John Riegle -- photo by Suzanne Hurt
Taxi drivers all around the region are competing for fares. One Sacramento cabbie has found a way to stand out, and it involves a whole lotta shakin.' Take a ride in the Elvis Taxi.
The Elvis Taxi is rockin’ and rollin’ in Sacramento. There’s been a whole lotta’ shakin’ goin’ on in this cab since owner John Riegle transformed it into the Elvis Taxi last December. Once a police cruiser, the 1995 Chevy Caprice is pimped out with Elvis’s name, pictures and 13 copies of his gold record Heartbreak Hotel. The top light says "Elvis Taxi." Riegle’s seven cabs run under the “Elvis Taxi” name and play Elvis music on request. But 60-year-old Riegle’s the star. He’s the only driver who dances, sings and says he channels the King. "He just comes from the sky through me out to the people and people go, 'Damn!' It’s awesome. Then I just relax and let him go. It’s not me. I swear to god."
In northeast Sacramento, Reigle picks up three women who heard about him from friends. Twenty-two year old Heather Coppes explains why they called Riegle to drive them to a house party in Midtown. "It’s a good way to like, kind of get excited to where you’re going to. You know, instead of having a totally, like, mundane, like taxi cab ride. It gets you pumped up."
It’s off to Midtown. Riegle puts on Elvis sunglasses and sings into a black plastic and silver glitter microphone. The young women laugh all the way to thier destination. Riegle deposits them outside their party and gets back on the road. Riegle says he feels special after learning to channel Elvis five years ago. "It’s something you just don’t say, ‘I’m going to channel Elvis.’ Even the best impersonators don’t really channel Elvis. They just have to really work at it to be him. And I don’t."
Beneath the sunglasses and the alter ego is a savvy business person. Riegle has a bachelor’s in marketing from San Francisco State University. But he’s in it for more than money. Riegle says driving a cab helped him heal from his wife’s death. "I lost everything back 11 years ago. Lost my job, my house, my car, my credit. Wound up a hobo, wino, over in Del Paso Heights. Spent about two years in the VA hospital rehab. What a mess my life was when I lost Judy. Oh my god. Fixed and all better now, though. The cab business is one of the things that has fixed me, and made me strong and healthy again."
His life now is all about dancing and Elvis. Riegle pulls up at a bar on Fulton Avenue. He jumps out of the cab with his micropone and sings to people mingling outside. Others inside know Riegle. Some, like 22 year old Rebecca Graves, didn’t know what to make of him at first."I saw him outside the Maple Room one night. And I’m like, ‘What in the hell is this crackhead doing? He’s dancin’ outside of his cab, and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna get into a taxi like that.’ I realized he was just a really cool guy, you know, doing what he loves, and all about the music, and really knowin’ what it’s about."
It's about eleven o'clock. Riegle gets another call and jumps back into the cab. Someone, somewhere, needs Elvis. " I ride around inside of a jukebox with the nicest people on earth and they throw money at me. I live in a dream man. My wish came true."