Word and photos by Ken Billett
One unique advantage of living in Memphis, Tennessee, compared with other mid-sized American cities, is that everyone knows Memphis. People the world over know Memphis, even if they’ve never been to Memphis. Even if they couldn’t locate Memphis on a map. Even if they can’t wrap their heads, or fingers, around those famous dry barbecue ribs.
No sauce, please.
Most folks know Memphis as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock and Roll,” and they also know the Bluff City as the place where a young man, originally from Tupelo, Mississippi, made his home many, many years ago.
Thirty-four years after making Memphis our home, I can attest to the fact that people the world over know Elvis Presley and, by extension, Memphis, Tennessee.
Not that I’ve been all over the world, mind you. But as I wrote back in December 2019, Elvis is Everywhere . . . even in Sedona, Arizona (read A ‘Little’ Memphis in the Verde Valley).
South Beach to Sedona: An Elvis Travelogue
Well before we had children, Vicki and I visited my college buddies in South Florida. They took us to an Elvis-themed room in the heart of South Beach, the hip and historic beachfront neighborhood in Miami, Florida. We loved that my friends had embraced their inner Elvis and presented our hosts with an Elvis clock — that art deco-styled clock where the legs swing back-and-forth with the clock’s second hand.
Since then, we’ve “discovered” Elvis in an ice cream parlor in Old Montreal, a section of Montreal bordered by the St. Lawrence River and dating back to the 17th century. With narrow cobblestone streets and gothic architecture, Old Montreal felt more like historic France than a neighborhood in modern Canada.
Vive la Elvis!
In London, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Quebec City, Elvis has been with us either in spirit, or depicted in photos and paintings, or as part of our conversations with the locals. Yes, everyone knows Memphis, and everyone knows Elvis.
Back here in the States, we’ve “found” Elvis at a Cuban sandwich shop in Tampa, Florida, standing in the corner of a used bookstore in Knoxville, inside a microbrewery in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on a sandwich board inside a downtown Franklin, Tennessee restaurant, and, of course, in Sedona, Arizona, where he filmed Stay Away, Joe.
We ran into Elvis so often during our travels that we began to incorporate “Elvis sightings” into our family adventures, like our own version of Where’s Waldo?
One way or another, Elvis was always with us.
Elvis is Everywhere.
Our Guardian Angel
Two years after celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary amid the red rocks of Sedona, Vicki and I finished our delicious lunch at The Blue Biscuit in Indianola, Mississippi. The Biscuit is located across the street from the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, which honors the legacy of another king who helped put Memphis on the map. I wandered around the restaurant taking pictures. Lo and behold, I found a color print of Elvis hanging on the wall behind the bar. That jet black hair, those blue eyes, and that red car driver jacket — collar turned up, of course — pure Elvis.
As I wrote in Delta Dispatches: A Blues Traveler’s Diary (Part 2)—
The King’s photo reminds me that wherever we are in the world, from Montreal, Canada, to Sedona, Arizona, to Miami Beach, Florida, Elvis is everywhere and watching over us, like a guardian angel.
Our angel has been with us every step of the way, whether during our many adventures, or our inevitable miscues, or simply tooling around our adopted hometown, the King never seems to be far away.
Elvis is a reminder that wherever we are, a little bit of Memphis . . .a little bit of our home is there, too. That’s comforting. Reassuring. Even in a kitschy sort of way.
In Dock of the Bay, I wrote about finding a home, calling it “home,” and learning to love where you live. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again . . . we love Memphis.
And we have The King to thank for that.
Our guardian angel.
Travel. Exploration. Adventures. We’ve had our share of memories, and we hope to have many more in the years to come. Eventually, those adventures come to an end and then it’s time to go home. Our co-pilot, who always seems to be along for the journey, guides us home to Memphis.
When he was alive, Elvis apparently never toured outside of North America, yet he remains a world-wide phenomenon. An ambassador for the Bluff City. One of the Kings of Memphis, along with B.B. and former pro wrestler Jerry Lawler.
For me, Elvis will always be that guardian angel on our trips abroad and nearby.
A co-pilot safely steering us to our final destination.
And a reminder of home.
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.