Our trip began, as any Great American Journey should, by spending a lazy Sunday at Graceland. Wow, we did not expect that Elvis had a racquetball court. As big fans of the movie Spinal Tap, we had some fun re-enacting a scene from that film shot at Elvis’s grave (careful, this scene is not PG-13).
We found some fun economics even there, though. Graceland struck us as a nice illustration of how Americans have grown richer over the past four decades. After all, here’s the house of a one-percenter — albeit one with somewhat unusual tastes — that’s pretty much been preserved as-is since his death in 1977. And if that’s how the really rich 40-somethings lived in 1977, then we’re happy to be hitting middle age in the new millennium.
A second economics-related surprise was a business on the same block as Graceland. No, not another Vegas-Elvis trinket store or flophouse motel… It was a podiatrist. Seriously. It must have been the only non-Elvis themed business within miles, and it’s hard to imagine how or why they chose to stay in this location surrounded only by tourists for so many years.
The next day we awoke to bright sunshine and something that, unlike the racquetball court, we did expect: humidity. There we were in our rented Dodge Charger in ties and blazers trying to look professorial, and simply soaking through our clothes. Yuck.
Jonesboro, Arkansas — about 70 miles from Memphis — was our first stop, and the day was pretty uneventful except for the fact that it was totally awesome. We only spoke with two businesses that first day, but both made it into our book. Maybe half-ish of the businesses we visited made the book, so, for you Nate Silver fans, the probability that a two-visit-day hits 100% in-the-book is only about one-in-four. The amazing thing about this day is that this is when it hit us — this project was really going to work. We learned so much, and we saw so many instances where our MBA frameworks could apply, in just these two businesses…. It was apparent right away that a book could be written. (Hopefully a good one… you’ll have to decide.) We also had lunch in downtown Jonesboro, which was cool (hipness, not temperature), and visited the campus of Arkansas State University, where Scott regrets he did not buy a souvenir Red Wolves baseball jersey.
Jefferson City and Saint Joseph, MO, were next on the list. We’ll have more to say about those visits in other blog posts, but suffice to say that the Show Me State is not our go-to destination for Italian food. Actually, we discovered many not-to-go-to (is that a word?) destinations for Italian across this great land of ours, but the particular culprit on this trip was Alex’s Pizza Place in Rolla, MO. Without getting too specific, let’s just say that if you like John Travolta and/or Olivia Newton-John, then this might be just the restaurant for you.
After Missouri, we took a short detour into Kansas, and then hit our final city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Again, look for more details on our day in Council Bluffs in another post, but… did we mention that it was hot? The humidity that we fully expected in Arkansas had pretty much fully taken hold of the entire middle part of the country during the week of our travels, and we rarely, on this trip, felt temperatures (or humidities) less than 90. Here’s a weather map Scott saved off his phone from the trip, and, yes, that’s a 101 on top of Kansas City. Whose idea was it go to Missouri in the middle of summer???
Despite the heat (and the subsequent dry-cleaning bills), we had an amazing trip. Two businesses from Jeff City, three from Saint Joe, and two from Council Bluffs made it into the book, and we talked to many others with great stories (and interesting economics) that we just didn’t have space for.