Those improvements underneath helped interior comfort and quietness approach the divine. A look around our LTZ model makes one recollect the vinyl-covered, uncarpeted, shuddering boom-rooms of, say, 1963 Chevy pickups. Our Silverado was, well, almost Audi-like. The leather-wrapped steering wheel should detach, so it could be taken away and hugged all night. As for the hide upholstery, it felt somewhat ordinary but sure looked nice. Thanks to lots of sound-deadening, serenity usually prevailed, making a wonderful environment for listening to music and excluding the clamor of traffic.
Thereby happily ensconced, we plugged along until turning west on I-71 and reaching Louisville, Kentucky, being there joined by the expedition's fourth member, Alice Smith, the mother of assistant editor Sam Smith. Her mellow attitude and gentle humor propitiously countervailed Sam's brashness. The very next morning, Halloween day, Alice detoured us to the Loveless Cafe, "A Nashville Tradition Since 1951." At this charming establishment we first whiffed the pungent hickory smoke that would keep on triggering our appetites in a Pavlovian response as we progressed through the South. Courtesy of the house, we were treated to delectable ham biscuits. While consuming them as slowly as possible, we looked just beyond our shoelaces to the incipient Natchez Trace Parkway, which from this point leads right past the very hem of Tupelo, and even with heavy rains moving in we said, "Aw, why the hell not?"
Untrafficked, undulant, abounding in blazing autumn hues, the Parkway stretched out for 444 miles, and we pointed the Silverado's handsome face and the sleek Overlander in that southwesterly direction. By this route, "Kaintucks" of the early nineteenth century returned home after floating down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in pursuit of commerce. Tupelo sits almost exactly halfway between Nashville and Natchez, and we had been told that Elvis would have followed the Trace on his way to the Music City. The Trace is administered, manicured, and patrolled by the National Park Service. The desire to drive this ribbon flat out--in a performance car, not that the Silverado wasn't performing its task most admirably--was palpable.
What else was palpable? The irony of arriving at Elvis's shrine just before dusk on Halloween. We were among the last that day to tour the 450-square-foot shotgun shack with the board-and-batten cedar ceiling sprouting one bare bulb in each of the two rooms. This house was built for $180 by Vernon and Gladys Presley. On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aaron took his first breath here, but his twin, Jessie Garon, was stillborn. The imagery that has come to depict this family is taken right from the New Testament: vague father, strong maternal attachment, wandering from place to place, and guitar lessons from a pastor. Young Elvis dazzled the learned with his second-place prize in the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show for singing "Old Shep." He also discoursed with the pharisaical bluesmen of Tupelo's Shake Rag quarter.
As the Birthplace's free pamphlet phrases it (with a mind-boggling succession of dangling modifiers), "Financially, times were hard on Vernon and Gladys, and they had to move out of the house where Elvis was born when he was two and a half years old for lack of payment." The lack was owing to Vernon's eight-month jail term for forging a four-dollar check. The house languished even after Elvis purchased it when he was twenty-five and famous.