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Liberty Bowl Travelogue (Day Two): Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, the Georgia Dance Team, and Me

Based upon the admittedly limited sample size with which I have become acquainted since arriving in Memphis, I believe fans of the Central Florida Knights outnumber fans of the Georgia Bulldogs here. When my family and I went down to breakfast this morning, we saw a UCF fan checking in at the front desk; we saw at least a half-dozen supporters of the Orlando-based institution, including one wearing a white-and-gold "Beat Georgia" T-shirt, at Graceland (about which more forthwith); and we passed a number of college-age people in Knights gear on our hall when coming back in from lunch.

When we checked in on Tuesday, we were told that we were staying on the same floor as cheerleaders and band members who were in town for the game; at the time, I was uncertain whether this meant we were sharing the floor with representatives from one or the other of the two competing institutions, or if the Liberty Bowl featured something akin to "Band Day" in Athens, when high school musicians from around the area came into town to participate in the halftime show.

Given the amount of Central Florida apparel seen on our hall, and the age of the people wearing it, though, I had by early afternoon begun strongly to suspect that the second floor of the Memphis Marriott presently was peopled with my wife, our children, the UCF band, and me. If this was the case, I worried, a Red and Black win would be essential if I was to have any hope of getting a decent night’s sleep on New Year’s Eve; in the alternative, though, I thought I might be able to exact a measure of revenge for a Bulldog loss by lodging repeated complaint calls to the front desk on Friday night for the purpose of getting them kicked out of the hotel. Such considerations do, however, raise the interesting question of what a UCF quarterback says to the camera after winning a bowl game, since "I’m going to Disney World!" essentially equates to "I’m getting on the bus and heading home!"

The Memphis Marriott is not the best hotel in which I have ever stayed---I prefer the Courtyard Marriott in Clemson, S.C., as a matter of fact---but it is conveniently located just off of I-240, providing easy access to the airport and to nearby attractions, none of which (at least until Friday afternoon) is more important than Graceland. The personal significance of my first trip to the home of Elvis Presley really cannot be overstated; Jujdawg once insisted that I was the only kid in my first grade class who had heard every song Elvis ever recorded before starting school, my parents saw the King in concert on multiple occasions (traveling to Tuscaloosa to do so for the first time, out of fear that he might never play closer to Atlanta than that), and Keith Richards (the Dawg Sports commenter, not the rock star) sent me a text message while I was at Graceland noting how surreal the place is.

"Surreal" is a good way of putting it. While the house obviously is impressive, it just as obviously is not opulent in the manner "MTV Cribs" has taught us to expect for stars of Elvis’s stature; the tackiness of much of the home is beyond dispute, yet this is a result of the unfortunate tastes of that era, as the ‘60s and ‘70s were among the ugliest decades in human history. (Presley’s death at age 42 produced many sad side effects, among the most glaring yet least egregious of which is the fact that it froze the jungle room perpetually in 1974. Had the King lived another decade, Graceland’s existence in permanent stasis circa 1987 still would look dated, but would not induce nearly as much cringing.)

All that aside, the array of gold records in the trophy room truly is impressive, the gravesite truly is moving, and the iconography on display truly is staggering. (Incidentally, it was hard not to note Graceland’s scrupulous avoidance of characterizing the 1968 television special with the familiar description comeback; the term is rarely heard or seen, and always rendered in quotation marks.)

After Thomas purchased a "TCB" guitar pick in the Graceland gift shop and we got turned around on I-55, taking a brief detour into Mississippi, we were off to the Children’s Museum of Memphis. The so-called "CMOM" is stationed within the shadow of the Liberty Bowl, the bowbacked stadium that dominates the skyline beside the museum. Because the arena is home to the Memphis Tigers, the street in front of the Children’s Museum leading up to the Liberty Bowl is emblazoned with white tiger paws, reminiscent of the orange ones evident on the streets of the aforementioned Clemson, S.C.

In fact, "reminiscent" sells these tiger paws considerably short; from my research for Fighting Like Cats and Dogs, I know that, when the Clemson Tigers adopted the paw as their logo around 1970, they included a small C-shaped notch in the lower right of the paw to mark it as their own . . . and, sure enough, the same C-shaped notch is visible on the tiger paws leading up to the Liberty Bowl. I don’t know the history of it---maybe, when former Clemson coach Tommy West took over at Memphis, his former employer signed off on his importation of the tradition---but the possible intellectual property infringement caught my eye.

We spent two hours in the Children’s Museum, which is a neat facility for families with small children. Elizabeth especially enjoyed the dancing room with the disco ball, and Thomas was particularly fond of the authentic B727-100 cockpit donated to CMOM by FedEx. Most of the folks in the museum were locals; I saw a great deal of Memphis Tigers gear, but I saw only two kids in Georgia apparel and no one clad in UCF colors. Make of that what you will, but the pronounced lack of team togs caused one young visitor to spot my red clothing and tell me I was "dressed like Santa."

From there, it was over to Davis-Kidd Booksellers, where I did the first thing I do anytime I am visiting a bookstore to which I have never been before: I began by checking out the Faulkner section. I then did the second thing I do anytime I am visiting a bookstore, regardless of whether I have been there before: I spent too much money. (Among my several purchases was Judith L. Sensibar’s Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art.)

After supper (which confirmed what I observed at lunch: Memphis restaurants consider themselves overburdened when two-thirds of their tables are occupied), we finished the day by looking at the Christmas lights on display during Starry Nights at Shelby Farms Park. The experience itself was a lot of fun, but, unless you know your way around Memphis really well, you shouldn’t pay the park a visit without a GPS, because you will not exit anywhere near where you entered, you will not find a competent employee to provide you with directions, and you will not chance upon an obvious route back that is not needlessly blocked off to accommodate the very event you have just enjoyed.

We got back to the hotel a little while ago, much later than intended, and, as we got onto the elevator, we saw two young ladies with University of Georgia pedigrees step out into the lobby clad in their Georgettes jumpsuits. This corrected my misconception, supra; the Memphis Marriott evidently presently houses my wife, our children, the Central Florida band, the Georgia dance team, and me. Win or lose on Friday, we could be in for a Dick Clark-like New Year’s Rockin’ Eve around these parts when the weekend gets here.

Go ‘Dawgs!