Saturday, November 5, 2016

ELVIS ROAD TRIP





Brightwood Inn, Whitsett, NC
Wurlitzer Jukebox, Whitsett, NC
Elvis Shrine, Whitsett, NC
Sitting on the Throne, Whitsett, NC


I’ve always had a love affair with automobiles since the boyhood day my Uncle Ed pulled into the driveway with a new dark navy Olds’ Rocket 88 with a V-8 engine. It was the first time I had ever noticed an automobile that was packaged in a beautiful assembly of sculpted sheet metal. The second I turned 16, I had earned enough money mowing lawns and stocking grocery shelves to split the cost of my first car with my parents, as we had agreed to years earlier. I recently paid more for a lawnmower than that 1951 Ford Victoria hardtop that I had pinstriped as La Bamba! I’ve never considered an automobile as basic transportation and that passion was highlighted a few years ago when I scratched off a convertible sports car from my bucket list.

Today’s 70 degree November weather could only be described as a career opportunity for a Road Trip! On days like this I simply enjoy driving to some destination strictly for the joy of the journey. So, when I awoke this morning with “nowhere to go and no place to be”, I immediately declared a “Road Trip!” At this stage of life, I still enjoy a Road Trip, but I just don’t necessarily venture as far from home as in days past. I set my GPS on I-40 to The Streets of Southpoint outside Raleigh-Durham where I did a little shopping and then enjoyed a casual late lunch at California Pizza Kitchen.

As I was cruising home down I-40, I vaguely remembered that there was still an aging roadside Inn just off the interstate outside Whitsett, NC that I had heard about for years. As the story goes, the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had stopped there after a concert in Burlington on February 15, 1956. Elvis had just recently signed a $40,000 contract with RCA records and was on a long Road Trip touring with The Blue Moon Boys with Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums. They performed some of the 21-year-old’s first hits; “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “I’m left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”. “Heartbreak Hotel’ had just been recorded.

After the concert, Elvis left with a couple of musicians in his pink 1955 Fleetwood Cadillac which he later gave to his mother. The next tour stop was in Winston-Salem, so they stopped at one of the popular roadside inns of the time called the Brightwood Inn for a late dinner. The waitress that chanced to wait on Elvis and his crew still works there. She mentioned that Elvis ordered a cheeseburger and milk while the other two drank Miller High Life beers. The local paper never mentioned the concert, but later that year it reported that Elvis “shakes and wiggles and jumps and bumps; it’ s like watching a strip-tease and a malted milk machine at the same time.” I remember my sister loaning me one of the first Elvis 45’s, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, which I liked and played for our “Bring a record to Music Class” in high school. I was laughed out of the room! By the summer of 1956 Elvis was the most popular entertainer in the USA.

As I pulled up to the vacant parking lot, I stepped outside and took a photo of the inn. The proprietor must have spotted a customer and peered out the front door to announce that I could come in even though he was technically closed. I asked if this was the place where Elvis ate and he quickly acknowledged that it was indeed. He graciously announced that he had been here for 69 years and led me to the cluttered back room containing the Elvis shrine. I handed him my new iPhone7 and asked if he would take my photo in the booth. He was reluctant at never handling one of these new contraptions and the pick of the litter includes his fingers framing my face! I wondered why he kept saying he was cutting off my head! But since I came of age in the Rock ‘n’ Roll fifties with Elvis and later with my 1952 Seeburg C100 “Happy Days” jukebox loaded with many of his 45’s, it turned out to be one of those serendipitous Road Trip moments to be cherished forever.

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