Elvis, Poisoning and a Gas Station Healing

By Liz Pardue-Schultz

Elvis, Poisoning and a Gas Station Healing

“Let’s go to GRACELAND!” Liz shrieked, with an excitement that I’d come to recognize as a forewarning to a wild ride. It was a Friday night in mid-January, and my roommate and I had spent the previous hour in our dorm room thinking of last-minute escapes from the impending weekend boredom that always settled over our South Carolina “suitcase college.” We’d tossed around ideas of venturing to all types of Southern coastal spots or mountain hostels and even crashing with friends in New York City, when, suddenly, my roommate’s eyes lit up with inspiration. Within 30 minutes, we’d roped our neighbor Jamie into the trip, mapped a route, packed Liz’s Chevy Cavalier to the gills and set off for Memphis at 9:30 pm.

Being in our early 20s, we left every aspect of the trip to chance. In this special time before smart phones, there was no researching our destination on our part. We set our sights on Elvis’s house and just started driving, agreeing to share the 10-hour drive time throughout the night and confident in our ability to function on a few hours of backseat rest.

We arrived in Memphis just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, and, realizing we knew nothing about the city, decided to keep driving toward Graceland in hopes of finding a cheap hotel along the way. As if by magic, a billboard advertising just such a place appeared before us, and with another triumphant yell, Liz declared, “We are staying at the HEARTBREAK HOTEL!”

How could we refuse? Just one turn down Lonely Street (Yes, really), and we were there!

Grubby and tired, we shuffled to the front desk and were let into a fresh room immediately, since the “busy season” had ended the week prior, just after Presley’s birthday celebration. The hotel’s decor was a pleasant blend of 1950s kitsch and boutique eleganza, and the soundtrack to “Blue Hawaii” set the tone as we made our way through the lobby and to the elevators. Our room was disappointingly tasteful, with images of Presley reclining in a hammock over modern furniture instead of the over-the-top garishness we were hoping for. We were impressed with the variety of nonstop Presley TV programming through the hotel’s five, Elvis-only channels; however, we didn’t have a chance to enjoy any of them because we were sound asleep moments after setting down our luggage.

None of us were Elvis fans when we’d thought to visit his legendary home. He’d died before we were born, and all our knowledge of him came from stories we’d heard from his surviving fans. However, over the course of the day, our fascination with this larger-than-life American icon grew more sincere. We spent hours touring Presley’s wild yet cozy home, laughing at the boring shag carpet in the otherwise exotic Jungle Room and gasping in awe at the mirrored staircase and white, domed bed. We shuddered in horror at the gravesites of Elvis’s parents and infant twin, who had been dug up, relocated and buried next to The King himself directly beside the small backyard swimming pool. Listening to Lisa Marie Presley through headsets, we were treated to an intimate tour of her family’s hideaway from the insanity of fame, and were able to get a glimpse of the very relatable human who existed behind all the mythology. Yes, he would hear about a new gourmet sandwich being served on the West Coast and have his pilot fly him on his private jet to get one on a random afternoon, but he also now has a room filled with the cancelled checks for millions of dollars he donated to charities. He was registered as a volunteer firefighter in every major city in the country and would stop his tour bus to help with traffic accidents he’d see on the side of the road between shows. Our day peering into his life blew our minds.

After seeing The King’s two private jets, wardrobe display and gigantic car collection, we stopped by the park’s small diner, where I was the only one of us who fulfilled the unspoken obligation to try Elvis’s legendary favorite: The Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich. This was the moment of my undoing. As we took our time snapping photos of the diner’s garbage cans (They were lined up in threes and read “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Very Much.” respectively) and shopping at the gift emporium, my stomach started going nuts, and by the time we’d walked the 100 yards back to the Heartbreak Hotel, I was a food-poisoned wreck.

Jamie and Liz went out to enjoy a Saturday night on Beale Street, while I lay in our room writhing in pain and trying to distract myself with Ann Margret-infused Elvis movies. My night only got worse and, by dawn, I was sore, dehydrated and exhausted. My poor travel companions were running on little sleep thanks to my all-night bathroom performance, but they kindly offered to take the reins on the drive home as we trudged into the gray Sunday morning light.

What we refer to as “The Great BP Miracle” happened about an hour outside of town. We’d stopped for gas, and I’d made my 16th hourly dash to the ladies’ room. I was hobbling back from the store, wrapped in a comforter and clutching a ginger ale when I noticed my friends talking to a very stout woman who spoke with comically large gestures. This animated stranger took one look at me and her face dropped; suddenly, her round form was gliding silently across the parking lot. She was dressed in her Sunday best – a dark purple ladies’ suit and a black hat – and she gently extended a manicured hand to me, stating, “Let us touch hands and make friends.”

My Southern upbringing kicked in through my fatigue and I took her hand automatically. Without missing a beat, she began speaking very quickly in a soothing, hypnotic rhythm.

“Chile, my name is Regina Victoria, which means ‘The Queen Who Reigns Victorious,’ and I do believe I was delivered here to you to help deliver you from this illness that has inflicted itself upon you this mornin’.” She clasped both hands around mine, “Let us pray to our Lord for His mercy…”

I shot a glance at my friends who stood on the other side of the car, mouths agape. Without any pause in her cadence, Regina bellowed, “LORD JAY-zuss!” and Jamie jumped a foot off the ground as a flock of birds scattered from a nearby tree in terror.

For the next five minutes, Ms. Victoria clutched my hand and made an impassioned plea to God to vanquish the banana sandwich poison from my body as everyone in the parking lot stood in awe of her thunderous performance. When she was finished, she pulled me into a dazed embrace and quickly departed, leaving us to giggle nervously, wondering what on earth we’d just witnessed.

We still laugh about the surreal encounter, but to this day, none of us can explain how I was completely recovered within the next half hour. In fact, I even helped drive home that day, and then met my parents for dinner that evening as though it were any normal weekend.

I still stay away from deep fried sandwiches, though, just in case.

About this writer

  • Liz Pardue-Schultz Liz Pardue-Schultz is a writer, model, custom framer and oddity curator in beautiful Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.

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