Have you ever walked down the street and seen an ambulance zooming by, sirens wailing, and said to yourself, “I am filled with hope looking at that ambulance”?
Have you ever looked up the word “hope” in the dictionary and seen a photo of an ambulance?
Did Patsy Gambill call Billy Smith at 1:45pm on 8/16/77 and calmly say, “Billy, Elvis is having a critical health emergency but now that they’ve taken him away in an ambulance I am experiencing feelings of hope”?
The answers are no, no, and no.
If the ambulance represents hope, I can only image what the emergency room represents.
The ambulance used by the Memphis Fire Department for the 8/16/77 emergency call to Graceland has been announced as a featured part of this karate studio tour, where visitors can presumably see the interior and exterior of the ambulance up close. According to Billy Smith, the fans have expressed some mixed feelings about this ambulance, which would be expected. But I am curious: has Billy Smith or any of the MMK crew (the other Smiths) ever, ever, referred to this ambulance, even before the opening of the karate studio, using the word “hope”? If I go through the various interviews and books and speaking engagements and YouTube videos, will I ever hear Billy Smith say, “Ya know, that ambulance that took Elvis to Baptist that day at 1:45pm, I tell ya, that ambulance truly represented hope”? Of course not.
I remember in June 2009 when Michael Jackson died, and the TV news reports showed the ambulance. I don’t recall anyone speaking in a “hopeful” manner about that ambulance, either. An ambulance “represents” that a person is in dire need of emergency medical assistance, and that is about all.
And Smith certainly knows that Elvis had died ~5 hours before the ambulance took him to Baptist, so there was absolutely nothing “hopeful” about it. Joe Esposito certainly wasn’t hopeful…he knew that Elvis was dead. And Dr. Nichopoulos was probably seeing his career flash before his eyes, “hoping” no one would soon find out what was really going on. I suspect that was the only “hope” one might have found inside that ambulance during the 9-minute drive to Baptist.
An ambulance…representing “hope”? Come on.
Also worth noting: Seeing another human being, such as a beloved family member or friend or, yes, a celebrity, in a casket during a memorial service or funeral is an act of respect and a tribute to the deceased. The public viewing of Elvis’s open coffin on August 17 was an opportunity for fans to say goodbye, and to see his body one last time. The question of whether this is morbid is purely academic, since people have been attending this type of viewing since time began. To say that viewing Elvis in the casket during a public event and visiting this ambulance in a karate studio (presumably for a fee) are the same thing, or that one is “less morbid” than the other, is just not accurate. Argue the question and the personal positions of morbid vs not morbid, tasteful vs not tasteful all you want, but they are not the same, and Smith’s argument does not make them the same.
The photo of Elvis in the coffin also cannot be equated to viewing this ambulance. The coffin photo was on the front page of a tabloid nearly 44 years ago, and it has become part of the more notorious side of popular culture. Fans saw it because it was (and is) so widely-available, and because it can be seen all over the place. It would be one thing to seek out the photo in 1977, but with the Internet and social media platforms, we’ve all seen the coffin photo whether we wanted to or not. So, this is not an accurate comparison, either.
[Full Disclosure: Nothing here is morbid in my view, but Smith is trying to group A (seeing the body during the public viewing) and B (seeing the Enquirer casket photo) with C (visiting the ambulance in the museum), as if they are equivalent, when in fact they are not equivalent. He is essentially saying, “If you did A and you did B, then you should have no problem doing C.” But very few people reading Smith’s Facebook page viewed the body on 8/17/77, and seeing the Enquirer photo is more of a passive action, so the question of whether the ambulance is morbid stands on its own. Smith’s framing, then, is disingenuous.]
So anyway, why is Billy Smith trying to ever so gently twist our arms on this issue? He’s never talked about this beacon of hope before, has he? What is different now then? Oh yeah…his family has a financial stake in this ambulance and karate studio. One of his sons works there. They may or may not be investors.
The notion that Mr. Smith does not understand the difference between seeing the coffin photo or viewing the body during the public service, and visiting this ambulance in a museum, is difficult to accept. The ambulance is simply a temporary medical facility that is used while the patient is transported. Asserting that this ambulance represents “hope” is quite a stretch, especially considering the Smiths’ financial interest.
[Note 01/12/22: Joey Smith, via video: “The ambulance, in my mind, will always be a sign of hope.” He goes on to say that the sirens from an ambulance calm him down and give him a sign of hope. So, both Billy and Joey just happen to view the ambulance as “a sign of hope.” Of course they do.]