"Until we meet again, may God bless you as he has blessed me"
State 37: Tennessee April 11, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Memphis well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and we are in search of something more uplifting today. The first item on the agenda is to drive across town to the Cross Country Couple's; “Made in the USA tour” for Tennessee; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. For those who may be unaware, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, is a nonprofit medical facility focused on the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases. Although St. Jude’s operating expenses exceed $2.4 million per day, no child is ever turned away for their parent’s inability to pay. Upon our arrival at the hospital, we were devastated to discover their tours were booked up for weeks! At least I now have a reason to one-day return to Memphis! Next time, I will call to schedule my tour with St. Jude well in advance. Welcome to life on the road! Where the only certainty is uncertainty, and flexibility is a vagabonds best friend!
Since St. Jude was a no go, it was time to concoct a plan B! A quick google search revealed Memphis is home to Gibson’s guitar factory! Once again, off we went back across town to Cross Country Couple's; “Made in the USA tour” for Tennessee: Gibson Guitar Factory. Founded in 1902 by Orville Gibson in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Gibson is an American manufacturer of guitars and other stringed musical instruments. From inventing the arch top guitar to bringing the first hollow body electric guitar to market, Gibson has always positioned themselves at the forefront of guitar innovation. Gibson has three guitar factory’s in the US. The Nashville, Tennessee factory is where their solid body electric guitars are made including the iconic “Les Paul”. The factory in Bozeman, Montana produces Gibson’s entire acoustic line. The Memphis factory primarily produces semi-hollow electric guitars, and is the only of Gibson’s factories offering tours to the public.
I am extremely excited to tour the Gibson Factory as it is the only guitar I play. How I came to play the guitar is a very interesting story. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 13 years old, and repetitively and unsuccessfully attempted to quit over the next 2 decades. I tried everything: the gum, the patch, hypnosis, journaling, rationing, acupuncture, cold turkey, and nothing worked! At the age of 31, a new medicine came on the market called Chantix, and the success rate was quite impressive. The biggest side effect I was at risk for was vivid disturbing nightmares. I figured I could handle a few bad dreams if it meant ridding myself from those cancer sticks once and for all! For the next eight weeks, I endured horrific vivid night terrors and repetitively woke up in a cold sweat with my heart beating out of my chest! Each and every night, I absolutely dreaded going to sleep! Nevertheless, I stubbornly endured, completed the prescribed course of meds, and finally quit smoking once and for all. It has been 6 years since my last cigarette!
Even after successfully quitting, I needed to find a new effective way to deal with stress. I had always been a stress smoker, and Nursing is a very stressful profession. I decided to take all of the money I used to spend killing myself with cigarettes, and instead spend the money on something to enhance my life. Since I had always wanted to learn to play guitar, I began taking lessons at a local music shop called Family Music Center with the owner; Bob. Over the next few years, I became fairly proficient playing the chords, and my guitar became my new means of stress relief! No matter how bad my day, all of my stress just melted away when I picked up my guitar and played!
We entered Gibson’s Memphis factory, paid our $20.00 per person admission, were given a pair of safety glasses and were disappointed to discover pictures were not permitted. Our tour guide was a very young man, with a heavy Southern accent, who talked extremely fast, and spoke at us very loudly through a megaphone! As a result, my ears are still ringing, and I can’t even begin to describe to you how a Gibson Guitar is made. Although witnessing the making of a guitar was fascinating, the process was extremely labor extensive! Each step of the guitar's construction is done by hand! Each guitar is uniquely hand painted! Four people use razor blades to chip away the excess paint off the binding of each guitar! From raw material to finished product, the average production time for a single guitar is 6-8 weeks, and the factory in Memphis make only 60 guitars a day!
While Gibson undeniably creates a quality product made in the USA, their guitars are not priced for the average person. The MSRP on the Gibson ES line of Semi Hollow Electric Guitars built in their Memphis plant ranges between $4,000 and $5,500! Unless your professional musician with a record deal, it is hard to justify the cost! I don’t mind paying more for quality, but there comes a point where it becomes cost prohibitory. I was not surprised to discover Gibson recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Gibson’s lack of automation and unnecessarily labor intensive construction, prices them out of the market. We encountered a similar scenario during our tour of Winnebago, which you can read more about by clicking here.
Upon the conclusion of the tour, we were led into Gibson’s showroom with rows and rows of brand new shiny beautiful guitars. Three security guards stood by watching our every move, and you could not pick up a guitar unless assisted by an associate. Lori asked me which one I liked, and I publicly proclaimed, “I hate them all!”. When it comes to guitars, I refuse to play anything not older than I! Why you ask? Because like a fine wine and a fine woman, guitars only get better with age! Overtime, the wood of a guitar ages to produce a warm deep sound new guitars cannot emulate. I play a 1969 Gibson Classical Acoustic Guitar, which I bought for $300 dollars! My guitar is nicked, scratched, dented, chipped, been played hard, and even dropped a few times. I would not have it any other way! After all, my guitar and I have been through a lot together over the years!
After departing the Gibson Guitar Factory, we drove across town to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction” for Tennessee: Graceland. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark, Graceland is the former home of Elvis Presley. Situated on a 13.8 acres, Graceland Mansion is 17,552 square feet, features eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms. Graceland currently serves as a museum, and interpretative center about the life and times of the King. Second only to the White House, Graceland is the most frequented home in America with over 650,000 annual visitors, and the most famous rock and roll residence in the world! Among the many who have ventured to Graceland including the: President of Costa Rica, Prince of Monaco, Princess of Yugoslavia, Former President Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan, two Nobel Lauriates, several sitting governors, members of the US House and Senate, Prince William, Prince Harry and Paul McCartney who left a guitar pick on the King’s grave so Elvis can play in heaven.
We had previously visited Elvis Presley's birthplace during our week in Mississippi, which you can read about by clicking here. Today, we would visit the home where Elvis Presley lived and died. Neither Lori nor I are avid Elvis fans, but Presley’s influence on American music, and pop culture is undeniable. Graceland features a variety of admission options and price points for any budget. For our purposes, we opted to tour the Graceland Mansion, and the Elvis Museum for a total cost of $59.00 per person. EEEK! As frugal vagabonds on a year-long cross country trip, this is WAY more than we ever spend on a single attraction. However, this was a budgeted attraction, and there is only one Graceland! Well there was that one other expensive event in Las Vegas, which you can read about by clicking here.
After purchasing our tickets, we passed through a security check point, and were funneled into a tiny theater with dozens of others to watch a short movie about Graceland. Upon the film's conclusion, we were herded out a door, and forced to take a “souvenir photo”. Let me take this opportunity to say, I hate, Hate, HATE the forced “souvenir photo”. It is one of my biggest pet peeves! They are always thrusted upon you at the most inopportune moment, when I am feeling the least photogenic, and they are always ridiculously overpriced! In addition to being charged a steep admission, I am now being overcharged for a picture I do not even want! If I want to take a picture in front of a cheesy plastic backdrop, I will pull out my cellphone and take one myself!!! When I flat out refused the “souvenir photo”, the lady said, “Everyone must be photographed before going to Graceland Mansion”. Clearly, the “souvenir photo” is a double agent serving as a security measure and as an additional source of revenue! Whatever, their house! Their rules! I protested my picture being taken by refusing to smile! Since I did not pay $20.00 for the “souvenir photo”, you will NOT see the picture below!
Next, I was herded into yet another line, where we awaited the arrival of the bus to take us to Graceland. Another worker walked by, and handed us each a huge iPad in a heavy duty rubber case with a thick cloth strap. We were all told to hang the IPad around our necks. Not only were these encapsulated IPads cumbersome, unsanitary, and so heavy it hurt my neck, worst of all, we all looked absolutely ridiculous! Lori said she felt like a yoked ox, and I felt like the rapper and reality TV star “Flavor Flav”. If you do not know what a yoked ox or Flavor Flav looks like, I have included pictures below for comparison.
The iPad offered a virtual tour of the Graceland mansion narrated by Actor; John Stamos, which I didn’t get at first. Suddenly, I had a 90’s flashback to a TV Sitcom I once watched as a child. Many may remember a show called “Full House”, which ran for 8 seasons from 1987- 1995. In the show, John Stamos played the bad ass character of “Uncle Jessie” who was an Elvis Fanatic! Visiting Graceland was the first time on my cross country trip I felt like a tourist, and I hated the feeling! Soon thereafter the bus arrived. With our "souvenir" photo taken and massive IPad dangling like a millstone from each of our necks, we boarded the waiting bus, and we were shuttled across the street to Graceland. Please see the pictures below of each of the rooms Elvis Presley’s mansion.
Features a dramatic stained glass peacock doorway, a 15-foot-long couch, a white baby grand piano and a 1950's style TV.
Elvis's Parents Bedroom
The kitchen was quite typical, and not as lavish as expected.
Elvis enlarged the house behind the kitchen to create a den called the Jungle Room, and even features an indoor stone waterfall. The Jungle Room was the site where Elvis recorded his final two albums.
Features a wet bar, three TV’s built into the wall, stereo and Elvis's record collection.
Apparently, Elvis played a mean game of pool. The most noteworthy feature of the billiard room was the walls and ceiling covered with 350–400 yards of pleated cotton fabric. How fun, funky and dramatic!
Out of respect for the Presley family, the second floor is not open to visitors to avoid any improper focus on the bathroom where the King died. Allegedly, the bathroom has been untouched since the day of Elvis's death.
Behind the main dwelling, is a small building used by Elvis to display many family keepsakes which include, the family tree, photographs, his Bible, the deed to Graceland, his wallet, the keys to Graceland, and much more!
This is where they processed 1000's of fan mail that came to Graceland daily.
This is the final resting place of Elvis and his Mother, Father, and Grandmother.
After departing the Graceland Mansion, we visited the Elvis Museum featuring, three Grammy’s, a 3 story wall of platinum and gold records, countless charitable contributions, a plethora of movie memorabilia, an Elvis in the Army exhibit, motorcycles, golf carts, motorboats, and ample automobiles including the iconic pink Cadillac, an endless array of leather jumpsuits, and a TV which Elvis shot out because he did not like the show he was watching. Please see the pictures below.
Presley’s home was well preserved, quite funky, and appeared to be straight out of the 1970’s. I actually found the mansion to be quite modest for a star of Elvis's caliber. After visiting Graceland, I understand why celebrities create such lavish homes for themselves. Whenever Elvis ventured into public, he initiated a riot of fans seeking autographs, and paparazzi snapping photos! The only way for Elvis to have a peacefully existed was within his own artificially created world called Graceland! Many spend their entire lives striving for fame, fortune and power, but few consider how achieving the aforementioned results is a lonely existence.
After departing Graceland, we drove 72 miles East to Bolivar where we found a Walmart to spend the night.