I woke up thinking about this, I’ve no idea why. I think it was, um, 1995? Several years before I started Nerd’s Eye View. But I remember it like it was yesterday.
“Um, excuse me, but was that Elvis?” The woman behind the counter smiled big but didn’t answer. I followed her sightline to the end of the driveway and there he was, pacing back and forth at the bumper of a 1970s Cadillac. I wandered down the front walk of the video store/laundromat/car wash and stood next to a blue-eyed husky. I scratched the dog between the ears. He looked at me, at Elvis, and back at me before lying down on a scrubby patch of grass with a sigh. Elvis saw me and lifted his chin in my direction. I took in his shoe polish black hair and sideburns, his white jumpsuit with rhinestones, his giant aviator sunglasses, his… moccasins and his medicine bag? I walked over to stand next to him.
“What’s the King doing in Skagway?” I asked.
“Well the CBC is making a documentary about the people of Southeast Alaska,” he said, “and they asked me if I’d come into town so they could shoot a little footage of me. I had to get the car washed before meeting the crew. I’m Tagish Elvis,” he said, and stuck out his hand.
“I like your moccasins,” I said.
They were a gift from a tribe up in the Arctic circle where he’d gone to do a show. They gave him the medicine bag too. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I got up there and it was totally empty. Then it seemed like thousands of people came out of the bush to hear me sing. They made these mocs for me, I was getting over a sinus infection, so they put together this medicine bag. Nice people.” “I just took antibiotics for mine,” I said, and Elvis and I talked about sinuses, he was a fellow sufferer and I’d picked up a nasty case of sinusitis in the Alaskan wet.
I’d been having a lousy trip. My travel companion and I weren’t clicking. I talked to strangers too much, moved too slow, had too many opinions for his state of mind. He was in bad way and was trying to drive away the heartache. I’d lost my debit card and couldn’t get a replacement, and then, I got sick. He’d gone to make a phone call to his not-girlfriend, I stayed behind to do laundry. While I stood in the Alaska sunshine chatting with Elvis, my friend came around the corner. I waved at him and – I am probably misremembering this but I feel it – I swear he rolled his eyes. I mentally drew a bubble over his head. “That’s just GREAT. On top of everything, now she’s talking to Elvis.” “I’m going to the bank,” he said out loud, and turned on his heel, walking away from Elvis and me.
“What do you think of my angels?” Elvis asked, pointing to three plaster cherubs glued to the hood of the trunk. “Hear no evil, speak, no evil see no evil. They protect me everywhere I go.” He’d pushed his glasses up on top of his head, his eyes were the same blue as the Caddy. His face was round and white, the hair and sideburns were real. I liked him, I liked the way he rocked on the balls of his feet in his beaded deerskin mocs, the way he didn’t explain anything. We talked about traveling, about where he lived, about where we’d been on our trip and where I was from.
The boys finished washing Elvis’ car. He paid them and thanked them. “Take care of yourself, ” he said, pointing to me and then tapping his own troubled sinuses. “And enjoy your time in Alaska.” He hopped in the Caddy and started the engine. Roots reggae music poured out of the windows at full volume. “The King likes Bob Marley,” I thought, surprised.
Later that day, we left Skagway behind, heading north to Whitehorse. I looked in the rear view mirror and there was the Caddy. Elvis pulled up along side us to pass. I leaned forward to look past my friend, who was driving, to wave. Elvis raised his hand from the steering wheel, nodded at me, and then, punched the accelerator to the floor and sped off in to the wide Alaskan wilderness. The angels were the last to disappear.
Postscript: A few days later, I gave up on the trip. I hopped on a plane in Valdez and flew home. It just wasn’t working. I was sad, but I got to see the Northern Lights from the window of the plane. I hear my travel companion is now happily married.