by Eileen Pedersen, Trail, BC
I’m 24. I just moved to “the Lower Mainland” where I’d teach school for six years. I meet Jane Ujimoto and we plan a trip to San Francisco for the following year. It’s there I discover that Elvis Presley plays Vegas every summer. Music to the tune of Davey Crocket: “Born in Mississippi in 1935, Started rock and roll when he was only 5, Born on a record so he knew every line, Started making money when he was only 9. ELVIS. ELVIS PRESLEY. King of Rock and Roll”. There’s a second verse. I know I’ll be back next year, 1971. Destination Las Vegas, Nevada.
Meanwhile I befriend Linda, a new teacher at my school, who owns a hot red convertible with a white leather interior. She likes to have fun and wants to come with me, though she has no interest in Elvis. We drive down the Oregon Coast, sleep on the grass in a park at Lake Shasta, and when the automatic sprinklers wake us at six in the morning, we take our leave. Now Linda—pretty, sexy, flirty—has no desire to see Elvis as I mentioned; she plans to visit a friend instead.
We near Nevada and Linda changes her mind. I’m happy to have the company. We buy tickets for the midnight show and arrange to take turns standing in line just as soon as the lineup for the 8:00 show goes in. I take the first shift and start reading “The Godfather” to help pass the hour. I’m about the 10th person from the front of the line. 9:00: No Linda. 10:00: No Linda. I begin to seethe. Where. Is. She? 10:30: FINALLY! Exasperated, I blurt out: “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I’VE BEEN STANDING HERE FOR 2 ½ HOURS!!!” Linda looks a little sheepish and tells me she’s been in to see the show!!! “WHAT??!!” I feel betrayed. “I talked to the doorman and he invited me in to watch from the back.” I’m so angry, so jealous, so disappointed. Linda, flirty Linda, makes something happen that I could never do.
I take my break and return just as the line is filing into the theatre. Generosity prevails—Linda tips big and we are ushered to the centre table right off the stage!!! I am euphoric. I pinch myself; ELVIS LIVE just a few feet from me!!! I’m eternally grateful to Linda. I even try for one of his famous scarf giveaways. I settle for removing a large poster from a post I climbed next to the slot machines–later, after the show, under the disapproving eye of a security guard who tells me, “You’re not supposed to be up there. Get down.” “Ok, just a minute.” I get my poster.
We exit the theatre absolutely exhilarated. Linda has a ticket for Gladys Knight and the Pips. I wander the slot machines and spot Elvis’ dad with two other men. I zero in. “Excuse me. I think you’re the father of a very famous person”. I’m embarrassed, and I ask for his autograph. He and Elvis’ uncle and Charlie Pride oblige me. I am absolutely overjoyed when a man about my age recognizes me (he sat across the table from me during the performance) and tells me he’s been invited to a party by Elvis’ hairdresser and do I want to go. HELL YAH.
We cook up a plan to track it down and start casing every International Hotel floor listening for party noise. Fourth floor: elevator door opens; we see teddy bears, posters, and one security guard behind a table—Colonel Parker’s territory—no party and no Elvis here. The twentieth floor, the top floor, has a restaurant that’s closed at this early morning hour. My intuition whispers: Elvis is on the nineteenth floor so that crazies like us can’t get to him from both the floor above his and the floor below.
The elevator opens on the nineteenth and we see one table and two security guards behind it, and that’s it. “Uh huh. He’s here isn’t he?” “Who?” they reply. They’re friendly and talk to us for quite a while, not once confirming or denying that Elvis is in a room right behind them.
Of course we discuss Elvis—small talk. We do our best to see Elvis, then turn towards the elevator. The sound of a door opening behind us whips us around and we face the guards again. No Elvis. We chat more and take our leave. The sound of a door opening again. We pivot. Just two plain clothed security guards and a table. More yakking. Finally, resigned, we head for the elevator. I’m not kidding…it happens again!!! The door!!! We do an about-face. The sight before us now includes the One, the Only Elvis Aaron Presley!!!! In a blue bathrobe and bare feet!!! I know. It’s crazy, right? “What’s going on here?” he asks. I stammer something about being Canadian and all my friends ‘up there’ and how we love his music and could we get his autograph?
“Sure”. He motions us towards him and the security guards intercept our pens and pads of paper. I’m feeling downhearted. I’m watching Elvis sign his name and my mind goes crazy: ‘I’ve come this far all the way from Canada! THIS CLOSE. I want to touch him. Mmmhmmm.’ I make one more request: “Can we at least shake hands with you? We’ve come so far. I can’t wait to tell my friends!!” Elvis Presley says YES. In less than a second we are standing right in front of my idol, dressed in a bathrobe and with bare feet! Not in my wildest dreams was THIS going to happen! He shakes our hands; I fumble for words and lamely say: “Thanks for a great show”. I forget that my camera is in my purse. (I’ve already taken a photo of his house in Hollywood. I actually knocked on the door. But he had moved.) We can’t WAIT to get out of the International Hotel to release our excitement. We are glowing enough to electrify the whole town. It’s 5:00 a.m. We scream into the streets. Do I have a story to tell Linda! And yes, I’m gloating.
Part Two, next time: Tupelo, MI, October, 2000.