Kevin Riordan: Weber's Elvis gives drivers a shake on the side

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"I like it best when I sing songs like 'Hound Dog' and 'Blue Suede Shoes,' songs where I can get down and use my dancing, my windmill," Route 38 roadside attraction Mark McMichael says.

Under a fierce midday sun, Mark McMichael - a.k.a. Elvis - is ablaze with "Burning Love" in the Weber's Drive-In parking lot.

He's got the slick sideburns, the groovy shades, the star-studded red-white-and-gold jumpsuit. The signature windmill moves, too.

So what if his bluesy baritone ("Lord almighty, I feel my temperature risin' ") and special instrumental Elvis cassettes barely register above the roar of Route 38.

"I do this in dedication [to] the king of rock-and-roll, Elvis Presley," says McMichael, who has his idol's humble, staccato mumble down pat.

This intense, sweet-natured bear of a guy is not doing karaoke on the side of 38. He's performing a full-on tribute, with a repertoire of about 100 tunes and enough choreography to keep his 6-foot-2, 230-pound self rocking for hours.

As we chat, McMichael stays in character and offers what he calls the "thank you very much" Elvis wave to his audience: the drivers who salute him with their horns, the customers who say, "How you doin', Elvis?" as they pull into the landmark Pennsauken restaurant.

"I've loved Elvis since I was a little kid. My favorite song is 'Mystery Train,' " he tells me solemnly. "There will never be another Elvis Presley."

Or another Mark McMichael, for that matter.

The 51-year-old Pennsauken resident grew up in and around Abington and works full time as a lot attendant at Cherry Hill Dodge.

"I've got to pay the rent," says the unmarried McMichael, who lost his mother last year.

The Elvis thing goes back about 20 years, when McMichael worked as an "odds-and-ends man" at the Canal's liquor stores in Laurel Springs and Pennsauken. That was where his potential as an Elvis impersonator was "discovered" and encouraged, he says.

For 13 years, he's worked in full regalia at Weber's. ("A seamstress in Shamokin, Pa., makes me the jumpsuits.") McMichael, who is paid to appear Saturdays and Sundays from lunchtime until dark, definitely brings in customers, says manager Tom Devereaux.

"If he's not here, people ask, 'Where's the King?' " says Devereaux, of Moorestown. "The kids love him. Parents take pictures with him."

Elvis fits the retro ambience of the bright-orange establishment, with its carhops and space-age, spinning signage, Devereaux says.

"The place has a certain character," says David Korhammer, 54, a regular customer who lives in Merchantville. "And Elvis adds more character."

Sandy Levins, board president of the Camden County Historical Society, couldn't agree more.

"If a sudden, unexpected Elvis-spotting at the entrance to one of South Jersey's few surviving roadside eateries doesn't scream Jersey summer, what does?" says the Haddon Township resident, who's also a Weber's regular.

Despite the heat, McMichael loves his work. He keeps a big, green plastic jug of diet lemonade handy, and Weber's "takes care of me" with free refills, he says.

He's gotten pointers from other Elvis impersonators and watches the 1970 concert documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is repeatedly.

McMichael wants to get the routines just right.

"I like it best when I sing songs like 'Hound Dog' and 'Blue Suede Shoes,' songs where I can get down and use my dancing, my windmill," he says. "That way I give them their money's worth.

"People hire me for parties, and some people give me tips. One guy gave me $40. The guy had heart, basically. Or he must have had a high-paying job."

The best reward is the recognition.

"I go somewhere and I'm not even in my suit, and someone will say, 'Hey, Elvis, I've seen you at Weber's,' " McMichael says. "Or I'm at my other job and someone says, 'Hey, Elvis.'

"That's me, I say.

"Thank you very much."

 


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.