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Airport Cities Conference – Graceland

Between the end of second day workshops and the beginning of third day workshops at the Airport Cities World Conference, four busloads – about 240 – of those at the conference went to Graceland Tuesday evening for a tour of the mansion and some barbecue at Graceland Plaza.

The airport executives, consultants and business leaders in town since Monday are very intense about their networking. Walk through a room where they are mingling and you will hear lots of talk about runways, infrastructure, millions of dollars for this and billions for that and always what another airport is doing somewhere else.

“But Beijing will surpass us in five years,” one visitor said non chalantly to another as Elvis’s 1972 live television concert in Hawaii played on television screens around the banquet room in the plaza.

The intensity is also a function of the language barrier that exists in any gathering anywhere that includes people from 40 countries and all seven continents.

It is a reminder that the ease with which plans and Power Point presentations point out how to get from here to there on the other side of the world, there is still work to be done on what happens once you get there.

I kept wondering where that device is that’s now advertised all over television in which a young man walks up to an elderly villager somewhere in Europe, says something in English into a digital device and then plays it back for the villager in his native tongue. I needed one of those this week.

To its credit, Graceland experienced no language barrier. The airport conference visitors were told at the outset that there digitally recorded tour of Graceland came in seven languages, all accessible through the same player. Granted they were told that in English.

The networking continued on the bus ride to Whitehaven until the airport executives caught site of the Lisa Marie, one of Elvis’s jets, which understandly caught their attention. Most had a sense for just how rare it was for an entertainer to own a jet in the mid 1970s.

Out of sight of the jets, back to networking – some right up to the time their photo was snapped in front of the Graceland backdrop just a few steps from the buses up to the house on the hill.

There were plenty of Memphians on the tour of the mansion that began the evening in Whitehaven, including airport authority executive director Larry Cox.

I tried to explain how uncharacteristic this is for Memphians to one of the delegates on the bus ride back Downtown. Many of us don’t go to Graceland unless it is to accompany visitors to Graceland. So Graceland is just as new an experience for many Memphians as it is for our visitors. But not necessarily the same.

It’s quite different to visit a house essentially frozen in the early to mid 1970s when it is in your hometown – and you knew the city intimately then and now.

There has been a lot of discussion at this three day gathering about technology.

Joe Waller of HMSHost said this morning that JFK International in New York is about to roll about an iPhone app that will allow passengers to order food in advance from restaurants in the terminal and have that food delivered to them at the gate they are at.

FedEx founder Fred Smith said Tuesday that air cargo is about delivering high tech high value goods like the parts that will go in those cooking appliances Electrolux will make starting next year at Pidgeon Industrial Park. Those iPhones on which you will probably be ordering food to go at your gate are also the cargo FedEx and others are after.

So, it was interesting to walk through a house where time stopped just about the time that television special aired with the wondrous tag line “via satellite” and just as Smith and what was then Federal Express were setting up shop off Democrat Road not too far from Graceland.

There were the three television sets lined up side by side to watch all three networks – no cable in Memphis then, even for the King. The wonder of Elvis recording toward the end of his life in The Jungle Room doesn’t seem so wondrous in the post ProTools age until you consider the logistics of trying to fit a band with 70s era sound and recording equipment into the very small jungle space.

Aside from the technological considerations, you wonder what the view of the owner was in those last years in the surroundings he had created in happier times. We recognize the fashions of the day, the suburban design in a 1930s structure, the feel of home, but everywhere is the sense it wasn’t an ordinary home and perhaps in the end it didn’t feel like home.

It was a world of his own creation, the same mind that created some of the very real problems he faced. That is the balance all of us face no matter the technology available to us.

The racquetball court at Graceland is now a place where his gold records and other awards are displayed along with a few 70s jumpsuits. Just before you walk into what used to be the court, there is a small very ordinary looking stand up piano where Elvis sang for the last time the night before he died.

It is quite possibly the easiest item to overlook on the entire tour. But you could tell when the visitors reached that part of the audio tour. They always stopped to look and think about that moment, what it might have sounded like and what it might have looked like on that hot summer night long ago.

Across Elvis Presley Boulevard, the networking slowed a bit with the introduction of barbecue.

In an earlier post we mentioned that the ban on “Mustang Sally” cover tunes by live bands Downtown had been lifted for the convention at the beginning of the week.

By day three, the ban on Elvis impersonators or anyone trying to wear a jumpsuit at Graceland remained in place. No fake Elvis welcomes for the airports crowd.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and several other local leaders arrived after the tours and fresh from a meeting elsewhere in the city on EDGE, the new economic development engine still forming.

Around the room, 1972 Elvis was making everyone doubt that Steamroller Blues was ever a James Taylor song.

Eventually, after the Elvis Aloha concert had played through for the second time and all of the scarves of 39 years ago had been given out again, the DVD returned to the opening menu with no one clicking to begin the concert for a third time. Over and over, Elvis’s entrance to drum bursts and horn blasts played as the crowd from the 70s reacted.

Elvis rocked and so did his band – then and now.

Dansette

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