I first heard Elvis on the radio doing Heartbreak Hotel in August of 1954, riding in the back of my parents’ 51 Plymouth. We were driving from New Orleans to Florida for a summer vacation to escape our hometown heat. This was before children’s car seats, seat belts, and back seat DVDs. I was eight and still small enough that I had to look up at the grey blank back of the front seat and above that to the back of my parents’ heads engaged in adult speak. Instead, I preferred to sit on my knees and lean just slightly out the window, making up imaginary events occurring in the passing scenery.
The warm wind on the side of my face also felt good as we drove through southern Mississippi in the August heat. Elvis’ music penetrated my daydreaming and directed my thoughts to some of the run down hotels we saw on the road to Florida. I could picture a neon beer sign hanging at an angle in the window, half of the white paint gone from the wooden siding, and old guys sitting on the front porch looking back at the passing cars with a bottle of Dixie.
Elvis finished and I moved on to other images. For me his music remains forever linked to driving along the Mississippi coast in the August heat looking at the crushed, chalky white shells that used to line the two lane highways and thinking of some broken down hotel.
On our travels, as my powers of self-entertainment broke down, my parents and I would play car games. These moments also provide some great memories.
When seat belts were introduced some people fought any requirements for their use. They felt it violated their freedom of choice. Fortunately, group good trumped individualism in this case. When back seat DVDs came in, parents now seem pleased with the pacification they provide but what memories will be generated in today’s back seats?