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Brushes With Greatness On The Road

One of the great things about traveling are the serendipities of each day. When you start your day on the road, you have no idea about the who, what, and wheres that await you. One of the fun aspects of traveling that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience is running into famous people along the way.

In New York City, I’ve unexpectedly ran into Mickey Mantle at his restaurant and Dustin Hoffman just walking down the street on the Upper West Side.

During my last visit to San Francisco, my taxi pulled up to a stop light in front of AT&T Park and Joe Montana crossed the street in front of us. The only way it gets more San Francisco than that is if he was humming I Left My Heart in San Francisco and carrying a loaf of sourdough and a copy of Howl.

I met Sugar Ray Leonard in a hotel lobby in Washington D.C. I ate dinner near Mariel Hemingway at a restaurant in Park City, Utah. I considered sending her a complementary Manhattan (if you get the reference). I’ve been urinal-buddies with KISS’ frontman Gene Simmons (though I’m saving that story for the book!).

On Late Night with David Letterman, they used to do a comedy bit called “Brush with Greatness.” It gave audience members the opportunity to tell their stories about chance meetings with celebrities. I never got my chance, but here are the two stories that I would have told.

Hawaiian Tattoo
In 1978, I was in Hawaii on vacation with my family. We were staying on the island of Kauai. One night after dinner, we were out walking around the pool area of a hotel when we saw some bright flood lights and filming equipment.

We were curious so we joined in with the other people and watched them film a scene for the television show “Fantasy Island.” Nearby in the dark I noticed Herve Villechaize (all 3’10” of him) who played “Tattoo.” He was sitting in the passenger seat of a golf cart. I approached him to ask him for his autograph. Even though I was only 12 years old and didn’t know what drunk was, I quickly realized that Tattoo wasn’t right.

He was holding a tropical drink with pineapple garnishes and mini umbrellas. His eyes were at half-staff and it was pretty evident that he’d been bathing in mai-tais all day.

With pen and paper in hand I reached out towards him and asked, “Can I have your autograph?” Tattoo grabbed my outstretched arm and he playfully bit my forearm. I knew that he was joking so I laughed along and stood there expecting him to eventually end the joke and sign the autograph, but he never did. Eventually I just walked away with Tattoo’s bite mark still showing on my arm.
“Did you get his autograph?” my mom asked.
“Kinda,” I said showing her the teeth marks on my arm.
I remember the whole experience being a bit confusing for my pre-teen self, but I did cross-off the bucketlist goal of “Getting Intimate with a Celebrity.”

A Bar In Billings
I was on a two month cross-country drive-around in the summer of 1993. I had driven all day through America’s great plains and ended up in Billings, Montana on a Sunday night. By the time I arrived, the town had already rolled up the sidewalks. I was able to find a little bit of life at a nondescript bar in the downtown area.

I sat at the bar and ordered a beer and ended up talking to a chatty old-timer. He told me some funny, colorful stories. “I was married for 22 years,” he said, “but she was drunk the last 15 of ’em.”

They had a house band playing covers. After one of the songs ended, a bandmember made an announcement.
“We have a special guest with us tonight, please welcome country music star, Mark Chesnutt.”

At that time, Mark Chesnutt was at the top of his career, and he was in town for a concert. He was just having some fun and blowing off some steam in the bar. He sang some rock-n-roll classics and then finished with “Amazing Grace.” He stuck around and chatted afterwards.

I would have been fully satisfied with seeing and meeting a top country crooner during my stop in Billings, but then, dressed in all black from head to foot, Mr. Officer and a Gentlemen himself, Lou Gossett Jr., walked past me and took the stage.

I started to think that maybe I was on Candid Camera or something.

The Oscar & Emmy winner then sang a couple bluesy tunes. Some earthy-type, granola-girl asked me to dance. The next thing I know I’m on the dance floor thinking “I sure didn’t count on this!”

Earlier in the day, when I was driving across Big Sky country, I would have never imagined that later that evening I’d be dancing with a hippie chick to the sweet musical offerings of Lou Gossett Jr.

Life is interesting, and sometimes even kind of weird, but as Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80% of life.”

If you’ve had a chance meeting with a notable person while on vacation send me an email. If I get enough, maybe we’ll publish them in another article.