August 11th 2016, 5 am departure, which means that Mum arrived the day before, and Mich desperately tried to go to bed at 9 pm and get at least a few hours of beauty sleep before getting on the road to travel the almost 2,400 km (one way) to FINALLY meet her King.
Mum and Mich get a choice seat on the bus that is definitely not as “Grand Luxe” as Mister François Reny (our tour guide)… who will now be known as Buddha, claimed in his publicity.
The bus is just okay. We are disappointed at the lack of leather seats, cup holders, charging stations and leg room. Autre bémol? Buddha asks the passengers NOT to use the bathroom. Uh, wait, we are driving to Tennessee and we can’t use the bathroom? Is this even legal? Should we have contacted human rights? It is agreed that they will have comfort stops every 2 hours, max. This would have been nice, and it was for a while, until Buddha started falling asleep all the time and snoring and rolling around his front seat and almost falling head first over the ramp and into the stairs or straight through the windshield. Nobody would attempt to wake him up, so the comfort stops started to get few and far between. Thank God, the bus driver is a rock star. And pretty cute, too.
First meal was at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Best meal of the entire “road” part.
First stop – Toronto. Quick run around the base of a very impressively… um… erect CN Tower and Mich can’t stop thinking about off-color jokes and double-entendres, which would thoroughly scandalize her mother, so she keeps them to herself. Several photos later, they have a drink on a lovely terrace in downtown Toronto, and do some people-watching before the bus is due to leave.
Night 1 – Mississauga. Decent hotel, comfy bed. All our rooms have two Queen sized beds. YEAH. We are so tired at the end of the day that we just zonk out. Decent breakfast the next morning at the hotel and we hit the road again.
Rough road day, we drive through Detroit which is creepy and wonderful and impressive with its abandoned hotels, plants, homes, etc. Too fast to get any good pictures.
Night 2 – WKRP in Cincinnati! (Does anyone remember that show?) – Decent hotel, comfy bed, no water pressure. We hit Applebee’s, for a very late dinner.
On route to Nashville, we get to watch Elvis concerts and Elvis movies on the bus, and then Buddha talks a bunch of bullshit (name dropping) with several mistakes and wrong information (which drives Mich crazy!) and then he falls asleep. AGAIN. BO-RING!!!
There are 16 free seats on the bus, so the girls play “seat tag” and move around, stretch out their legs and get comfy, as do other passengers.
Night 3 – Nashville!!! During our stay, we hit Broadway where there is country music coming out of every door, we have the best hamburger in the universe (I’m not even kidding) and do some shopping. Mich gets a Cowboy hat! We visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and wander around downtown Nashville. Hunky cowboy bouncers at every door. Mich wanders around the city, looking for PK Subban and his purple cowboy hat.
Emotional moment number 1 – we visit RCA’s Studio B in Nashville and they play ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT for us, in the very studio where Elvis recorded it, with his X on the floor where he stood, and in complete darkness. Mich cries softly throughout the entire song, people keep asking her if she’s okay when they turn the lights back on. She swears she saw and felt Elvis standing right beside her, since she chose the chair beside the magical X on the floor, without even seeing it. The guide explained the significance of the X and of her chosen chair, later.
Quick dinner and then we go to the Grand Ole Opry where we see a 2-hour show featuring Vince Gill and friends. Mich is searching for Dolly Parton…
On the road again, destination Memphis!
We arrive in Memphis, drive around and see Mich’s Boyfriend’s high school, his first house in Memphis (he was born further South in Tupelo), his second house that he bought with the royalties from his Jailhouse Rock record, then we hit the rough parts of Memphis. Mich desperately wants to get off the bus to take pictures of the run down shacks and abandoned buildings, but they tell her it’s dangerous and she is kept inside. Dammit!
Then we hit Beale Street, blues music coming out of every door. We walk around, do some shopping and Mich drags Mum to a Blues Club with an outdoor courtyard featuring a live Blues band and… wait for it… an Irish Diving Goat! It must have been a drunk goat? Drinks and drinks later, Mich becomes a bit salacious with the Elvis life-sized statue in the park and Mum drags her off. Dammit. I only wanted to verify if he was really LIFE SIZED (ha ha ha).
Day 2 in Memphis, we have lunch at Gus’ Famous Fried Chicken. Very Southern comfort, but also very good. Mich gains 10 pounds in one sitting (not really, but it feels like it).
We visit Sun Studio where Sam Phillips’ secretary discovered a 19 year-old truck driving Elvis who walked in to make a $4 record for his mother. Mich gets to sit at the secretary’s desk and pretend Elvis just walked in to her office. Mich gets worked up again, so Mum drags Mich into the Studio and they take turns posing with Elvis’ authentic microphone.
The Studio visit was not included in the tour, but Mich insisted to Buddha that they could NOT miss this since they were already in Memphis! Buddha was insulted at her for questioning his planning, so our small group of rebels who wanted to visit the Studio were abandoned in downtown Memphis to talk 2 km back to the bus that was parked in front of the famous Peabody Hotel where the rest of the group went to watch the ducks take the elevator back up from the fountain… BO-RING!!! Ducks? Who cares about ducks?
Luckily, nothing bad happened, but let me remind you that we were walking in 34 Celsius heat in the South and it was humid. We are by the Mississippi River! Mich led the way, while the two men in the group insisted that she was going in the wrong direction and wanted to head in the opposite direction (toward the roughest part of town!). Mich was in the right direction and saved the day.
We had supper at BB King’s with another live blues band. Mich ate her ribs, downed her drink and then… as soon as the band started playing … she leaves her purse with Mum and hits the piste de danse with “Papa” and his wife (other members of our group)! Our waiter gave Mich two thumbs up.
Day 3 in Memphis, the girls get beautiful because they are invited to Graceland!!!
We visit the house in the morning… and it is indescribable! WOW! Mich can see Elvis coming down the stairs from his still closed-up and private upper level area. She takes her slow sweet time visiting each room downstairs and then the offices, the trophy room, the music room, TV room jungle room (hell yeahhh!), and the gorgeous grounds. Elvis goes through, around and all over her. Mich is in heaven. Emotional moment number 2 – The grave. She falls to her knees in front of Elvis’ tomb with tears in her eyes. She puts a token from her office on the grave (small tiger figurine, because his karate nickname was Tiger) and spends several minutes on her knees (wishing Elvis was standing in front of her instead of being six feet under…!).
We then visit the private planes, the archives, the car museum, do some shopping and get a bite to eat.
Return to the hotel for a quick shower and change, food, and we return at night for the candlelight vigil to honor Elvis’ death.
Surreal experience, with Elvis Presley Boulevard closed to traffic, people building shrines along the street, Elvis impersonators right and left, and tons and tons of people holding candles. The girls deface Elvis’ stone wall with some private messages in permanent marker. When the dark comes, all you see is a sea of candles and all you can hear is soft Elvis slow tunes played from the speakers atop the stone gate. People speak in hushed tones, the atmosphere is very peaceful, very loving. Sadly, it starts to rain HARD, but we still make it up to the grave again, with our umbrella and an impromptu lovely girl from Cleveland who has no umbrella (total stranger) and stays tight with us under the umbrella until the end. We are soaked. Elvis wanted a “Mich wet t-shirt vigil”, for sure!!!
Back to the hotel to dry off. By the way, during this entire day and night, Buddha is never with us and we find him sleeping on various benches throughout the day and evening. He sucks as a tour guide.
Day 4 in Memphis, we head out to Tupelo to see where Mich’s sweet baby was born. We meet the mayor and shake hands with him, we visit the shack where Elvis was born, his church, watch a short movie about his childhood and go to eat at his favorite snack bar. Mich gets to put her ass where Elvis put his ass, sit in his booth and recreate an iconic picture of Elvis in that very booth. We eat an Elvis burger, fries and have a root beer. Visit the park where he gave his free concert in 1957, the hardware store where he got his first guitar and his grade school.
Back to Memphis for days 5, 6 and 7.
We then hit the road to head home. First stop, Cleveland, then Niagara Falls where Mum gets to finally see this force of nature (Mich has done the Falls before). Plenty of photo ops, walks, a great meal and adventures in the kitschy part of NF and we visit Niagara on the Lake and head on home to Québec.
It was a great bucket list trip!
We finished the adventure by attending the Elvis Experience concert and I introduced Mum to the genius behind the Elvis. She was thrilled. Perfect ending to a very Elvis trip.
That is all, baby! Bucket list check!