Service with a lip curl

Fan: A Glen Burnie man takes care of business -- serving burgers and fries as his idol, Elvis Presley.

April 01, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Elvis is at the drive-through.

He's there in the speaker-box beneath the menu board, and he wants to know if you want fries with that. How 'bout a Coke, too? Elvis is here to help. Elvis recommends a combo meal.

"Please drive around," he says, "and thank yew, thank yew very much."

In the 24 years since Elvis Presley died, people have claimed to see him in Disney World, on Bourbon Street and at seemingly every filling station along Route 66. But as it turns out, he's in Glen Burnie, working the drive-through window at Checkers, serving up a hunka hunka burnin' beef.

At times, the Baltimore area seems to be second only to Las Vegas when it comes to Elvis impersonators. There's the Night of 100 Elvises every December. There's a store in Hampden named for him. Even the director of the venerable Walters Art Museum is a self-proclaimed "Elvis scholar."

But few carry the persona into their everyday lives, like the Checkers Elvis on Ritchie Highway. He's got the sideburns -- full but graying. He's got the swagger and the white robe and the oil-slick hair, swept high and back. And he wants to take Elvis Aaron Presley's full name, if the state lets him do it.

For now, though, he is Bob Lloyd. He's 44 and he lives in Glen Burnie with his wife, Mary Ann. He walks to work at Checkers five days a week, and everyone there calls him Elvis. As in, "Elvis, this cheeseburger is no lettuce, tomato, mayo?" and "Is that a banana shake, Elvis?"

The customers get into the act, too. Some ask for his autograph. Others want their picture taken with him. Elvis doesn't mind.

"I liked his style," Lloyd says of his idol, "and what impressed me even more was how he was very, very generous toward people he never met. He was always trying to help out people."

In his own way, Lloyd helps people every day, just taking care of business. He serves them Champ burgers and shakes, and moves them through in a jiffy. Last week, one man ordered $28.60 worth of food and Lloyd got him through in 2 minutes, 57 seconds, according to the clock on his computer screen, about the same length as "Love Me Tender."

"It's great service," said Lorenzo Dillard Sr., 39, of Baltimore who bought a few Champs from the King last week. Dillard and his sons are musicians, and they'll often put on Elvis' greatest hits album and then hit Checkers for lunch.

"He fits right in with the '50s style they've got here," he said, referring to Checker's neon-and-aluminum decor. "If they're smart, they'll use him as their mascot."

With its twin drive-through lanes, Checkers can handle up to 200 customers an hour during the lunch rush. Such efficiency requires smooth coordination among the eight workers typically in the small Checkers hut. But it can also lead to a little friction.

"How much longer on my fish?" Elvis shouted out one recent afternoon.

"The fish is coming. Don't be hollerin'," responded a woman preparing food.

"I'm not hollerin', dear. Just askin', just askin'," Elvis called back.

Lloyd first saw Elvis when he was 8 years old and his mother took him to see Jailhouse Rock at the McHenry Theater on Light Street in South Baltimore. His life changed forever.

He bought all the records, saw all the movies. He was at Elvis' last Baltimore concert -- at the Civic Center on May 29, 1977. And as soon as he was able to grow facial hair, he grew Elvis sideburns.

"I had them way out on the side for a while," Lloyd said. "But then I got to looking at the pictures I have of him at home and I brought them in a bit."

Sure, he's got pictures at his home, including one on velvet. And there's a big Elvis in Hawaii tapestry hanging over his bed. There are Elvis mirrors and pillows and books and concert tapes, and the white terry cloth robe with a gold "Elvis" embroidered on the chest. There's a teddy bear dressed in black leather that sings "Teddy Bear."

Lloyd does a little singing himself. Once in a while, he'll put on a black suit and head to his neighborhood bar for karaoke night and croon "Hound Dog" or "Jailhouse Rock." He doesn't perform professionally, though.

But in the Baltimore area, there's no shortage of Elvis entertainers. Carole Carroll, who founded the annual Night of 100 Elvises at the Lithuanian Hall in 1994, said she often gets calls from people who need an Elvis for a wedding or a birthday party.

Some of the performers, who do a 90-minute show with a full band, ask for up to $3,000. They get it, too. But they often reduce their fees for charity shows or brief appearances, Carroll said.

"A lot of the spirit of Elvis had to do with generosity," she said. "That's the single thing a lot of these entertainers make an effort to embody."

They get something out of it, too, notes Gary Vikan, the Walters director and Elvis scholar. He described the relationship between Elvis entertainers and their fans as "wonderfully symbiotic."

"Elvis was certainly charismatic, so if somebody approximates that, there's an audience who is predisposed to act abnormally, and that reinforces the behavior," Vikan said. "Everybody's just a little bit screwy, and it's a lot of fun."

Bob Lloyd knows the feeling. He gets stopped at the grocery store, at Orioles games, all over town. That's why he wants to change his name -- to be the person these people never stopped loving. He hasn't filed the paperwork yet, and he's not sure if a judge will allow it, but he plans to try.

"His name compared to mine -- it just has a better ring to it," Lloyd said, a little shook up. "It's actually hard to explain."

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