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Accomplished Dreams - Visit to Tupelo and Memphis
Célia Carvalho, August 1997
Photos by Sandra Santos.
celiamcarvalho@gmail.com


1997 - Célia, aos portões de Graceland. Célia, na casinha onde Elvis nasceu, em Tupelo.
 

I had a dream for quite a while... the dream of seeing Elvis before my eyes, talk with him, and listen to the story straight from his mouth. Well... but that was really just a dream. I knew that would be impossible forever. So, I began to dream if it would be possible to visit his house, the place where he had been born and all the other places related to him. It was possible. I just needed a good spare of will and save very hard. Yes, it would be difficult, since in the previous year I had bought an apartment completely by myself and I didn’t know if the money would be enough. But God was on my side, I had enough money...! And I wanted to be there during the 20th Anniversary of his death. I knew it would be something unforgettable and big.

 

My traveling companions were Sandra Raquel and Lu Ribeiro, two people that I’ve met through our Portuguese fan club. When we found out we all shared the same dream and the same intentions, we decided to do this trip together. For me, everything started from November 1994 onwards, when I started saving for the trip in August 1997. I inscribed myself at the Arena Traveling Agency (the agency that deals with the trips for the English fan club) in 1995 and kept on contacting them to deal with everything necessary for my journey. In 1996, Sandra and Lu joined me and I started to take care of their trips, too. After many joint adventures, the time went by and the day that we most looked forward to was nearer and nearer - that day was the 8th of August.
 

Index
8 August 1997 - Friday
Lu Arrives from the Algarve

Interview by TVI
Departure to London
Arrival in London
9 August 1997 - Saturday

Gatwick Airport
Departure to Atlanta
Arrival in Atlanta
Departure to Memphis

Arrival in Memphis


8 August 1997 - Friday

Lu Arrives from the Algarve

This day started very early, since Lu (who had traveled from the Algarve during the previous day by train) was coming to meet me in my house. Her husband would drop her at my house and fetch my luggage. The reason for this were mainly two different things: to kill time together before departing to London and to not have to carry the luggage around Lisbon before going away. But something unexpected also came up - this time, something pleasant.

Interview by TVI

TVI - which Lu contacted several times by phone and to whom I had sent two faxes to inform them on our trip to Elvisland - contacted me at my working place the day before. My work mates informed them that I was on vacation and they called me home. It was a nice guy, Nuno Batista, who wanted to interview me at my house before going away to England. My father would have a heart attack if that happened. Of course Lu was ready to be interviewed, regardless the place. I called Sandra, who told me that she could not be present, since she still had to go to the bank. I called Ana Cristina Henriques, to ask her if she could take the morning of Friday off to stay home and be interviewed there. TVI wanted to interview us around 10 a.m., in time to appear in the news at 1.30 p.m. Ana could not be present and so could not Paulo. Therefore, she gave me the key of her house and me and Lu went there and waited for TVI to arrive. They got there just in time and the interview went smoothly. They wanted us to sing, but without our usual gang of boys, I didn’t feel comfortable enough...! At 11 a.m. we said goodbye to TVI and left for Lisbon, where we should meet Sandra’s parents and Sandra, as well as Lu’s husband, to have lunch together in a restaurant at Feira Popular (Popular Fair) before leaving. It was raining a bit. On that day the three of us had our T-Shirts on, the ones our club had made to celebrate the anniversary and we kind of attracted attention. After having met, we went to the restaurant, had a fine meal and the TV was on the TVI channel to see if they put the promised piece of news on the air. Sandra was anxious to see what they were going to say and to see us on television...! When we finally showed up, she went running straight to the TV set, to listen to everything they were saying, calling the attention of several persons' that were there. They noticed that her TShirt was exactely the same as the ones on TV (mine and Lu’s) and started looking around. Of course they were astonished to see that it were really us on TV on that moment...! Ana and Paulo had already taken care of business to tape record everything on TV related to Elvis while we would be away, so we were relaxed.


Departure to London


Legend: Me, Lu and Sandra, at Lisbon's airport, before departing to London.
 

Our plane to London was at 4.55 p.m. At 3 p.m. we went to the airport, thrilled and hopeful. At the airport, a friend of Sandra arrived to say goodbye - Lena - and I was really surprised when I turned around and saw Ana and Paulo. Ana had told me that she had to go to the dentist on that afternoon and I believed her. After all, they had come to say goodbye. Lena took several photos of all of us, mainly of Lu with her magnificent bouquet of 20 red roses that she planned to put on Elvis’ grave. We stayed there for a while, but then we said goodbye and we checked-in. We entered “our” plane of British Airways with Gatwick-London as our destination. The name of the plane was funny - Mistress Quickly. Everyone was picking on us, since we were wearing the same T-Shirts and the same pins. Sandra’s father had made some special and unique pins based on a drawing by me. So, noone had pins like ours. Many people thought we were going to attend the big concert in Wembley. Little did they know...! The flight was a bit shaky. Let’s say that the cups and platters jumped a little bit. We had to travel with our seat-belts always fastened. I started wondering if it would be difficult to find Jeane at the airport. Once again she had decided to meet me, traveling, for that purpose, from the north of England, just to see me. I missed her a lot, since the last time we had met had been in October 1993.

Arrival in London


Legend: Lu, my English friend, Jeane, and myself, near our hotel in London.


After collecting our luggage, I spotted Jeane in a second in the middle of the crowd after all. She looked the same. We caught a taxi to the hotel that I had booked in June - Gatwick Skylodge Hotel. The taxi was very comfortable and different from all the taxis we are used to see in Portugal. Of course that it was very strange, once again, to travel on the “wrong” side of the road and to see all the drivers sitting on the “wrong” side of the car...! We got there very quickly, since I had picked that hotel precisely for being near the airport - we were going to need to go back to the airport on the following day to depart to America and it was convenient to save money in transportation. Jeane had already left her luggage in one of the rooms that I had booked for her and me and we immediately went there to drop our luggage, too. The hotel was unbearably hot. And they didn’t have air-conditioning, since in England, as it’s very rare to have hot weather, they are prepared against the cold and not against the heat. I phone called my mother to tell her everything went okay and asked her to call Lu’s daughters and Sandra’s mother. When we came downstairs to have a cold drink, I bumped into several Elvis’ fans who were there with the same purpose than we were - Derek, Margret, Vera, Joyce and June. We sat outside at the table until it was dark. We talked a lot about Elvis and several other things. We also found out that this group of fans was going to leave earlier than we were and that their flight was going to stop in Dallas instead of Atlanta, as ours was. I immediately found out that we were never going to meet the whole bunch of 950 fans that were going to America on the following day, as I had always imagined. Through Vera I also found out that she was going to be present at the ceremony of the 11th August in Memphis, when Elvis was going to be given 100 gold records, for his sales abroad. I already knew that I could not be present, since at that time - 10 a.m. - I was going to be still in Tupelo. Anyway, only a few people could be there - namely, the presidents and vice-presidents of some Elvis Fan Clubs. Vera managed to get an invitation through a president of a branch of the English fan club and she was quite happy to be able to go. At the same time, I also found out that she had a ticket for sale that I’d really like to buy. We had chosen several optional tours for the US and there was one that we could not choose for being sold out. The tickets were already sold out in April and, ever since, we stayed in the waiting list without being able to get them. The particular event was a cruise in the Mississippi River by night, with a concert on board given by a group that admired Elvis’ music. Vera had a ticket, but there were 3 of us. I thought I could ask Kathy Williams about that - the person that I knew to be our Travel Manager in the US and with whom we had to meet on the following day at 11 a.m. to collect our polo-shirt - a give-away by the traveling agency. Jeane was confident that we were going to get the tickets, althought I thought the time too short for that...


Legend: In our bedroom, with my friend Jeane, looking through the book she gave me.
 

Already in our rooms, Jeane surprised me with something that I wasn’t really expecting. She asked me, “Do you have enough room in your suitcase?” “Why?” I asked. “Because I have a book here that I would like you to keep.” And then she showed me a book by Sean Shaver, one of his most famous ones, The Life Of Elvis Presley, with hardback cover, big and full of nice photos that Sean took along the years that he chased Elvis around. It was on the heavy side, that was why Jeane was worried. “But do you really want me to keep it? Do you have another one?” She told me she did. I started looking through it, delighted with the amount of photos that I had never seen before... I wasn’t really counting on that. I think that with the surprise I even didn't thank my friend accordingly...!

Needless to say that I haven’t slept much on that night. It wasn’t just the heat - it was also the fact of knowing that we would be off to America on the following day. For a number of days now I was saying that I was only going to believe it when I would be inside that plane to Atlanta. Lu’s roses were taking the trip pretty well, considering the adventures that they had already went through and the heat. But I had a water sprayer and they looked quite good.


9
August 1997 - Saturday    

Gatwick Airport


In the morning we ate the most Portuguese breakfast we could (!) and we said goodbye to Jeane who,
saddly, had to catch the train very early. Meanwhile, we had already taken several photos. We called for a taxi and off we went to the airport, once again. I read the instructions that Arena Travel had sent me to know how to find the check-in area and Kathy. It was quite easy. We decided to check-in immediately. They asked us a few questions, weighted our bags, handed us our boarding passes, etc. Oh, yes. My bag weighted 9 kg. So, I could still bring 11 kg of Elvis stuff with me...! In the meantime, we had some bad news... Lu couldn’t take the roses to America. “Why?” was the question we asked all at once. The lady of Delta Airlines said she was very sorry and she didn’t exactly knew why, but the United States don’t allow the entry of several things in the country that come from abroad, namely: flowers, fruits, meat, fish and everything that might grow. I think it’s to avoid the entry of any toxical products or diseases and insects that may follow with those products. However, it was sad... The roses were so beautiful, they were still so  fresh, as if they had been picked on that same day. They were taking up pretty good. What was harder to accept was to leave them at Delta Airlines counter and not having given them to Jeane, for instance. Everybody looked kind of sad, but it was out of their reach...


Legend: The bouquet of 20 roses (for Elvis's 20th Anniversary) that Lu had to leave behind at Gatwick airport.
 

Just shortly after this sad incident, we saw Kathy. She had a blue jacket on which exactly matched the color of her eyes - gorgeous! She was distributing packets with polo-shirts and I immediately went to talk to her. She has terribly nice and I had never seen her before. As I had already attended two festivals organised by the English fan club in England, I was hopeful to get a guide that I already knew and someone who belonged to the club’s staff. But I was happy with the fact that she was so nice, which was the main thing. The polo-shirts looked quite “normal”: they were white and had the letters Elvis embroidered in red with the symbol 20 Years After in the background in blue. Nothing very special. We walked around killing time until it was time to board the plane. I couldn’t stop being surprised with the kindness and patience of the airport’s staff who dealt with the transportation of handicapped people or people with trouble to move around, in special cars for that effect or wheelchairs.

Departure to Atlanta

I knew the plane must be big. I also knew that it was going to carry around 200 people. But I thought it was going to be a plane full of Elvis fans. I immediately found out I was wrong. But when I entered the plane, I was gone... I had never been in such a big plane before! It had two corridors, one by each side and the lines had 9 seats, from window to window. Wow...!, I thought to myself. I walked and I walked, until I found my seat. I immediately found Kathy already sitting and when I started looking around, I noticed they were all Elvis’ fans, since they all had the identification card, as we had, which was compulsory. Then I was surprised when, once we started moving, I looked to my side and saw Kathy fast asleep...! How could she sleep at a time like that, dear God? I was going to America, I thought I was going to believe it, but I still couldn’t. It was 2 p.m. and I knew that a trip of more than 7 hours was ahead of us, a trip against time, since the hours kept on going back and we kept going forward. The difference of time between the countries was 6 hours.

 

This trip was also a bit “shaky”. Apparentely, the air up there was a bit troubled, since the plane shook a bit, but not as much as the British Airways plane, which was smaller. This one was from Delta Airlines, an American company. The English were a bit apprehensive and when they asked me how our trip from Portugal to England had been and I told them it had been worse, they felt a bit more relieved. Or was it the other way around...? Well, I thought that I was going to feel annoyed and bored during the trip, but it never happened. First, I could see the photos of the beautiful book Jeane had given me, as well as read some excerpts, with Lu keeping me company. Sandra was sleeping. Meanwhile, the very nice American hostess didn’t stop handing us goodies to eat. I’m telling you that I don’t remember staying long periods without eating or drinking something...! Incredible. When one of the ladies who was sitting behind me asked if I would lent her my book so they could see it, I decided to do something that I didn’t have the time to do before leaving, for not having the patience. I knew that the week of celebrations in Memphis was going to be full of events and that we were inscribed in several of those events. So, I decided to do an itinerary so we wouldn’t loose anything according to our possibilities. The main problem was not being able to be in two places at the same time...! The itinerary that I’ve done, with Lu’s supervision, was the one that guided us since the 10th August until de 21st August - the day we would leave America, arriving at Portugal on the 22nd.


Arrival in Atlanta

During our flight we were kept informed of the plane’s positioning over the Atlantic, of the altitude, outside temperature, wind speed and the speed we were travelling. It was interesting to note that we were traveling at over 11,000 meters and that the temperatures varied between the -40 and -65º...! The speed was around 600/650 km per hour. Impressive, huh?

 

Suddenly, we saw in the screen that we were flying over American land. We were almost getting there and, even so, I coulnd’t believe it. When we started to see the trees, the roads and the buildings of Atlanta, we began to feel real emotional. Sandra, whose dream had always been to visit America - apart from Elvis - was very moved. When the wheels touched the ground, very smoothly, me and Sandra yelled a bit with contentment, saying, “We are here... We arrived in America!” And of course this was followed by another “I can’t believe it!” before the bemused looks of our traveling companions. The great part of them had already been in America before. I am positive that although we were speaking in Portuguese, they could feel our excitement for being there. I don’t want to lie, but I think that we even clapped and everything. We went to fetch our bags. Before that we had to go through another questionary at Atlantas’s airport: who had packed my bag, why was I visiting America, how much time was I going to stay, what was my job in Portugal, etc, etc... What really hit me at this airport was that everything looked SO big... The English airport is also big compared to ours, but this one, looked even bigger. People were also very nice.

 

I don’t know exactly why, but my two friends were a bit confused, since they thought they didn’t need to travel by plane anymore. “Oh, yes you are!” I told them. We still had to wait for around an hour and half for our plane to Memphis. It was around 6 p.m. (local time) when we arrived in Atlanta. We had to tune our watches again...! While we were still exploring the immense space of that airport, Sandra found a magazine about Elvis from cover to cover in one of the shops and, of course, we bought it. I still haven’t read it completely, but it has some interesting information, like Elvis and Oprah Winfrey being distant cousins...! Sandra was almost dying for a cigarrette, since inside the Delta Airlines’ planes it is forbidden to smoke. I saw a notice inside the toilet which read, “Fines for being caught smoking: 2,800 dollars,” which is the nice amount of 550,000 escudos! When we finally found a smoking lounge, Sandra smoked a cigarrette, but she got sick. She said it was because of staying without smoking for so many hours in a row.

 
Departure to Memphis

There we went to check-in again to get on board of the plane that was going to take us to the most desired destination - Memphis! The plane had a funny name: Lucky which, incidently, was the name of the character that Elvis portrayed in Viva Las Vegas. This flight was going to be short, around an hour, to get to the city of the King. However, once we got out of the State of Georgia and got inside the State of Tennessee, we had to delay our watches one hour more, for having different hours. What a mess...! With all this, I still hadn’t realised that I didn’t sleep for over 24 hours. We boarded the plane at 9 p.m.. This time I was sitting next to Lu and Sandra, only separated by the corridor. By my side two boys were sitting, one blond with brown eyes and another with dark hair and green eyes. They were nice and they even helped me to put my things in the locker. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but me and my neighbor didn’t stop talking from the minute we sat until we arrived in Memphis. Lu was also talking with a lady that I thought to be English and an Elvis fan, with Sandra in the middle, trying to get some sleep and pretending that she was not listening. Later on I came to know that that lady was Scottish and we almost couldn’t understand a thing that she said because of her nasty accent...! I’m glad I was luckier than that.
 

Trevor (the dark haired boy with green eyes) and John (the blond one with brown eyes) were Elvis fans and lived in London. John was completely tired and fell asleep a few minutes after sitting down. Trevor explained that he hadn’t slept a thing during the previous night. I didn’t know why, but I was not going to ask. It was so good to talk with someone who shares so many of my own views...! It was incredible, but it seemed that, sometimes, Trevor’s way of thinking was connected to mine. This may sound a bit idiot to say, but it’s not. I have been meeting many Elvis fans and every one of them has different opinions and views on Elvis. I think Trevor was the person that I’ve met so far who shares more of my own opinions. Sometimes we even answered the same question at the same time...! Of course we always laughed about it later. He was very straight forward. He asked me if I was married or single. I said I was single and he immediately said that he was married with two kids: a boy of 11, named Aaron (guess why?) and another of 6, named Ben. I enjoyed the fact that he was so straight forward, at least he was saying that he was there to enjoy himself, but not to date with anyone. This was an attitude that John didn’t share with him...! I talked with him so many times and I still don’t know if he’s married or single, or how old is he...! Trevor is 36 years old. The trip was very quick.


Arrival in Memphis


We didn’t arrive very late, but we still had to catch the bus to Tupelo, the town where Elvis was born, which was yet in another state, this time the Mississippi one. We were all kind of upset for having to leave Memphis and sort of going back, to Tupelo. But that was our itinerary. Jeane had always told me that I would love Tupelo, that life there was very laid back, that people were extremely nice. She had also warned me to take the time to absorb the atmosphere and everything I saw.

 

There we went to pick up our bags. John woke up, a bit annoyed! He came to my side and only after looking at his identification card I noticed what his surname was: John Wilkinson! I noticed that because he was telling me he was going to participate in the art exhibition at Graceland Plaza (just in front of Graceland) with one of his drawings and I wanted to see what his surname was to look for it. I was also a bit upset for not having known about this exhibition before (I only came to know about it on board of the plane to Atlanta), since I would for sure participate in it too with one of my drawings, or my Elvis knitted sweater or some of my embroideries. Oh well... better luck next time. But coming back to the name again, I laughed and said I would never forget about his name, since he had the same name as Elvis’ rhythm guitar player! And would you believe it if I told you he had never noticed that...? I think John isn’t such a big Elvis fan. Or maybe he is just absent-minded. Both Trevor and me know all the names of every musician and backup singer who have worked with Elvis. But... thinking about it, there are lots of fans who don’t care much about that, right?

 

When we arrived at the Memphis airport, we saw the first sign that we were in the land of the King, without counting with the name of the city, of course! We saw a sign in lights with Graceland and an image of Elvis rocking, inviting people to go and visit his house. Sandra went up the stairs on the other side again, just to go down once more and take a photo on that...! Meanwhile, we were already using our second film. We got out and Kathy told us that we were going to enter our bus, which number is: “Number 12!” we all yelled in one voice. Kathy was always testing us to see if we paid attention to what she told us. Coach number 12 would always be our bus for the excursions throughout our stay. We put the luggage inside the bus, with the help of a young black lady. I took a deep breath to feel Memphis air, to see what it felt like. It was hot and the best way to describe the humidity that I also felt was like being inside a room filled with water steam. When I took that deep breath, it looked like my lungs were receiving little microscopic drops of water. Which, indeed, was what was really happening. Then we took our very first shot together in Memphis. One of our traveling companions, an elder gentleman, offered to photograph us three. Lu and Sandra took their shoes off, to feel Memphis’ soil beneath their feet! I didn’t do it, since the whole bus was waiting for us to leave and as I had tennis shoes, it was more difficult to take them off.


Legend: Already in Memphis, Sandra and Lu wanted to take a photo with bare feet.

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