Waiting for president, prime minister at Graceland hot work
They stood behind blue ribbon strung between metal barriers and watched their early morning vantage disappear behind six MATA buses and a firetruck.
“No, don’t park there, move across the street,” 62-year-old Douglas Hill said as a fire pumper rolled right in front of his sight line.
Hill and his wife, Gail, came from Cullman, Ala., about four hours away, to glimpse President Bush and his motorcade.
“We were closer to Jimmy Carter in Tuscumbia at that other thing,” Hill told his wife.
The dark-suited, sunglass-wearing, never-grinning Secret Service didn’t care if they were the spoilers of the early bird good spot.
They were there to protect the president, and that meant no one across the street from Graceland on Friday morning could get a clear view of the motorcade.
So the people picked up their string of dead-soldier pictures, their “We Support The President” signs, their “Bush Liar” signs, their whale costume and their Elvis outfits and shuffled down the street, actually closer than they were before.
About 250-300 people waited for the 30-second spectacle of the presidential motorcade as it roared down gritty Elvis Presley Boulevard into the gates of Graceland.
The spectators mostly wore shorts and flip-flops and poured bottled water on their heads because the Memphis morning was already hot. They fanned themselves and clustered under patches of shade.
About 10:15, motorcycles rumbled from the north down Elvis Presley like a swarm of hornets. Then came the big vehicles, the black ones zooming down the middle of the street. Even the hardcore protestors waved at the tinted windows.
Next were the dark sports utility vehicles, windows down, big guns poised.
“Whoa, did you see that?” one of the protestors said. “Was that an AK47?”
For the moment, commerce stopped at the souvenir stores. No one bought a pair of Elvis flip-flops for $14.99 or a throw blanket for $75. They ignored the oven mitt printed with the recipe for a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Then they waited for nearly an hour for the tour of Graceland to finish.
Four protestors dressed in white, sequined, older-Elvis jumpsuits politely smiled for people who wanted to have their pictures taken with them.
They sang a version of “Don’t Be Cruel” to protest Japan’s whaling industry:
You know I won’t be found,
Swimming in the deep blue sea,
The Japanese are coming ’round
They’re going to harpoon me
Don’t be cruel, to a whale that’s true …
Meanwhile, Andrea Barrach and her 11-year-old son, Daniel, slurped on cotton-candy flavored ice under a pavilion.
Carl Rising-Moore from Crawford, Texas, who carried a flag of slain soldier Casey Sheehan, son of Cindy Sheehan, became the unofficial protest leader because he had the megaphone.
Someone gave him a list of things to chant, but mostly he’d just wing it, leaving a few quiet seconds while he came up with something else to shout.
“Drop Bush, not bombs.”
“Iraq for Iraqis.”
Even “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
He was especially proud of the “Hey, hey, ho, ho, shotgun Cheney’s got to go” chant he created at an earlier protest.
“I don’t think the city needs that type of thing, not today,” said Jerry Robbins, 68, who wore a suit and tie to the event.
A few feet away, dressed in fatigues and a black beret, former Army specialist Allison DeVante of Memphis quietly held her sign, “Stop rape of military women in Iraq.”
She said she was raped in 2002 by the officer in charge and it took two years for the military to investigate. She left the Army and they never told her what became of her rapist.
Nearby, three 18-year-old girls sang “God Bless America” quietly. They made signs supporting Bush because they didn’t want him to see only protest signs. When he arrived, they chanted “USA! USA!”
The protesters stopped their “Hey, hey, ho, ho” and joined in.
For just a moment, their voices were united.
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