Wednesday, August 16

First post as an official Elvis groupie

Hunka hunka burnin' wax.

Tonight after work I followed Craig (from work, not Amber's Queens Craig; that almost sounds like "Queequeg," doesn't it? weird) down to Graceland to set up camp and watch the thousands file in and out of the King's gates to pay their respects on this, the 29th anniversary of his death.

The gates opened up at 9, but the crowd was still surging when we got there at midnight or so. Several blocks of Elvis Presley Boulevard — a major thoroughfare through Whitehaven — had been blocked off so fans could meander around and make chalk drawings and shrines on the asphalt.

Directly in front of our spread of lawn chairs there was this kid named Austin who was all dolled up to look like the littlest Elvis ever. His hair was perfectly sculpted and he even wore a gold lamé suit. This video is really dark and you can hardly see him, but you can sorta make out his shiny suit as he does some mini-moves:

I decided after sitting there for a while that I might as well go get in line to see Elvis' grave and the mansion up close. I mean, it was free to get in the gate and they were even giving away candles. So I hoofed it alone and made the hourlong pilgrimage to the top of the hill to see the King's grave and statue garden.

During my time in line, I stood behind a couple of women who were French, I think (lots of languages were floating around amid the scent of wax and asphalt). When my complimentary candle's flame bowed to the tyranny of the wind, I just stuck it in my purse for safekeeping 'til I got closer to the grave, at which point I'd relight it using one of the nifty torches some of the event organizers were holding. But one of the French women in front of me coaxed me into lighting my candle off hers.

"My light goes out, I need yours. Yours goes out, you need mine," she explained.

Also in front of me was Phyllis, a woman from Connecticut who said she'd been traveling down to Memphis since the beginning of these vigils. In fact, she said she and about 30 other people organized the very first one. They placed candles along the perimeter walls, to the dismay of Graceland's caretakers, "but, hey, that was our tribute."

Phyllis told me and Darren, who was standing behind me in line and who came all the way from Manhattan, that she had made the trip down to Memphis on her Harley a couple of times, but usually just drove. She recounted the time she accidentally left her wallet inside a newsstand while trying to double dip and grab some extra papers for her quarter. She marveled at the fact that it was still there when she went back.

She showed us her Elvis tattoos (on her arms) and said that she pretty much keeps them covered because she drives a school bus and isn't allowed to fringe up her sleeves like she likes. The French women also showed us their tattoos — one of which was an above-the-boob deal (but she showed it modestly) — but Phyllis was none too impressed because theirs were temporaries.

It took more than an hour to make the trek to the gravesite, and I timed it pretty well, because the line was nearly halfway there when I joined it. The graves are covered with flowers and love letters and at least one peanut butter and banana sandwich (placed there by one of Craig's friends), and you sort of get shuffled past them before you can really stand there and read all the posters and flower arangements from all over the world. It's a global phenomenon, and one I can't even get my mind around.

I made it back down the hill just in time to see security starting to usher people onto the sidewalks so they could clear the streets. My camera battery died or I would have taken pictures of the cleanup crew with their big wax scrapers trying to rid the intersection of all that precarious wax that will be good and slippery come tomorrow afternoon.

This year's turnout, while in thousands, was a little bit light, I'm told. That's because next year is the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death, which means it will be a huge media circus and people will really come out. For the 25th anniversary, all the national network morning shows were queuing up to go live at 6 a.m. or so and there were still people lining up to pay their respects. Insanity.

One of Craig's traditions, he said, is that he can't leave the vigil until "In the Ghetto" pumps through the PA. We were packing up to leave at nearly 3 a.m. and had yet to hear it, until we were nearly to the other side of the street and those first familiar lyrics followed us as we walked to our cars.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto...

Think I'll try to have a better camera in time for next year, but if you'd like to see more, head thisaway.


Blogger nashgirl said...

You have now participated in a major cultural event like going to the Olympics. Congrats.

Wed Aug 16, 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wed Aug 16, 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger John H said...

great post. My wedding anniversary is on August 14th. If Elvis had to go, I'm glad he went out near my anniversary, because all the publicity is a great reminder for me..i realize that is somewhat self-centered, but hey..who else can i center?

seriously..this was a lot of fun to read.

Wed Aug 16, 09:32:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Haha, thanks, John. It was even more fun to be there than it was to tell the story. Happy anniversary!

Wed Aug 16, 10:43:00 PM  

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