Monday, June 1, 2009

Flying Elvi

Although St. Louis was not a particularly good fit for me—I needed to be where the streets downtown weren't deserted after 5:00 PM, where there were throngs of people who moved quickly and jaywalked against the light, where nobody asked where I'd gone to high school as if it made a difference once you were out of college—still, as I've said in earlier posts, I had the good fortune to meet and work with some fabulous people while I was there. People with great energy and creativity, supervisors who mentored me with kindness and generosity. And, craving the weird, it's not as if some oddball things didn't happen there, too. Let me ask: when was the last time you saw a group of skydiving Elvis impersonators, complete with Vegas-style jumpsuits (jeweled, wide-collared, bell-bottomed) and black pompadour wigs, parachute into a canyon of glass-walled, high-rise commercial buildings? Sixteen years ago this week, the marketing agency where I worked was a hive of activity, preparing for the June 9 grand opening of the Regal Riverfront Hotel. As part of the opening fanfare, our events-marketing guy (who also looked a bit "King"-like and had, or wanted us to think he had, a whole lotta shakin' goin' on) booked the Flying Elvi to jump from about 8,500 feet and land on a small semicircular patch of grass in front of the hotel's main entrance. Later in the evening, we'd all listen to "Golden" Joe Baker, a non-flying Elvis impersonator, who at the time was regularly performing at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. But the highlight was definitely the jump. I don't know what was involved in getting permits from city hall, or what had to be done to cut through any of the rest of the extensive red tape to make this event happen. Our event "King" (initial S.) handled all of that; I was there to provide PR support. But I do remember that even up to the last several minutes, we were unsure about whether the jump would actually take place. There was a wind kicking up during the afternoon, and S. was in constant communication with whoever it was who, measuring wind speed and safety conditions, would make the final call. The Elvi got the green light. If you want to get an idea of what the Elvi are like, watch the 1992 comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (this is not an endorsement of the film; you can also just watch the movie trailer here), and look for the "Flying Elvises" at the end. Anyway, their jump into downtown St. Louis was pretty amazing. Two moments stick out: the first was when one of the Elvi was blown dangerously close to the building across the street from the hotel—not a few of us worried about his getting slammed into the plate glass windows, though he did manage to avoid this fate—and the other, more humorous moment involved an Elvi or two (there were ten in the group, though I'm pretty sure not all ten were at the Regal opening) landing in the small basin of the hotel's fountain rather than on the grass. As our official obligations wound down, some of our group hung out with the Elvi. I remember them as a band of paunchy men with, collectively, a great sense of humor and an obvious talent for kitsch and self-promotion. Guys with average to boring day jobs and a love of risky skydiving. Somewhere, unless lost permanently, I have photos of them, taken before they sped off in a white stretch limo, wigs finally abandoned until their next gig. So I have to say that while I always thought of St. Louis as a bit boring, it's certainly true that, at least among a certain segment of the population, there's a healthy appreciation there of the "theater of the absurd" that life can be . . . that is, with FAA clearance.

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