Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/12/2007 (3798 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
'HE'S dead. Get over it" the man's T-shirt read. It was the sanest thing I had seen all day.
My partner, John, an Elvis tribute artist, had been trying to prepare me for the madness of the Elvis festival and until about half an hour ago, I thought I was ready.
Such a fool was I.
Most of the wives and girlfriends at the Elvis Tribute Competition had to watch the action from the sidelines, but I was allowed to ride in the parade because John's friend, Wally, was a driver of one of the show cars, a 1974 blue Ford Torino convertible. I sat low on the worn upholstery while John sat up on the back seat where he could wave to the gathered fans.
Wally had just taken his position in the lineup when a latecomer Elvis by the name of Ray rushed up and asked if he could join us. He wore a red suit jacket over a pink shirt and black pants. His belt buckle glittered with rhinestones.
"Thank you. Thank you very much," he said with a slight twitch of his lip. "I didn't want to have to ride on the flatbed. You know what I'm sayin'?"
He had squinted his face up at the word flatbed, implying that such a ride would be most embarrassing — only losers rode the flatbed. He hopped onto the back seat, positioned one red and white shoe up on the side of the car, ran his fingers through his shiny black hair and adjusted his sunglasses.
"OK cats and kittens... It's show time!" Ray cried, and pointed at the road ahead with one bejewelled hand. Wally put the car in gear and followed the slow-moving parade out onto the main street of Collingwood, Ont.
Before meeting John back in October, I had never been much of an Elvis fan. I liked some of his music when I heard it on the radio but I didn't own an album and I'd never watched any of his movies. I'd have laughed long and hard if anyone was to suggest to me that I'd be sitting in a parade with two Elvis imperso...No. Pardon me. Two Elvis "tribute artists." We are not to call them "impersonators" for one cannot imitate The King, only pay tribute to him.
But here I was, with Ray, an "early years" Elvis in his red suit jacket and slicked back hair, and John, the "concert years" Elvis in the aloha jumpsuit and huge sideburns. They were two of 170 Elvises at the festival. The number of fans was estimated at 80,000.
Wally slipped John's demo CD into the player and jacked up the volume. It sounded great. John had placed fourth at the festival two years ago, mainly because of his voice. If you closed your eyes you'd think he was Elvis.
The car slowly approached the euphoric crowd. When they caught sight of Ray, who apparently was one of the festival favourites, women screamed and rushed the car. They blew kisses. They shot video. They ran alongside while their friends or husbands took pictures with The Man (or at least his doppelganger).
Ray kept telling people to watch their toes because last year someone's foot was driven over and broken.
John, too, got his share of attention. Women and children thrust flowers and good luck charms at him, eagerly accepting a peck on the cheek. He gave out souvenir scarves and teddy bears. Little girls squealed with delight when they got to touch John's sleeve or to shake his hand.
A TV crew pointed a camera at him and he waved and pointed. "Thank you. Thank you very much." He simply mouthed the words to the camera operator, knowing that his voice would never be heard over the din of the crowd.
"Elvis Loves Fries." the sign outside the McDonald's declared.
A cop on the corner was wearing Elvis "TCB" style sunglasses. One group stood together all wearing T-shirts that read "Elvis is FABulous."
An old man clad in a makeshift jumpsuit and wearing a huge plastic wig and sideburns stood in the back of a pickup truck. A woman, perhaps his wife, stood at his side, dressed as an aging Marilyn Monroe.
A rather large woman in tight leather pants and jacket adorned with chains and glittering rhinestones a la the "68 comeback special" had her dog with her on a leash. It was a little Jack Russell terrier dressed in a white jumpsuit. He looked happy. At least his tail did.
Almost every shop window had been adorned with Elvis paraphernalia. There were teddy bears dressed in little Elvis costumes in the bookstore window. The restaurant had a chicken and a pig dressed up as Elvis with a sign between them that read "All Day Breakfast Served Here — ETA's Welcome."
Shoe shops put out white patents and Beatle boots (just in case). Tents had been set up for vendors selling everything from Elvis guitar picks to plants whose origins began in the gardens of Graceland. There were records and trading cards and jewelry. There were key chains and stamps. One stall sported an animatronic head of Elvis that swayed and sneered to the sounds of Jailhouse Rock coming from its speaker base. This stall also sold Elvis facecloths and little yellow Elvis "rubber duckies" for that complete bathtime experience.
At one point, Ray hopped out of the car after spying a carriage carrying twin baby boys dressed in pajamas in the style of The King's gold lamé suit. He gave them both a smooch and a little teddy bear from his pocket and then turned to their mother. Even with her husband at her side, the woman wrapped her arms around Elv...rather Ray, and kissed him with an open mouth. After a couple of seconds, Ray pulled away, shook the husband's hand, complimented him on his fine-looking family and jumped back into the convertible.
The parade was nearing its end, passing the theatre where the competition would commence later. Standing outside the theatre like stone sentinels were two old women, identically dressed in "American Eagle" suits, one with a red scarf, the other with a blue one.
I learned later that they were town icons. They had attended every Elvis festival in Collingwood since its inception, and their photographed images had been featured in a multitude of print ads for various businesses ranging from Karol's Koffee Shop to the local pet store. They were volunteering that morning as orienteering marshals for the ETAs. John smiled and waved to them and they called back.
"Come on by the coffee shop, hon. We're buying." The red scarf woman blew him a kiss and winked. "We'll think of a way you can pay us back."
"Hope you don't mind if I bring my lady friend," he called back, rubbing my shoulder.
"Lucky girl," the blue scarf woman returned. She looked disappointed. "Good luck this afternoon!"
The parade was slowing as the first cars pulled through the gates and into the parking lot behind the equipment trucks and personal dressing room RVs. It felt like we had only been on the road for about 20 minutes, but it had, in fact, been well over an hour.
Ray hopped out and thanked Wally. "That is one sweet ride," he said.
He shook John's hand and wished him luck, then strode out to spend some face time with his fans.
Wally headed off to park the car, and we headed for vendors' row. John had promised to buy me a gold lamé purse in the shape of Elvis' guitar, with a photograph ironed onto the front panel and an embroidered autograph across the shoulder strap.
POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
This is the final of five winning entries in the 2007 Winnipeg Free Press, Writers Collective NonFiction Contest. Missed a segment? All five can be found at www.winnipegfreepress.com