I’ve been in the company of several famous people or celebrities a time or two. Throughout 68 years, I’ve crossed their paths, observed, and even went to school with one. Other former students might’ve hit fortune and fame, but I don’t have any names jumping out at me like Brian Hitt’s.
Brian Hitt is drummer for REO Speedwagon and has been for a long time. That’s a rock group for those not into music. Brian attended East Anchorage High School in Alaska, graduating in 1972, like I did.
I recall several classes we took together. Mrs. McBeth’s geology class being one, and P.E. class, under either Coach Bob Durado or Coach Chuck White. I’m sure there were others I’ve forgot. The one thing I remember most about Brian, is him walking down the hall after class let out with pretty girls at each side. Brian Hitt had a huge following even back then.
In 1986, I met IndyCar driver, Rick Mears, in Portland, Oregon. I’d won tickets to the Portland 200 race through a Snap-On tools promo. Part of the prize package was an opportunity to attend a meet & greet session with Rick. I didn’t intentionally plan on insulting the guy, yet sticking foot in mouth sometimes happens on its own.
There was a short line of people waiting under a corporate tent for autographs. When it came my turn, I jokingly said to the famous racer,
“It must be hard competing with writer’s cramp.”
He stopped short on signing my poster and replied back with no expression whatsoever.
“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!”
At this point, Mears was eager for the next person to step forward, most likely wanting me gone. My wife asked why I said such a stupid thing,
“It just came out.”
Rick Mears had been finishing up front in most all races leading up to this one, and he was the reigning IndyCar champion from the previous year. He finished 16th out of 21 participants at this event. It’s probably good he didn’t spot me in the bleachers after things were over.
Several years later, in 1993, I bumped into IndyCar champ Nigel Mansell at a K-Mart in Portland. Sponsored by the retail outlet, he was autographing photos at a table they set up. I had my picture taken with him, plus got his signature on a K-Mart hat. I made sure not to insult him like I had Rick Mears.
In the race, Nigel came in a competitive second, right on Emerson Fittipaldi’s back wheels. Evidently, the strain of signing signatures didn’t affect Mansell as much as it did Mears.
Actress, Della Reese, was riding in the back of a transportation cart in the Salt Lake City airport. This would’ve been around 2001. Unbeknownst to me, the driver of the cart needed to get around me. The fellow tooted his horn and I jumped out of the way almost falling. He slowed down and stopped, making sure I was okay.
Della cracked up and I did too. Recognizing the face, I waved at her, and she smiled back. Both of her hands were full. In just a matter of seconds, I sensed this lady was the real deal, much like her character, Tess, in Touched by an Angel.
In 1964, President Richard Nixon was in Alaska on a fuel stopover. I was fortunate to see him depart Air Force One through binoculars. He waved at the crowd, and I waved back, yet I doubt he noticed me amongst all the taller adults.
Pope John Paul II flew to Anchorage in 1981. I was a mere fifteen feet away from the religious leader as he slowly rode down Minnesota Boulevard, while standing and waving at bystanders in back of new Chevrolet pickup truck, surrounded by Plexiglas. They called this contraption, “The Popemobile.”
Even with my brief glimpse, there was a look of total peace on the pontiff’s face, something I’ve never observed on any mortal before or after. As far as that Popemobile goes, I had to laugh.
Roli, from reality television Counting Cars fame, was eating lunch in a local Lake Havasu City Mexican restaurant in 2019. We sat a few tables away from his entourage, which consisted of two other people. On the way out I nodded at him, and he returned the gesture. Car guys are good at remaining humble.
My wife and I traveled to Havasu from Anchorage in 1990 to attend the “Run to the Sun Car Show.” At his event, I heard someone paging Mike Love over the intercom. Asking someone if Mike Love had cars in the show, a vendor told me that he had several. The man then pointed to one hot rod in particular with Mike and a group of people standing around it.
I wanted to get an autograph but decided it best to wait until folks left. Several minutes passed and I looked over that direction, finding everyone gone.
Back in Anchorage, I informed numerous people I’d seen the famous Beach Boys singer at a car show but missed getting his autograph. It wasn’t until twenty years later that I discovered there were two Mike Loves. The one at the car show wasn’t the famous singer. He’s famous though, for being one of the finest automotive painters on the West Coast, if not the U.S.
Where actually meeting famous people in person is concerned, I have a total of four: Brian Hitt, Rick Mears, Nigel Mansell, and Mike Love. Yes, I was fortunate to finally meet Mr. Love a few years back. He’s a nice guy like the other three. They are indeed icons in their respective fields.
Surprisingly, these gentlemen have something in common with me.
We aren’t getting any younger!