The Last Ride
The old pump jockey stood in the driveway of his ancient gas station and watched the Cadillac’s tail-lights fade into the desert night. He didn’t get many classics gas’n-up these days, and he hadn’t had one that cherry in a while. A 1958 Cadillac rag-top, ate up with fins and brilliant chrome. He figured the dude driving, was probably an old rock- n – roller with nothing better to do but drive in the desert at night. He paid in cash, and left a five-dollar tip.
The most comfortable place in the world to the old singer was sitting behind the wheel of his beloved white caddie, guiding it down the highway. He didn’t exactly sit behind the wheel anymore, but was more-or-less jammed into the ample gap between the steering-wheel and the seat back.
Not the sleek crooner in size thirty-six sport coats anymore, he really didn’t care to be. He was finally comfortable in his own skin. After decades of dieting, he had surrendered to the sirens call of biscuits and gravy, and his beloved peanut butter and banana sandwiches. “Hell, everybody gets a little heavy as they age,” he told himself, and after seeing a picture of an old girlfriend in a super market trash magazine, he felt better about his expanding looks. The once sleek red- headed dancer was now as portly as himself. It’s a crying shame he couldn’t call her up. But then again, she loved the Elvis he used to be.
The decision to fake his own demise back in the late 70s, was his way of escaping the hell he had created for himself. Drugs, alcohol, guns, crazy-ass women and an army of hanger-on’s. The whole scene was sucking what life he had left, out of him. In the eighties, he realized that, if he was going live incognito, Las Vegas Nevada was the perfect place. Every casino on the strip had Elvis impersonators. He would be hiding in plain sight.
To stave-off boredom, he worked for a while at one of the cheesy late-night wedding chapels, imitating himself. He loved the irony of it all. He would have the wedding party crying and gagging with laughter, telling little stories that only the “real Elvis” would know. The patrons, were appreciative of his stories and his one-man karaoke performance. He could still make a few young brides swoon. But like all things in Vegas, that gig dried up.
At times, he became so weary of it all, and yearned to go home, to Graceland, but he knew that could never happen. These long rides in the desert calmed him, and allowed him to sleep without those terrible prescription drugs that had hounded him most of his life. He was clean now, and was damn – straight going to stay that way.
The Caddies headlights caught the figure of a man standing by the roadside with a thumb in the air. Elvis had never picked up a hitcher, but a tingling feeling in his scalp and spine, told him he should stop for this one. He pulled over and waited for the hitcher to walk up to the car. The passenger door opened and a figure slid into the seat beside him. Elvis turned to introduce himself.
There in the glow of the dash lights sat an old man. His long grey hair was tied into a ponytail, and a neatly trimmed gray beard framed his face. He was dressed in a loose- fitting red running jacket with matching sweat pants. His gold colored running shoes, glowed like gold bars in the reflection of the dashboard lights.
Elvis studied him for a moment and then asked the old man, “I know you mister, I’ve seen you on TV, aren’t you Willie Nelson? What are you doing out in this desert this time of night?”
The old man looked at Elvis and spoke softly, “No, I’m not Willie Nelson, and that’s a fine compliment, to be sure, but I think you may know who I really am, Mr. Presley.”
He spoke Elvis’s name as if he had known him forever, and the tone of his voice made him shiver, but comforted him at the same time.
“Uhh, no-sir I don’t know who you are, if you’re not Willie,” stammered Elvis, although you look a little like old Howard Hughes, but he’s been dead for a while now.”
The old man, in a slightly scolding tone addressed Elvis, “young man, I’m shocked that a Christian boy like yourself from a Baptist church in Tunica, would not recognize me. Don’t you find it strange that I know who you are? In fact my boy, I know everything about you from the day you were born.”
Elvis thought a moment, then replied, “Sir, I have no idea who you might really be, and you could have read all that stuff about me.”
The old man reached over and pushed the button on the caddie’s glove box. The door dropped down with a clunk. From inside, came an angelic light that illuminated his face in a heavenly glow. Elvis, transfixed, found himself staring into the most striking blue eyes he had ever seen, endless in depth, filled with kindness and forgiving, but tinged with a bit of sadness. The old fellow looked to be as old as dirt, but in that light, his features were as soft as a pastel portrait.
“Does this help son?” he asked.
“No sir it don’t, any lounge magician from Vegas can do those light tricks, although that’s pretty darn good coming from that glove box, that light hasn’t worked in years. While you’re in there, hand me one of them banana and peanut butter samwiches would ya?” asked Elvis.
“Surely, may I have one also? I haven’t eaten in a while,” said the old man.
Elvis, turning to face his visitor, replied “Help yourself sir. You’re pretty good with them tricks, I could probably get you work at one of the lounges back in Vegas if you’re needing some cash.”
The old man sighed, and in between bites said, “No, but thank you, I’m pretty busy most of the time, seems like I’ve been working for an eternity, and I could use a little excitement.”
“Look here now, I’m going to give you a final chance to figure out my identity and why you felt so compelled to give me a ride young feller, pull this caddie over by that pond up there” ordered the old man.
Elvis, laughing, said “Pond, there ain’t no ponds in the desert, unless they’re concrete, and in someone’s back yard.”
“Just pull over here please, just by that large cactus.”
Elvis parked the caddie on the shoulder and turned off the engine.
The old man motioned for Elvis to follow “Come with me please, I think you will like this. It’s not everyday that I go through this much work to impress one of my children.” He said.
Elvis, a bit amused with being called a child, followed him into the desert. Ink Dark and no moon, they were both stumbling on rocks and bumping into cactus, so the old man switched on that angelic glow to light the way. This impressed Elvis. This guy was really good.
They walked a short distance until they came upon a small lake. It wasn’t a stock tank, or a catch basin, and it wasn’t your typical Las Vegas casino pond, but a beautiful sparkling lake with palm trees and lush tropical plants lining the shore. Small waterfalls cascaded to the water’s surface producing a peaceful sound. The perimeter of the lake was back- lit with that same eerie light.
The old man turned to Elvis and said “Ok, my son, I usually don’t pull this one out much, but you’re a real special case.”
And with that, he walked down the bank and out onto the waters surface. He didn’t sink, but skimmed across the surface like a dragon fly. Stopping about twenty yards out, he turned, faced Elvis, and raised his arms to the sky. The water boiled and swirled, flashes of lightning hit the surface, and the waters parted into two walls on either side of him.
On the bank, Elvis jumping up and down, screamed, “Hot Dog, I saw this at Univesal Studios, I know who you are now…you’re Charlatan Hesston, that actor… you played Moses in that Easter movie, the Ten Commitments.”
That did it for the old man. It took the weight of the universe to tick him off, but this hillbilly in an old Cadillac had succeeded.
The old man walked to the bank, and directly to Elvis. Without saying a word, he pointed his finger at Elvis forehead, looked up to the sky and said, “Father, thy non-believers shall wallow with the hounds beneath the porch of the out-cast, let this man of doubt feel your wrath.”
There was a blinding flash of light. Elvis, knocked on his rear, found himself looking up at the old man. “Way up”. He felt funny. He itched, his breath smelled like a skunk, and he felt the urge scoot his butt on the ground. Looking down, instead tennis shoes, he saw paws, and a lot of dirty, matted hair.
“Holy Crap! You turned me into a dog,” Elvis wailed.
“Yes… I did do just that, you Mississippi hillbilly. There’s only one person in the universe that has these powers, and it’s not David Copperfield you dunce. And for your information, I am, the Son of God, your Savior to be exact,” The old man replied rather smugly.
“ Oh my God, I mean Lord, I believe you sir, I promise, would you please turn me back into myself, these fleas are really pissing me off, and this breath is just awful” begged Elvis.
“Watch it with the profanity young man”, warned the old man.
Another blinding flash of light, and Elvis was once again eye to eye with the old man.
The old man smiled and said, “Elvis, I’m sorry I turned you into a dog, but like I said, you are a special case.” The glowing light usually convinces most people, but you’re just a little thick ain’t you boy.”
“Yesir, I’m afraid your right. I apologize sir, uh, Mr. Savior, Lord Sir” stammered Elvis.
The old man smiled, put his arm around Elvis shoulder and said, “Look, let’s get back to your car, I’ve got someplace to be shortly, and I want you to go with me. We can have a little visit along the way, a counseling session of sorts, no charge, it’s on the house. And by the way, when I’m down here, in this realm, I prefer to be called just plain old Sonny, it’s a less frightening…puts people more at ease.”
After they had been driving for a while, Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “You know son, I play in a band when I’m home, and your name comes up often, the guys are always asking me when you’re coming up to join them.”
Elvis said “that’s nice sir, who might your band members be?” and where exactly, is home?”
“Well, home is where my Father is. Heaven, you know, the pearly gates and such, sitting on clouds, weathers good all the time, all of that stuff you hear about.”
“You mean streets of gold and everyone lives in their own temple type of Heaven?” Elvis asked.
Sonny replied, “Well not exactly, the streets of gold were a real maintenance nightmare, so we went back to Jordanian river – rock. The temples were a little small, so we made some major changes right after Frank Lloyd Wright came up. Everyone now has a nice little place with a view of the garden…everyone’s equal in Dad’s eyes you know. Your Momma and Daddy’s place is an exact copy of Graceland. Bet you didn’t know that!”
Elvis swallowed hard and said “You seen my Momma and Daddy?”
“Well of course I have you nimrod. Didn’t I just tell you who I am and where I live. Don’t you listen!” replied Sonny.
Elvis answered softly “Yes sir, sorry Lord, Sonny sir.”
Sonny clapped his hands on his knees and said, “Now, back to my band for a minute. It’s made up of the best musicians that ever lived. Your old buddies Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash just recently joined up, and I’ve got Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison on guitars, Gene Krupa on drums, and I’m looking forward to Ringo joining up pretty soon. There’s Count Basie and Mozart on keyboards, Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra on vocals. Man, that Orbison can hit those high notes…really ticks Sinatra off. Frank still has a bad attitude about everything, always wanting to get the Rat Pack up and running again. Dads always sending him “down below” for a few days, just to keep him in line.”
Elvis was struggling to comprehend what he was hearing, he knew all those dudes when they were alive, and Bobby Darin was a running buddy back in the day.
Sonny on a bit of a roll continued “Myself, I play a little bass sometimes, if Noel Redding is busy greeting the British arrivals down at the gate. John Lennon still claims it wasn’t Yoko that broke up the band, he swears it was McCartney’s doings, and old Ed Sullivan already has a Beatles reunion show planned, just waiting for the other two to show up. I told him it wouldn’t be too much longer, but it wasn’t a deal if he had that stupid little mouse puppet Popo Gigio on the bill. I just wanted to squeeze him until his little eyes popped out.”
Elvis stared at the road ahead, sweating like a lawn sprinkler. His mouth was dry as cotton, and he couldn’t catch a good breath. This was too much for him to digest at one time. Here he was, giving a ride to the Son of God. “Is this the way it’s suppose to be” he thought, “Aren’t you suppose to see a white light and your loved ones coming to meet you?” Not the Lord telling you he plays in a rock band full of dead musicians and hates mouse puppets. Maybe he was having an LSD flashback.
Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “No Elvis, you’re not having a flashback, and you don’t always see a light…and yes I can read your thoughts. Really, this is pretty much the way it happens. I make special provisions for people as needed, and you my boy, are a special provision type of fellow, so enjoy the evening. I’m not saying it’s your time to come home to ‘my place,’ but who knows. Take the next right up here, you’re going to like where we are going.”
Elvis turned the caddie down the dirt road and after a mile or so came to a ramshackle tin building. The exterior looked to be an old military barrack, and over the door was a cheesy little neon-sign that read “Sonny’s Place.” No cars parked in the lot, and no tire tracks in the sand. This joint was really out of the way.
Sonny escorted Elvis through the front door where they were greeted by a kindly lady with big hair sitting behind a ticket counter. Elvis noticed her name tag read “Patsy C.” When she saw Sonny, she lit up and said, “My savior, how good to see you again, everyone’s been asking if you were going to come by tonight, who’s your pal?”
Sonny replied, “This is the famous Elvis Presley darling, but he’s not here officially yet, he’s just visiting for a spell, put one of those silver wrist bands on him please.”
Elvis interrupted, “Excuse me sir, what’s the silver band mean?”
Smiling, Sonny said “Oh, it means you can’t have the top shelf drinks, can’t use the nice restrooms, and most of all it means you’re not dead yet…understand.”
Elvis understood alright, and that was okay with him. As long as he had not assumed room temperature, that’s all that mattered.
When they walked into the main room, a thunderous applause greeted them. Sonny humbly waved and nodded, and Elvis, slack jawed and stunned, could only stare at all the dead musicians and singers he had known sitting in the crowd.
On stage, Bobby Darin was kicking off “Mack The Knife” accompanied by an all-star band consisting of Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Mozart, Charlie Bird, Gene Krupa, Glen Miller and Harry James. Bobby saw Elvis and gave him a big smile and a thumbs up.
When the song ended, Bobby directed a spot light to the small table occupied by Sonny and Elvis, and in that oh so cool voice, he announced “Ladies and Gents, in the crowd tonight we have the one and only, my good friend, Mr. Elvis Presley, stand up and take a bow E”
The crowd went wild. Everyone, was on their feet, applauding, and from the back of the room a chant was growing, “Elvis..Elvis..Elvis.” A shaking, teary-eyed Elvis stood as best he could and acknowledged his peers….his dead peers.
Sonny touched his arm and said, “Go on up there my son, give it all you got.”
When Elvis walked onstage, the band came over and gave him a hug. His old friend Bobby held him the longest. Elvis grabbed the microphone, turned to the band, and yelled “Hound Dog in the key of G.”
Strutting, gyrating, not missing a note, the crowd dancing in the isles, and Elvis was putting on the show of his life. His heart was so full of joy that he felt it would burst. And that is exactly what happened.
As he floated backward, he felt hands engulfing his body, lowering him to the stage. He was aware of people standing around him, and then he saw a beautiful bright light, and from that light emerged his parents, and were leading him through a heavenly garden to a beautiful Graceland.
The musicians, stood in a circle around his body, heads bowed, quietly praying.
When Sonny came on stage, they parted, and he knelt next to Elvis’s body. With his hand on Elvis’s forehead he said, “Wake up Elvis, you’re home now.”