I tend to carry so much luggage around with me on business trips that when I leave the airport, my arms feel stretched like rubber bands from the weight of the suitcases and I imagine myself to resemble a Homo erectus. I’m an anthropologist by trade, in other words I study people, their origins and evolution, races. It’s the type of work where if there’s anyone around you, you work no matter where you are.
In short, our travels – my boss and I that is – have a very strange prequel. Before we were able to secure financing to travel abroad at least twice a month, we used to watch movies for some “diversity training”. Of course, our studies were not perfectly accurate, but we did come up with a new profession: anthropological film analysis. When we found out we had to travel, it didn’t take us long to pick our destination. Elvis is the only person on Earth who looks like almost everything – from the Statue of Liberty, to Kings that lived 2000 years ago.
At the beginning of “film studies”, we saw Jim Jarmusch’s film “Mystery Train” at least 3 times. In this film, three stories are connected by a Memphis hotel and the spirit of Elvis Presley.
After flying into New York, we set out for Tennessee. We changed trains twice and managed to listen to every Elvis and Carl Perkins album at least once on the way. When we arrived in Memphis, we thought that after three decades, the city would have changed (I wasn’t even born three decades ago, Jarmusch’s film was made then), but it was almost exactly as it was in the movie. The central station is still just as old, and the entrance to the station is still adorned with the same “Memphis. Welcome” sign. We were waiting for a black elderly man to ask us for a cigarette at some point, but the station was empty. Upon leaving the station, we didn’t hail a taxi; rather, we decided to walk to the “Arcade Hotel”. We didn’t even use a map; we came out onto Caesar Street and took the route of the film alongside little colorful stacked row houses.
We managed to get lost before nightfall and saw many men and women rocking Elvis Presley’s hairstyle. My boss insisted that we would not find anything new and I had to admit he was right, but I actually liked this challenge: discussing the origins of these people and whether they’re good or bad cosplayers. After waiting in line for a taxi for 2 hours, we finally reached the Arcade Hotel, which wasn’t called the “Arcade” anymore but was fortunately still a hotel. The rooms were renovated but Elvis’s image was still front and center. We left our baggage and headed down to the “Arcade Restaurant” to eat.
The restaurant seemed unchanged. Blue chairs and the expectation that Tim Roth will come out with his girl, jump on the table and start making gun-threats. I’ve never been a big fan of bacon, but I ordered bacon and fried eggs anyway, like the movie fanatic that I am.
Where should you go while you’re in Memphis? Visit Graceland – Elvis’s former home – where you’ll see his monument and all things Elvis related. You get the sense that this city lost its identity after Elvis’s birth. You realize that Carl Perkins, Holland Wood, Jerry Lewis and Johnny Cash walked on these streets and you come to understand why Jarmusch made his movie ghost-themed. It’s odd that you do not hum “mystery train” while walking around. John Lurie’s “Tuesday night in Memphis” is the soundtrack to our trip.