Friday, October 7, 2011

3000 Miles to Graceland

As I mentioned a few days ago, my family took a road trip this week, driving to a wedding roughly 16 hours south.

We are not new to such drives thanks to my crippling terror of discomfort with flying and took many when the kids were little.

The boys were still in car seats for several of these trips. Restricted by buckles and harnesses, our older son would stretch the limits of his imagination in order to torture his younger brother.

Often unable to actually reach him with his fingers or toes, Tommy had to resort to mind control and extra sensory perception to torment his victim.

Shrieks of "He's reading my mind!!" or "He knows what I'm thinking!!" would ring out as we navigated the highway at our usual seven to ten miles above the speed limit. 
The Amazing Kreskin, himself.

We were tempted to put the miniature Amazing Kreskin in the trunk upon many an occasion.
We managed to keep whining to a minimum with a successful tactic: At five minutes to every hour it was "Complaining Time."  We would force the boys to purge the discontent from their systems for five solid minutes until the next increment arrived in an hour.

We'd join them.

The four of us would raise our voices in shrill laments, yodeling at break neck speed about the many discomforts and indignities we suffered while in the car. Then, at exactly the moment the new hour struck, complaining was done. Not a negative peep could be uttered. 

Even if the kids were quiet and content, we'd force them to complain--and, often, they'd complain about that.

Once someone looked at someone the wrong way and all hell broke loose in the back seat. Tom was out of the car seat by this time and and there had likely been pinching and gouging, too and -- shy of duct tape or brandishing a loaded gun -- we couldn't get them to stop.

In desperation, we slipped a new mixed Elvis tape into the cassette player and as the golden tones of "Return to Sender" filled the car, suddenly Tom was silent and his lifelong love of Elvis was born.

This discovery eventually prompted a drive to Graceland during "Elvis Week," a gaudy and glorious celebration of the King's life down in Memphis, ending with a solemn candlelight vigil commemorating the anniversary of his death.

To this day, it remains one of the best times of my life.
The famous gates

There are tents set up with performing Elvis impersonators as well as people of all sizes and shapes and from countless countries, dressed as the King of Rock 'n' Roll, himself. 

We were befriended by an Argentinian Elvis, ate our fill of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and took a tour of the mansion, genuinely thrilled as we passed through the famous gates, walking slowly in the Tennessee sunshine.

We continued the drive down to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit the shack, preserved and visited by thousands every year, in which Elvis was born.

That day actually was the date of the King's infamous passing and I spotted a news crew from one of the major networks. There were plenty of people there but, budding media whore that I already was, I knew that a seven year old Elvis fan would play well on the nightly news so I shamelessly dangled Tommy in front of the camera. 
Birthplace of the King

It worked. We were interviewed for the national news but were somewhere on the road when it aired that evening.

The kids still bitch about the time in the car. Seth started developing his now finely honed martyr routine during those trips and I was the laughing stock of many friends and family members.

"Why spend so much time getting to your destination instead of just being there?" they would heartlessly mock.

Well, because I-goddam-well-hate-to-fly-and-mind-your-business-please, was the primary answer but I really did enjoy the getting-there part of a trip.
How many, O Lord?

Just like this past weekend--I actually talked to my family. Trapped together in a speeding bullet of steel and vinyl, one has little else to do between texting, dozing and counting Ryan Gosling movies.

A trip by plane these days, thanks to delays and security measures, is always a major undertaking, anyway. Why not visit an enormous truck stop and learn to top off a giant paper cup of Diet Coke like a pro, instead?

No doubt my kids will fly to their destinations when they have wives and children...but something will be lost and I don't just mean the potential of blood clots from confined sitting.

I mean fun, discovery, lousy food, the art of extending a long leg without kicking a fellow passenger in the nose, the elusive glimpse of the truck stop know, all the good stuff.

Have I sold you? I didn't think so.
The Candlelight Vigil at Graceland has to be seen to be believed.


  1. I remember long car trips when we were young... 3 kids and a small dog in the back seat of a VW Beetle (can you say squashed?), baggage stuffed in all around us.
    We only had to go about 5 hours though - and there were frequent stops for one or other of us to be carsick...
    Oh the joy :-)

  2. I love the story of the Elvis trip. I grew up on the man's music myself and would have enjoyed it. We did road trips growing up too, and we've now begun them with my daughter. 7 hours is usually our limit (for all of us), but there's a helluva lot of places within 7 hrs driving distance from here. I plan to see it all.

  3. In the back seat of a Beetle??? Now that's togetherness!

  4. You go, Alicia! Our kids "pretend" gripe now but our trips were enjoyable and memorable--in a good way!