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It is surprising how many times I have met up with famous and semi-famous people in a very casual and unintended way. Several times, I didn’t even know who the people were until they introduced themselves, or someone who had witnessed the encounter told me with whom I’d been chatting.
Meetup No. 1
When I finished high school, I worked as a waitress in the summers in the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was a nice restaurant, right on the main square, and I could earn enough with tips to pay for my two semesters of college. (Mind you … this was a very long time ago.) The movie “The Godfather” had been released in March that year and was a huge success. I’d already read the book when it was published, and so I was very familiar with the plot. One afternoon, I went out to my section of the restaurant, and there was a table of three gentlemen who were clearly not from Wyoming. They were wearing East Coast leather jackets and were definitely not descended from the German-Swiss-Swedish people that had settled that part of western Wyoming. They were, however, delightfully hilarious and charming, and two of them were pestering the one guy opposite them to order the buffalo burger from our menu. They turned to me and asked, “So, what does a buffalo burger taste like anyway, hon?” Well, I replied that it tasted good, actually, a lot like beef. So, they hassled their friend some more, and said he should totally try it! After all, they were in Wyoming!
I took their orders and went back to the kitchen and returned with their drinks. The conversation immediately turned to how cute I was, and would I consider going out with them tonight to dance? They were serious flirts! I was not really interested in a date with them. I’m sure they were at least my dad’s age. I wasn’t even 20 yet! But they were hilarious and were obviously on this vacation for a good time.
Then, one of them said, “Wait, are you one of those good little Mormon girls that work in this town for college money??” I said, “Well, I’m trying to be one of them.” They cracked up and slapped the table! “Then you don’t want to go out with us, sweetie!!”
The conversation took another turn. “Do you know who this is?” One guy pointed across the table to the fellow sitting alone. “This is Mario Puzo.”
And I replied, “Oh, it is not.” Which caused even more hysterics!
“Yes! Yes! It is! Seriously! Here, show her your ID, Mario!” They were so eager to convince me, so I suddenly realized it must be true!
I put up my hand and assured him that I believed them. I mean, why would he say that, if he wasn’t really Mario Puzo? I said I really liked his book. And then he asked if I’d seen the movie yet.
I replied, “Oh, I don’t think I can ever see the movie. I really like horses.”
That brought down the house! They laughed and laughed, and Mr. Puzo slapped the table and said, “She’s not kidding! She has read it! She’s for real!” The three of them were in town for a bit longer, and they came back to the restaurant for lunch each day and asked to be seated in my section. Wouldn’t that have been smart of me to have gone and bought a copy of the book for him to sign? But … I didn’t.
Meetup No. 2
This one happened about 10 years ago. It’s not as much fun as the first one, but still … my obliviousness makes it good. I was flying from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C. We made a stop in Denver and picked up some more passengers, and one of them sat across the aisle from me. He set a book on his tray table that was about President Abraham Lincoln. I’d just listened to a review of the book, and so I pointed to it and asked the man if he’d read much of it yet. He was very engaging, and we chatted a bit about it, and I mentioned that, as a fourth-grade teacher, I always had Abraham Lincoln week and George Washington week, instead of just talking about President’s Day. I was a big fan of Mr. Lincoln. So, he urged me to definitely read this book because it would make me even more an admirer of his presidency and his personality. I thanked him, the flight attendants called for our attention, and we didn’t say anything more during the rest of the flight because we were both engrossed in our reading material. When we landed, the man across the aisle said goodbye and left ahead of me and my seatmate. We had to get our carry-on bags out. As I stood waiting my turn to get my things, the guy who had sat next to me said, “Do you know who that was?” I looked at him and shook my head. “It was John Ashcroft.” Oh. Well, he was a really pleasant conversationalist and quite nice to let me talk to him about my crush on Abe Lincoln. Duh … another clueless encounter with someone I’m sure I should have known.
Meetup No. 3
Three years ago, I took my daughter and her three children on a long-planned trip to Washington, D.C., to be tourists. She wanted her children to go visit our nation’s capital because it really is a great trip, and Grandma was paying for it! Each summer, we invited the kids to our house for a weeklong “Grandma Camp,” and this was the year that I volunteered to take them (and their mom) to D.C. instead. It was just a coincidence that we happened to go to Arlington Cemetery on the very day that there was a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. We were leaving the Tomb of the Unknowns following the changing of the guard, and were walking back to the entrance, when we were asked by a young Marine to please stop and wait for a moment at an intersection inside Arlington. (And, of course, when the Marines ask you to do something, you do it.) So we stood back as a group of people exited the Memorial Stadium. The women were wearing heels and nice dresses, the men were in suits or military uniforms — in other words, not tourists. A few black SUVs arrived, and the Marines opened the doors for these people to climb in. We looked at each other wondering what else was happening that day, and just then, about five men walked near us, and one of them glanced over at me.
He paused briefly, then stepped right toward me with his hand extended, saying, “Hello there, Navy Mom. Pleased to meet you. I’m Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Which of your children is serving?” I’d forgotten that I was wearing my “Navy Mom” T-shirt that day, in honor of my dad, my husband, and our youngest son, who was active duty at the time.
We shook hands, and I told him that our son was in a boomer submarine, as a sonarman. Secretary Mabus smiled and chatted with me a bit, thanking me for our son’s service, and I told him that it was a family tradition, mentioning my dad and husband. He then stepped back onto the sidewalk and got into the next SUV and was gone. Just like that! I got to brag on my family to the one big cheese in Washington, D.C., who would appreciate it most!
Maybe some of you have had surprise encounters with famous people, or even semi-famous people. I just hope you weren’t as much a weirdo as I was when you did!Published in