you really had to wonder if he wanted to be there. I’ve seen dogs with their tails between their legs look more chipper than this poor man. He just sat there, looking blanking forward not noticing a soul, looking like he was waiting for death.

After a few minutes, we finally returned to the Behemoth and prepared to move out. As we passed by Graceland, I waved a mental good-bye, knowing that one day I would return. It was time for us to turn our view to the next task at hand. Rebecca had gone to the trouble of asking for the nearest bank so we could get Dhar’s Canadian funds changed into American. That required a further trip south to a local Savings and Loan. Dhar ran in while the rest of us waited. A few minutes later he ran back out, shaking his head.

The bank wouldn’t exchange it … rather, couldn’t exchange it. Apparently, Canadian funds were treated like funny money that far south, and your average bank couldn’t handle the transfer. (Stupid banks.) But the First National Bank of Tennessee was supposedly capable. So on the directions Dhar gave me, given to him by one of the bank clerks, we headed still further south on Elvis Presley Boulevard in search of greenbacks.

But even the First National Bank of Tennessee couldn’t do it. I couldn’t believe that we were so far from home that everyone was completely incompetent at such a simple task. But when you deal with a hundred small banks instead of a few large ones, problems happen.

Fortunately one of us was thinking that afternoon, and struck upon the idea that the airport might be able to do the exchange. We had reached the point where any idea was worth trying, so made our way north on Elvis Presley Boulevard to Winchester Road. We headed east until we found signs to point us towards Memphis International Airport’s terminal.

After enough loops and turns to get anyone hopelessly lost, I pulled up in front of the terminal, and Dhar took off to find the exchange counter. Rebecca and Stefan followed suit, although I’m not sure if they went for the same reasons as Dhar. I sat there, hoping that some ticket-happy airport cop wouldn’t decide to fulfill his quota that afternoon.

After five minutes, any fears I had were squashed when the three of them emerged from the terminal, all smiles and sunshine. It was mission accomplished, and time for us to hit the Interstate. Following more signs, more turns and bends, I eventually found our way to I-240, which would take us out to I-40, our roadway to Nashville so we could take I-65 north.

But like so many well-laid plans, we had problems … traffic. No, not rush hour traffic, construction traffic. And was it heavy! A dead snail could move faster than we did. We only needed to cover two to three miles until the traffic cleared up, but that alone took nearly 45 minutes. When the traffic did finally clear up, we gunned the engine and made some distance between us and the traffic, even though the construction zone extended nearly all the way to the I-40 turn-off.

Once we were on I-40, everything became smooth sailing. But we were hungry. All our touring that morning and into the afternoon had left us rather famished. The great discussion of what to eat engaged again, and for nearly 15 minutes we pulled for our personal choices. Finally, Rebecca’s craving for chicken won out, and we stopped just outside Jackson for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I am convinced KFC was not discovered by Colonel Sanders, but by the Devil himself. It’s the only theory that makes some sense to me. Think about it: how else can something taste so good, yet be so disgustingly greasy. Everyone I know readily admits that KFC is greasy — you can almost wring it out with your hands, if it was possible to get a grip on it. Yet everyone gets cravings for it every so often. I do, but I try not to eat the stuff because the thought of all that grease makes me sick to my stomach.

It had been nearly three years since the last time I had eaten Kentucky Fried Chicken, and my memories of that experience were none too pleasant. Yet when I stepped inside the restaurant doors, the craving started. And it got worse with every microsecond I stood waiting for someone to buy the chicken. The next thing I knew, I had bought into the bucket of chicken, and was anxiously awaiting our meal. But first we had to find a rest stop.

Just our luck: we had nearly 30 miles until the next rest stop came up. We found a nice picnic table (complete with a small roof), took out our bucket of greasy chicken, a pile of paper towels, and promptly started messily masticating our meal. I started feeling kind of ill after a while, the grease was overwhelming. I had it all over my hands and on a good portion of my face. I don’t know how I did that, but it always seemed to happen when eating KFC.

All but four pieces were eaten. I swore then and there never to eat KFC again, for fear of turning into a giant zit. We threw out the remains of our chicken saving the last four pieces for a later date. Then it was back onto the van to continue our push north.

Our plans had pretty much broken down by this point, we really didn’t have any idea where we were going. I wanted to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, since the route we were planning to take (the only thing we knew for certain) went right by the National Park. But what we hadn’t planned was where (if anywhere) we were going to stop. Nashville was ruled out about two minutes before we entered the city limits, we couldn’t think of any reason to stop that interested us. There we left I-40 for I-65.

After enough goading on my part, I convinced someone to stop at Horse Cave, which had the nearest KOA to Mammoth Cave National Park. This, unfortunately, meant that our next (and last, as it turned out) KOA stop would be a late check-in, which Stefan absolutely hated doing by that time. I couldn’t blame him. Trying to figure out those wretched forms at that time of night was never a good thing.

Just outside of Nashville, Rebecca got into another one of her talkative moods, and tried to strike up conversation by asking questions. Now remember what Rebecca is like. She doesn’t ask normal questions. No, she has to ask things like: “Do you love you parents?” “Who would your ideals parents be?” These were the questions that I responded to, because the earlier ones were ones I tried to avoid.

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 960501.175

Day 11

“I’ve been to Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee, I’ve been to Graceland …”

All my illusions of Elvis have been shattered. Walking through a person’s home tells a lot about a person. We didn’t get to see the red shag and gold lamp decor, but what we did see spoke volumes. I actually thought I could see him wandering about as I walked his halls. There’s a spirit there, and it’s oddly welcoming.

We traveled through the mansion listening to a pre-recorded audio tour, then onto the car museum, personal effects, a short movie, and his airplanes. I found it interesting that he and I shared a similar taste in movies.

After a rather nasty traffic jam (following a run to the airport), we stopped for KFC (a bad idea, if you ask me). Rebecca’s currently asking us questions like: “If you could be born to different parents, would you?”, and “What one thing in your life would you say defines who you are?” Next step – who knows?

Almost forgot – Elvis’ uncle Vester was waiting for us when we returned from the tour of the Lisa Marie. He was selling cook books. Never before have I seen such a sullen man.

Also discussed relationships – why is it so hard to have a simple relationship? Why do I always reach comfortable friendship so fast?

Neither Dhar, nor Stefan, nor myself had any complaints about our parents. The three of us had led childhoods we were proud of, with many fond memories and nothing we truly regretted. Rebecca’s childhood, on the other hand, wasn’t all fun and games. Her parents divorced, her father isn’t exactly what she (or I, for that matter) would call “role model material”, and she had a less-than-loving environment. This brought up the next round of questions: ideal parents.

This was a question I honestly didn’t know how to answer. All along I believed that my parents would have been an ideal choice, assuming I had the luxury of choosing the ones I wanted. They gave me freedoms most of my friends didn’t have, taught me the ways of life, tried to get me to do extracurricular activities so that I wouldn’t be socially inept. (Okay, so they went about it a little half-assed, but I still think I turned out okay … ‘course, I’m still single … I’m a geek … hmm, maybe I need to think about this a little more.)

Rebecca’s ideal parents would be Cher or Madonna, and Donald Trump. Although Rebecca didn’t have those people as her parents, in a strange way you could see it as being true. Rebecca has Cher’s independence and strength to keep going on (not to mention a healthy dose of sex appeal), but also Trump’s tenacity to get things done and not give a damn what someone else says about what she does.

I couldn’t answer Rebecca’s question about defining moments, though I did think long and hard about it. My last couple years of high school were probably the most formative for me, at least in respects to the person I am now, but no one single point took me in the ultimate direction I’m headed now. My defining points have all been like course corrections, steering me through the straits of depression, the mountains of joy, the rivers of success, and the sandy beaches full of women I’m too shy to approach.

If anything, Rebecca makes you think, whether you like it or not. Rebecca also strayed into the subject of relationships. We spent a lot of time there. Most of it was Dhar, Stefan, and I arguing the point that women are aloof, and men are stupid.

Allow me to explain: we (the men) have this perception that women send “signals” to indicate their intentions. Even I have had this happen to me, and I’ll tell you something right now: I never saw it. When men are interested in women, we become the most goofy things on the planet … but we’re obvious, kind of like tossing a cat into a dog show. But when a woman finds a man attractive, she wants the man to say something first and goes about sending these “signals” to him.

Every roommate I have ever had, and most of my male friends (who’ve had girlfriends and discussed the matter with me) have all confessed to not knowing that his girlfriend liked him until upwards of four months later. Most men would try for about two hours before giving up, then go home and jerk off. Women believe they’re easy to understand. As a man, I will testify that I will never understand women … they’re too confusing. And girls, if you want a blunt piece of advise when trying to hook that illusive man — beat him over the head with it. Men are dense, we will not notice your advances unless you make us look for them. It’s like walking into a room blindfolded and being told there’s a contact lens to be found. You need to show us where you dropped it.

Rebecca disagreed with us. From her point of view, it was women who were easy to understand, and men who were complicated. From her point of view, I could see this happening. But as a man, I can safely say there are only three things that a guy needs to keep him happy: sleep, sustenance, and sex … the 3 S’s. (The “sustenance” category comprises food, drink (including all alcoholic beverages), violent computer games, a large screen TV, and a sports car that needs constant work.) Believe me, men are not complicated. No assembly required. Batteries not needed.

Next thing I knew, I was floored with the nearly subliminal announcement that Rebecca was bisexual. I’m not sure what exactly brought that subject around, but I did have to ask a carefully worded question to make sure I heard what I thought I heard. I did.

Now don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against Rebecca, I have no different a view of her now than I did before she told me of her bisexuality … although I think I do respect her a little more now. She was very frank about it — neither positive nor negative, just another aspect of her colourful life.

With that turn of events, I dropped out of the conversation for a while, to ponder on a few things. Bisexuality has always been a topic of interest for me, although I really don’t know why. Over the years I’ve developed a few theories about it — not about blame, or why “sexually deviant” practices are “bad”, but why they occur. Most of my theories are as of yet incomplete, but I have one that I think about regularly: women are more likely to engage in homosexual situations than men.

This is not an accusation, nor is this truth … it is a theory. But it’s one I’ve based on experience and observation. (No, I have not been renting porno flicks.) Women are more in touch with themselves and their emotions. Women are raised to be caring and tender with themselves, their friends, and their families. Men, on the other hand, have historically been raised in a very aloof manner, where the only accepted form of contact has been the handshake.

It is this very reason that led me to my theory. But over the past couple of years, that theory has become more and more clouded, as new evidence begins to tarnish my well polished idea. If my theory were true, and men were aloof to one another, I wouldn’t be wondering if I’m bisexual. This is yet another theory that I have yet to put to the test. (On a similar note, I could also say that I may not be heterosexual, since I haven’t put that to the test either.)

For nearly the remainder of the distance to Bucksnort, Kentucky, I sat there debating the issues with myself. Was I what I thought I was? Could I do what I thought I might? Could I think tongue twisters and not screw them up? These were the questions that occupied me until we saw the road sign for Bucksnort.

Dhar, who was driving, and I, who was riding shotgun, nearly laughed ourselves to death. For nearly ten miles after seeing the sign we giggled, laughed, snorted, howled, and guffawed. I so desperately wanted to turn around and drive back to take a picture of the sign, just to prove that someone had the guts to name a town “Bucksnort”.

Somewhere between 21:00 and 22:00, we arrived in Horse Cave, Kentucky. It was a small, desolate looking place, the only feature that seemed noteworthy was the KOA we were looking for. It was buried about 1,000 feet from I-65 in a grove of tall pine trees. It looked rather picturesque, even though we couldn’t see the campground for the RVs — the trees were too dense.

Stefan did his thing and signed us into a spot that was right next to the KOA office, a convenience for using the bathroom. I jumped out and hooked us up, and we proceeded to make our dinner. Digging into the last of the food meant salsa and chips, and the last of the KFC (from which I abstained). The salsa jar fell over while we were eating, staining the carpet in the depressed section of the floor. A quick hosing down prevented a major disaster, but still required a hefty dose of carpet cleaner when we got home.

One of the camper spots across the driving path from us contained a couple whom we though were the campground managers. We assumed this from the woman’s vigil, staring at us to see what we were up to. After a while we drew the front curtains so we didn’t have to worry about her any longer. (Though I almost expected that action to prompt the woman to walk over to our van and start asking really stupid questions.)

We almost seemed to know what the next day would bring, and we didn’t stay up late. It was the first night since Colorado Springs that we turned in early. As we lay there, a slight rumbling of thunder rolled across the sky, quickly followed by a spring rain. I fell asleep listening to the light pattering of falling water.

Observer’s Log: Supplementary

Aside from a good laugh at Bucksnort (who the hell names a town Bucksnort?), we arrived at Horse Cave without incident. Tomorrow we’ll probably hit Mammoth Cave and head again towards home.

More and more I believe Dhar leads a very sheltered life. Sex is just a topic he doesn’t want to talk about … that and the letter ‘Y’ for some strange reason.

Found out Rebecca’s bisexual. Still wonder if I am – won’t know for sure for a while, but either way, [I] really don’t care. Sex is still one of those annoyingly illusive things.

More and more I think women are like the unasked question: you know there’s a solution to the question, but you’re afraid to ask because then you look stupid. Men on the other hand are like an old truth -Why? Because.

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