by Stu Dawrs
The decision to undergo a species change isn’t one to be taken lightly. Just ask Drew Erickson, whose transformation from twenty-eight-year-old construction worker to Ailuropoda melenoleuca took more than six months to complete.
photo by Sergio Goes
"At first I was thinking about being a dog or a cat; then I was looking at zebras and giraffes," Drew recalls, after laughing for roughly two minutes at the question of his animal origins. "Then one day I was in the thrift store Savers, looking at their stuffed animals—I found this one that was so cute and I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m gonna be a panda.’"
If you haven’t been in Waikiki lately, at this point you’re no doubt utterly confused. But take an evening stroll down Kalakaua Avenue, and there among the sidewalk menagerie of silver cowboys, street musicians, caricature artists and hair-braiding slackers, you’ll find the panda. And man, he is cute—on any given evening, Drew attracts quite the large, beaming crowd, most of whom seem perfectly happy to believe he is, in fact, a dancing, bamboo shoot-loving bear.
Credit that to a degree in fine arts, an eye for detail, two months of research and four months of sewing. "I didn’t want to just look like a man in a bear suit," he asserts in a serious tone, before noting that every part of his costume can be controlled independently. "All except the tail—it just bounces up and down on its own when I dance."
Being a panda has been Drew’s sole source of income for more than a year now, but ... well, it can be a jungle out there. Street performers have always had a touchy relationship with city administrators, and nighttime Kalakaua has its share of party animals. "I got tackled by a drunk once," says Drew, but again he’s grinning. "But when I’m working, it’s almost always positive: People are smiling and they want to give me a hug. In fact, these days, when my friends ask me what I do for a living, I just say, ‘I go hug people.’"