At noon, Elvis arrives. Last year it was Marilyn Monroe, the year before a showgirl. Today's entertainment appears to be not only channeling the King's late-era years of sequined jumpsuits but also living them: He looks as old as Presley would be today. Maybe this is Elvis.
As Elvis prepares his act (one amp with a microphone cord that's gone missing), Gustavo is in the parking lot trying to close a deal with the Hawaiians, a quartet of veteran fliers who brought ti leaves for good luck. The most gregarious of the bunch, Ed Tangonan—whose black ponytail, dark glasses, leather jacket and shark's tooth necklace make him look like the leader of some novelty mafia—is peering into the back of Gustavo's truck, appraising five caged breeding birds. He offers $1,000 apiece, but Gustavo wants $20,000.
"Is that so?" says Tangonan, picking up Gustavo's cane. "I tell you what I think. I think I have to walk with this after you take all my money!"
I wander back toward the grandstands. It's nearly 2 p.m., and the birds are due soon. We wait. We talk. Snippets of conversation:
"They need to start a new sport. Take desert tortoises out like a mile, wait a week and you got a winner."
"It's two? I should be drunk by now."
"It's not a 52-mph day. It's more like a 48-mph day."
Then, just like that, a patch of black swoops into view, there's a call of BIIIRRRDSSS! and then ... quiet. Too much commotion can spook the pigeons, you see. The first flock of 17 sweep in and circle the lofts once, twice, then four, seven times. It's like seeing an Indy car driver decide to do donuts just before the finish line. Finally, the birds alight, and now everyone is urging them to get in those goddam holes. To my right, Ray Jones, sunburned and nearly hoarse, has his hand on my shoulder and he's shouting, "How about that for an adrenaline rush!"
Eventually, with the birds in, Sittner emerges to read the winners, only something isn't right. His face is slack. He is shaking his head.
LOOKING UP at the crowd, Sittner frowns, then limply raises the microphone. "I don't know what to tell you, I am so disgusted right now," he says. "Half of the birds didn't clock. The computer, it—it didn't register them."