Elvis and the Volcano
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
And plans we did have. Shira and I had been looking forward to our visit to the UK for many months. As the plane began its descent to Heathrow airport our anticipation grew stronger. We had left Los Angeles the day before; and even though the flight was long and tedious, we were energized by the prospect of touring England for the coming week and connecting with Elvis fans.
We were greeted at the airport by our host Mark Summers, a young talented ETA who was to perform at all the venues. I had only seen Mark’s act on the Internet; from what I had seen he looked very promising, and even emanated a quality I hadn’t really seen before. As it turned out, my expectations were exceeded the moment Mark stepped out on the stage and opened his mouth to sing. Immediately it became crystal clear that not only did he sound very much like Elvis when singing, but his speaking voice as he interacted with the audience was spot on. He was a Southern boy with every word he spoke, with no sign of his native English accent, making the whole experience even better.
We were having a great time, staying at a lovely old hotel in Clacton-On-Sea, a small resort on the English Channel. We had a view of the sea and the delightful pier and arcade just across the road. About halfway through our visit, however, we became anxious about something we never thought would have an impact on our travels. Within hours after we landed, all airports in the entire UK had been grounded, as well as tens of thousands of travelers, because of the volcanic ash cloud spreading from Iceland. By the next day the ash had spread throughout Europe, and all airspace was closed; which meant no planes in or out of virtually anywhere. Now millions of people became stranded. Oh, the plans of mice and men.
At first we thought we wouldn’t be affected; surely it would pass in a few days. But as time wore on, it became clear that the disaster was becoming ever more ominous. Hourly the BBC, Sky News and CNN issued updates; we could barely turn away from the TV and the Internet, and Shira kept checking her Blackberry for news. At one point we were told that we might have to remain in England for weeks - even months; no one seemed sure. We even thought of flying out of Spain, one of the few countries whose airspace was clear. One small problem: We were on an island, with no way off in the foreseeable future. Well, you can only imagine what we were facing. The only bright light in all of this was Mark’s performance, and my being able to interact with the fans. I told stories, answered questions from audiences whose appetite was immense. What I really appreciated was that the majority of questions asked really had some meat on them, questions that were centered upon Elvis the man, the inner Elvis.
Then, out of the blue a minor miracle happened. Shira and I were able to get on the very first flight out of England flying directly to California; our original reservation at that! It didn’t hurt that we had many, many friends around the world praying for our safe and timely return home.
Barely recovered from our anxiety overload and jetlag, we left a few days later for Palm Springs, where we participated in a weekend event at Elvis’ “Honeymoon House.”
The memories flooded me the moment I stepped into the house I knew so well. I remember the very first time Elvis and the group came there back in 1966. At first Elvis didn’t even want to visit Palm Springs, but the moment we arrived for the weekend, he fell in love with the climate and the town.
All in all, tired or not, I quickly became energized, re-connecting with Elvis fans and speaking to new ones. Kari, Cat and Darlene of Pink Caddy Entertainment helped with arrangements that weekend, and as usual did a great job. Their reputation in the Elvis world has grown leaps and bounds over the past few years; everyone who knows these special ladies falls in love with them. Their dedication to Elvis is exemplary and their energetic enthusiasm is contagious.
I thought perhaps after Palm Springs I might be able to rest for awhile. Not so. No sooner did we arrive back in LA than Shira and I hit the trail again, this time to Las Vegas to film for a Canadian documentary. I thought Palm Springs held a lot of memories, but staying at the Hilton in Las Vegas was major déjà vu. Although Las Vegas and the Hilton have changed in so many ways, it felt to me like yesterday that Elvis performed there for the very last time. So many dramatic things happened in December of 1976…but that’s for another time, another blog.