Our last day in Memphis dawned cool and a little damp - it had rained overnight. Fortunately, the forecast was for the clouds to go away by noon, and our Graceland Tour, part of which would be outside, was scheduled for 1:30pm. Our morning plans called for us being indoors, as we were off after breakfast to drive out to the Pyramid.

That is, the Bass Pro Shop that occupies a giant pyramid that was once an ill-fated sports arena.

When it was originally opened as a 20,000 seat stadium in 1991, it was the largest pyramid in the US. However, it earned the local nickname "Tomb of Doom" after a string of bad luck, starting with a burst water pipe that flooded the arena on opening day. Just a few years later, the Luxor in Las Vegas opened up, surpassing the Memphis pyramid as the largest in the US. Adding financial injury to insult, in 2004 both the college and professional basketball teams moved to the new FedEx Forum near the Beale Street bars.

It got a new lease on life in 2015 when Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, decided to turn it into a giant showplace for his stores. Today, the 535,000 square foot building houses not only a large Bass Pro Shop, but also a bowling alley, a wildfowl heritage museum, an archery and pistol range, and a 103-room wilderness-themed hotel - The Big Cypress Lodge.

In the center of the complex there is a free-standing glass elevator that can take you the 28-stories to the restaurant and glass observation deck at the peak. There is an $8 charge for non-guests of the hotel.

Surrounding the elevator is a recreation of a cypress swamp, completed with bridges, wooden walkways, fish, and even some alligators.

Note the two floors of hotel rooms with balconies overlooking the swamp.

Yes, those are alligators.

We really enjoyed looking around the store, and had our lunch in the Wahlburgers Wild, next to the Fish Bowl bowling lanes.

Family of deer on our way out.

We enjoyed our time here so much, that we signed up to return for a two-night stay at the Big Cypress Lodge Hotel. Normally going for over $300/night we were able to get a special deal ($199 for two nights, plus we get $150 in Bass Pro Gift Cards at checkout) in return for agreeing to watch one of those dreaded "vacation opportunities video" during our stay. In theory, it only takes an hour - hopefully it is not one of those hard-sell events where they lock you in a room and don't let you pee until you agree to visit their resort.

When we got back to to our car, the day was indeed clearing up. We made it back to the Guesthouse at Graceland in plenty of time to freshen up in our room and catch the shuttle once more to the Graceland Ticket Center.

Full disclosure time here - Rita and I are not big Elvis fanatics. As an amateur musician I of course appreciate his body of work, his influence on the history of music in this country, and his inspiration to many of yesterday and today's rock legends. But also as an amateur musician, I have to keep in mind he was not a great musician in terms of musical ability or songwriting. In fact, although he recorded over 600 songs, he himself admitted he never wrote a single one. His name is listed as "co-writer" on some strictly because his label demanded he get at least 50% credit from the songwriter before agreeing to record. So basically, he was one hell of a performer with a great voice, not a musical genius.

So visiting Graceland was something we thought would be fun to do, but not a pilgrimage or anything.

If you have never been, let me set the stage for you a bit. In my mind, I had always pictured Graceland as a fancy mansion out in the country, sitting on a hill all by itself - and perhaps it was, at one time.

Now, it is still about a 14-acre lot, and the 10,000 square foot property Elvis originally purchased was expanded to 14,500 square feet (didn't seem nearly that big. They must be counting outdoor patio spaces, outbuildings, barns, etc.), but it is surrounded on two sides by very normal looking middle class neighborhoods. The north side abuts the huge Guesthouse at Graceland complex, and the property fronts on what is now a very busy four-lane highway with your basic strip malls, fast-food restaurants, motels, etc.

Across the street from the home is the much larger Elvis Presley's Memphis complex, where you find the Ticket Center, a soundstage, the Exhibition Center where we saw Van Gogh, the Elvis Presley Experience Museums, restaurants, gift shops, an RV Park, and two airplanes once owned by the King.

It is at this complex that your tour begins and ends. Guests are shuttled over to the mansion in small groups, and given iPads and earphones for a self-guided tour of the property.

Of course, true fanatics can pay for different levels of "VIP Tours", where you are personally escorted with a live guide and moved to the front of any lines, but we were happy with the basic tour.

We were a little early, so after showing our tickets we were told we could first walk out to take a look at the airplanes, sitting out by the highway.

The Lisa Marie is a Convair 880 purchased from Delta Airlines for $250,000 in 1975. He spent an estimated $400,000 more on renovating it. The story is he originally was going to buy a Boeing 707, but it was previously owned by the infamous financial fugitive Robert Vesco, and the IRS complicated the transaction. Also, he was told that if he ever flew to another country, Vesco may try to seize it.

What passed for a high-tech cockpit in 1975

Gold-plated bathroom fixtures, of course

Bedroom above, walk-in closet below

Aft bath, with chairs for hair styling and make-up

On display next to the Lisa Marie was the much smaller JetStar.

Much shorter tour. One or two people at a time can basically step in, look to the left at the cockpit (above), and look to the right for the passenger area (below). Both areas are glassed in. That's all, show's over, move along please.

Now it was time to back to the Ticket Center and head off to Graceland!

Almost. First, we had to wait in line until we were herded into a small, windowless room with some benches and a big screen. We watched a brief show about Elvis and Graceland, and then we were herded out a different door and into another line to wait for our turn to get on a van.

Everybody also gets stood up against a background to take a photo that will be available for purchase when you return from Graceland.

Finally we boarded our shuttle, and took the short ride across the street, through the gate, and up to Graceland itself. And of course, one more line to wait for our turn to enter.

Finally inside, we dutifully followed the directions on our iPads to tour the rooms of the first floor and basement, then out on the grounds. Tourists are not allowed upstairs to see Elvis' bedroom "out of respect for his privacy", which makes you wonder what kind of kinky shit might be up there. We do get to glimpse his parents' bedroom on the first floor.

Pretty fancy for serving up peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Imagine trying to find a piece of food dropped on that carpet...

We were told this setup in the kitchen was to see and talk to who was at the gate before allowing them in. Long way from that to Ring...

After the tour of the first floor things got a little weirder. The decor so far had been pretty garish and not incredibly tasteful. It's the kind of place you expect to see anytime a black velvet painting of dogs playing poker. But after a walk down a mirrored staircase, we saw stuff like this:

Three TV sets, so every channel could be on at once. Actually, there was at least one TV in every room. Note the mirrors on the ceiling.

Billiards Room, walls and ceiling done in pleated fabric

Another stairway, this one mirrors AND green shag carpet, because classy.

First look at the famous Jungle Room. Note the carpeting on the ceiling.

Waterfall Wall in the Jungle Room. Note the teddy bear.

The tour then continues outside, through some outbuildings and around the grounds. Horses are still maintained on the property. Last stop of course is the Meditation Garden and family graveyard.

Back of the home

The cee-ment pond

One more line to wait in, this time to board the shuttle back across Elvis Presley Boulevard to explore the museum of cars, artifacts, clothing, awards, etc. This turned out to be much more entertaining than Graceland itself.

Really, to our eyes the home was not very impressive. Unless you are a true believer and get off on just the thought that Elvis once lived here, walked these halls, and farted in these couch cushions, it really is nothing more than a time capsule of the mid-70's. The decor is frankly pretty tacky; lots of mirrors, imitation wood paneling, carpeting on walls and ceilings, outlandish patterns and color schemes, etc.

Not to be cruel (and of course, I just heard Elvis singing "Don't Be Cruel" in my head), but touring the house is more of an insight into how someone who grew up poor thinks rich people live. I was reminded of Navin Johnson, from the Steve Martin movie "The Jerk".

Anyway, on the the museum! Rita particularly enjoyed the cars and motorcycles on display.

You knew there had to be one ...

My personal favorite. I want this one.

Yes, this is Elvis had a pink Willy. Make your own joke here.

And of course, there were also plenty of guitars and bell-bottom jumpsuits.

On the way out, there is one last reminder of his influence on music and impact on the industry a wall of gold records, and a wall of awards.

So there you have it, our 9th wedding anniversary trip to Memphis Tennessee was officially complete. Our overall thoughts and impressions?

Well, absolutely loved the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit, which of course was our main reason for going in the first place. The riverboat ride was fun, and while we enjoyed the evening at BB King's for the food and the music, Beale Street did not seem to be all it is hyped up to be. The Bass Pro Shop was a pleasant surprise, and all in all Graceland was okay, but it may be aging out. Memphis itself seemed oddly empty of pedestrians, and several people we talked to told us car break-ins and muggings are a way of life - especially after dark. There also was a surprising amount of litter on the streets both in and out of town.

I do have a suggestion for Graceland, if any corporate people are reading this. The most tedious part of the tour was the many lines and the shuttles needed to get back and forth to the home and ground - which were not that impressive anyway, and requires going up and down a couple of staircases. And let's face it, most of Elvis' fanbase are getting to the age where stairs present a problem.

IMHO, they would do better to utilize some of the space across the road where everything else is anyway. Expand the museum, and recreate the public rooms of the house all on the same floor, spread out so that more people can see them without the long wait. They could use all the existing decor and furnishings, and allow tourists to take in entire rooms, rather than sometimes just peaking through a doorway.

Even the Meditation Garden and family cemetery could be moved, and the remainder of the grounds and property sold of to investors to offset costs - or expand it into an upscale B&B for those willing to shell out big bucks to sleep on the original hallowed ground.

Still, not to sound too negative, remember we will be returning to Memphis this fall to stay in the hotel at the Bass Pro Pyramid, and we are looking forward to that. We also found out that the riverboat company has a dinner drag show one Friday evening each month, called (naturally) River Queens, with hostess Bella DuBalle, so we of course already have tickets.

When we return, we will remain in downtown area, making sure to check out the restaurant and viewing platform atop the pyramid, visit the Civil Rights Museum, and a few other things we missed during our stay.

Hope you enjoyed this look at a few points of internet in Memphis and Graceland, and I suppose I should close with:

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

Elvis Has Just Left The Building - by Frank Zappa