Friday, October 20, 2006
Back in 1996, there was a fire in the middle of the night at the Gato Negro, the latino transvestite bar that was next door to N.N. Smokehouse, where I worked back then. The fire department was called, and arrived, of course at first assuming that it was the restaurant on fire. After breaking out the front windows, the firemen realized that the fire was next door, and quickly entered the Gato and extinguished it.
It was a bad news/good news thing. The bad news was that a good chunk of my income disappeared for a few weeks while they repaired the damage and got the restaurant open (I also worked as a substitute teacher). The good news was that for the first time in several years, I had a couple of weekends off.
One of those weekends, on a Saturday, I got a call from Dan, my friend since college. He was going down to Charleston, Illinois, our old college town, and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. Since I had a rare weekend off, I took him up on it.
Everything went well until we got past Champaign. The tranmission on his car started to act up. It was time to make a decision; do we continue on to Charleston, our destination, or double back to Champaign. Dan had to work the next day, and we figured we'd have a better chance to rent a car in Champaign, so we limped back there.
We looked for a transmission repair place. We found, to our chagrin, that most everything was already closed-- it was around 4 pm. We finally found an oil change place that was open, and hoped they would know of a place we could leave his car for repair as well as a place to rent one to get home.
The manager of the oil change place, who was a great guy, was able to help with the first part-- he knew the people at the car repair place down the road. He told Dan to leave the car in their lot, drop the keys in the mail slot, and he would talk to them. The second part, securing a rental car, was problematic. He kindly let us use his phone. I spent a half hour calling around trying to get a rental car. Most places were closed. One idiot told me that if I could get to Chicago, he could rent me a car. Through gritted teeth, I pointed out that if I could get to Chicago, I wouldn't need to rent one.
It seemed we were out of options. The manager came up with one more idea, though: he had a friend who worked for a place that rented out loaner cars to people getting their cars repaired. If he could get ahold of his friend, he might be able to persuade him to rent us a car.
He called his buddy's house, and found, unfortunately, he was not home. It wasn't looking too good.
Then, the incredible happened. The manager's jaw dropped and he shouted "Oh my god, there he is!" His friend happened to be driving past the place at that moment. The odds of this happening were astronomical. But there he was.
He ran to the road and flagged his friend down. His friend pulled his car, a Lincoln Continental, into the lot and it was then we noticed: the license plate read "ELVIS 7." As the car rolled to a stop, the door opened, and out stepped Elvis.
This was not the young, slim 1950's and '60's Elvis. This was the portly, porkchop-sideburned, gold-"TCB"-necklaced Elvis.
Dan and I looked at each other incredulously, but seeing as how this guy was our last hope for getting back to Chicago, we kept our mouths shut.
The manager explained our situation to Elvis and asked if he could rent a car to us.
He answered, in his best Elvis drawl, "Yes, I believe I can help y'all."
I was biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud. I'm glad I did, because this guy turned out to be a swell guy. The car rental agency was not near-- it was about five miles outside of town. He drove us there, filled out the paperwork and rented us the car. But on the ride out there, I could no longer stand it. "So," I said, as I listened to the Elvis Presley songs playing his car stereo, "it seems like you're into Elvis."
"Why yes, sir. I took 3rd in the state finals last year."
"Third in the state finals?" I asked, puzzled at first. Then it dawned on me what he meant. "Oh-- you're a professional Elvis Impersonator."
In his most polite and Elvis-like voice he gently corrected me: "Actually, sir, we prefer to be called 'Elvis Tribute Artists.'"
Good lord, I thought-- Political Correctness has finally run amok; there's now a PC term for Elvis Impersonators.
"Oh. Thank you for pointing that out to me. I'll have to remember that."
At this point, Dan was struggling not to laugh out loud at hearing this exchange. I thought he was going to pee his pants.
Elvis proceeded to tell us about last year's finals; the winner was a guy who was nearly 7 feet tall. The second place winner was a guy from India who wore a turban. He had hopes of doing better this year, he told us.
We filled out the paperwork and got the car, thanking Elvis profusely. We drove back to Chicago, and nine hours after leaving, we ended up eating and drinking at the Duke of Perth, about two miles from where we'd started. We ran into friends and regaled them with our story of how Elvis had saved the day. I'm not really sure if they believed us, but every word of it was true.
Not long after this, my son, then not quite three years old, suddenly and mysteriously decided Elvis' "Kentucky Rain" was the best song ever, ending the long reign of Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side." I wondered if our adventure had had anything to do with it.