Going to Graceland, Graceland!
This year's ACOG meeting took place in Memphis where we stayed in the storied Peabody Hotel. We chose to drive this time. The difference in time between flying and driving seemed insignificant, and we could travel on our own schedule. Dana finished her paperwork on the way while I drove and participated in conference calls. We had perfect weather for driving, cool and clear with little wind, and traffic cooperated pretty much the entire drive.
The Peabody, located in the center of downtown Memphis, close to the river, is the hotel famous for the March of the Ducks. Each day at 11:00 a.m. a group of five ducks travels down on the elevator from their home on the roof and marches down the red carpet to their daytime home in the enormous lobby fountain. At 5:00 p.m. each day, they march back to the elevator and home. The hotel accomplishes all this with great pomp and circumstance with the hotel Duck Master describing the roots of the tradition and appointing and honorary Duck Master each day.
People begin lining the red carpet thirty minutes before the big moment. The hotel limits access across the carpet and around the fountain. Adults and children wait expectantly for the big moment. At exactly 11:00am, about ten minutes after the Duck Master begins his speechifying, appointing, and they go up to meet the ducks, the elevator door opens and...
Five mallard ducks, one male and four females, come out of the elevator and race down the red carpet to the steps set up for them in front of the fountain. They hop up the steps and drop into the water where they swim and splash to the delight of the watching children. The entire enterprise takes about fives seconds.
I tried twice to take some good pictures, but the lobby has only soft light and if you don't get there early, you won't get a very good view. But it was fun to watch and be part of a tradition that goes back some eighty or ninety years.
For our big entertainment, we had a private tour of Graceland. I went prepared to bask in the kitsch and overall cheesiness. After all, how can you not make delightful fun of a man who has inspired legions of overweight, over coiffed men in sunglasses and tight onesies? I have even insisted that if Dana and I ever decide on the sometimes popular Wedding Vow Renewal Ceremony, I would only do it with Elvis in attendance, possibly officiating. I find it difficult to remember anything but the pill-shellacked, round-faced, kind of skeezy Elvis.
Boy, did I come away from Graceland impressed. The house seems fairly modest by today's standards, without any appearance of a Macmansion. It must have seemed like a palace in the 1950s. The grounds were quite nice and quite vast.
I did not remember what a charming person Elvis presented when he first got into the music business. As they described him in one exhibit, "He was dangerous, but not too dangerous." He was a respectful, kind man who appeared not to allow his instant fame go to his head. I had no idea how many gold records he had won () or movies he stared in (30). Most impressive, Elvis spent untold amounts of money on philanthropy. I find it difficult to imagine what Memphis would look like today without his generosity. He wrote reams of $1,000 checks to all kinds of causes back in the day when that was a lot of money.
He died at 42. With a couple of hiatus years in there when he did not perform, and of course all those years in Vegas where we get the image of Skeezy Elvis, that means he accomplished most of his recording and his movies in a short 10-12 years. The man must have had a work ethic.
So they did a great job of showing us the other side of Elvis and making me rethink the archetypal image I had of him before. He's no longer on the guest list for my next wedding. I think that would be disrespectful of a man who though he waged a losing battle with his demons at the end of his life, nevertheless managed to do a great deal of good for many people. He entertained millions and paved the way for Rock and Roll. I stand corrected.