The airline lost your suitcase? I found it… and I bought it!

When a piece of luggage gets lost in the United States, the airline keeps it for 90 days, as they try to find out who it belongs to. That’s why it’s important to have multiple name tags with your name on your checked luggage. The percentage of luggage that gets permanently lost is low, but with over 600 million passengers a year, that works out to a lot of luggage. So, what do the airlines do with the stuff?

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They sell it all to this store. The Unclaimed Baggage Center buys it by weight, picks it up at airports around the country, and brings it back here to Scottsboro, Alabama. About 7,000 new items arrive everyday! Roughly a third is thrown in the garbage, another third given to charities or recycled and the remaining good stuff is retailed. The store is enormous, occupying an entire city block.

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This is about a quarter of the entire store. Clothes comprise 60% of the offerings, but the diversity of the rest is incredible; hundreds of cameras, books, sunglasses, pieces of jewellery, sports equipment. I saw horse saddles, collections of VHS tapes and a diving dry suit. I was shocked to see underwear for sale, until I realized it was the lost cargo section; new products lost on their way to retail outlets across the country. Depending on the type of products, they are sold at 20-80% of retail value. This was my loot:

– 2 short sleeve shirts (what I most commonly wear while travelling);

– 2 polo shirts;

– Jared Diamond’s The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, 2012, Hardcover;

– Lonelyplanet’s Korea (North and South), 2013 edition; and

– A new wallet large enough to fit bills bigger than Canadian and US $, like 50 euro notes.

Total damage, with tax: $28! Saving me enough money to be able to afford the steep ticket price to Tennessee’s star attraction:

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Graceland!

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I knew the place was popular, but it was a lot more than I expected. Elvis Presley’s former estate sees hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and the complex across the street cannot be compared to a souvenir shop; it’s more like an Elvis theme park and shopping centre. It includes the King’s planes, which can both be visited: the Convair 880, named after his daughter, and the smaller Lockheed Jetstar. Both have a lightning bolt painted on the tail, with the letters “TCB”. It stands for “Taking Care of Business”. Precious.

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The house itself is relatively modest. I don’t mean it’s a shack, but let’s just say in this day and age, someone who owns two jets would probably not live in this sort of house (except Warren Buffett). The living room is the biggest room I saw. You can visit the whole house, except the second floor, which was off-limits to visitors while Elvis was alive, and remains so 36 years after his death.

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Located on the ground floor, Elvis’s parent’s bedroom is probably, by today’s fashion standards, the least weird room. Elvis was born in a 2 room shack, and lived his childhood in poverty. His dream was to provide a nice home for his parents when he grew up, and Graceland became it. I am not certain most of today’s 22 year old super celebrities dream of having their parents move in with them!

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The kitchen, in its glorious 70’s style. It was the hub of activity of the house, apparently busy 24/7.

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The professionally decorated basement. Back then, decorators did a lot of drugs.

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And the basement pool room, complete with about a square mile of tapestry on the ceiling and walls. Again, I doubt people who can afford two jets today spend a lot of time hanging out in a low ceiling basement.

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The famous “Jungle Room”. I thought the whole house would be full of crazy rooms like this one, but apart from the strange 70’s style, this is the only truly exotic room. I suppose taste is a personal thing, but if you think the Jungle Room is beautiful or tasteful, I’m afraid you probably have a brain tumour.

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Outside, a few more buildings were built after Elvis purchased the house, including an office for his manager and staff, and this strange, small indoors pistol range.

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Having taken up racquetball, the King had a court built on the estate, which has now been converted to house a small portion of his gigantic collection of Gold and Platinum Records.

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Graceland also houses a car museum, built in the big complex across the street. I have never been a big car enthusiast, but I must say he had a few cool ones, like this 1973 Stutz Blackhawk.

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Finally, Memorial Garden, where Elvis is buried, along with his parents and grandmother. A memorial stone also remembers Elvis’s twin brother, who was stillborn. After the death of Elvis, the gravesite where he was buried with his mother became a total circus, and his father obtained permission to have them both exhumed and reburied at Graceland. Grandma Presley died in 1980, having sadly buried both her son and illustrious grandson.

All and all, call it kitsch, interesting, ridiculous, touching, or whatever; I just can’t see why you would want to visit Memphis and not see Graceland.

PS: despite rumours he is still alive, I did not meet Elvis personally.

#USA

3 thoughts on “The airline lost your suitcase? I found it… and I bought it!

  1. It’s so cool that you’re able to travel the world. Please send me postcard :) I collect them whatever part of the world you’re in…well…when you have the time.

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