Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Johnny Yen Meets Studs Terkel-- Twice

Just heard on the radio that Chicago legend and treasure Studs Terkel turned 95 today.

He almost didn't, thanks to me.




Back in 1998, when my grandmother died, the family gave me her gigantic Chevy Caprice station wagon. Up to that point, I'd been driving my little 1987 Toyota Tercel, which had nearly 250,000 miles on it. My grandmother had put only about 80,000 miles on the station wagon, and I thought it was a good idea, having a kid and all, to have a station wagon.

One day, around 1999 or 2000, I was driving my car, dubbed "the heaviest car in the universe," down Sheridan Road on the north side of Chicago. I took a vague notice of a cab slowing down to a stop in the right lane. I took greater notice of an elderly couple in the periphery of my vision to the left, running across four lanes of traffic to get that cab. I slammed on the brakes, looked closer at them and realized that it was Studs Terkel and his wife. I must have looked like Wile E. Coyote desperately trying to stop an ACME Corporation product from going over a cliff, as I pulled back on the steering wheel and pressed the brake pedal to the floor as hard as I could with both feet.

Fortunately, I was able to stop a couple of feet short of Studs and his wife. They barely noticed that they'd almost been killed. I was keenly aware of it. I could see it now:

"Hey, look, over there!-- it's the guy who ran over Studs Terkel. AND HIS WIFE!"

Later, I was talking to an acquaintance about it. He chuckled and said, "Yep, you'd have had to move out of Chicago!"

What was worse, was that Studs was on my Dead Pool list that year. For years, a bunch of mostly old college friends have participated in a Celebrity Dead Pool. I emailed The Elk, who was then running the Pool. I posed a theoretical: what if I had unfortunately not braked in time? The Pool has a "no bumping off" clause-- that points are invalidated if you are the one who whacks the celebrity. It would have been an accident. Would I have gotten the points? After all, I would have had to leave Chicago and all. And he had run in front of my car.

The Elk stated that one cannot be involved in any way, shape or form in the demise of the celebrity, even accidental. No points.

Man, what a spoilsport.

A few months later, I was the emcee at an event at the Harold Washington Library, Chicago's main library branch, in which Studs was the keynote speaker. I spent most of the day playing host to Studs and his wife. I didn't tell him that I'd almost run him over a few months earlier. Or that he was on my Dead Pool list.

18 comments:

The Elk said...

Thats "FORMER GOLDEN GHOUL DEAD POOL CHAMPION" The Elk to you joy boy....
Especially funny that year was the fact that everyone on your list actually had their health improve after you selected them......

lulu said...

I've almost killed Ira Glass three times. And I hit him with a shopping cart once.

cheer34 said...

Some things are best kept to yourself. Who else is in your pool?

Skylers Dad said...

Did all of the rules of the pool go through your head prior to applying the brakes?

Anon. Blogger said...

That's a riot! I might have been able to share that I almost ran someone over... but the pool info might be something even *I* would keep to myself!!

Great story!

deadspot said...

Hey. I was at that event. You introduced me to him, and I didn't rat you out.

You owe me.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I used to wait on Studs and his publisher fairly regularly at Jerome's in Lincoln Park. The best thing about Studs was not only that he wrote about people who work for a living, but that he walked the walk when it came to the respect. Other patrons seemed to think that their conversation was more important than my presence at the table, and would continue to yammer for minutes while I stood there, waiting to take their order - but not Studs. He would immediately stop talking the second I appeared and give me his full attention. He spoke to me like a person and not like his servant. He was the real deal. And the best part - he tipped well.

I was a younger, more cynical person then I am now. Studs helped me keep my faith in humanity, for sure.

Erik Donald France said...

Great story -- three cheers to Studs. I keep coming across excerpts of his interviews. Cool guy. Have no idea re: his wife.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You guys have some pretty tough rules in your Dead Pool. How do they stand on germ warfare?

busterp said...

Interesting. He's quite a guy.

Lulu: take it easy on Ira. I love his show (radio more than cable).

Splotchy said...

I don't know him, but I bet he would have gotten a kick out of your near death story.

If Studs ever dies, he should become the patron saint of bloggers.

Can't say enough nice things about the man.

kim said...

That's too funny. I was almost run over by Bill Zehme, late at night one night in front of Cullen's. I doubt that he would remember...but I did.

Grant Miller said...

I see dead people.

But thanks for not killing Studs Terkel.

Dale said...

I'm glad you didn't do it Johnny! Thank God some ACME products worked the way they were supposed to.

Johnny Yen said...

The Elk-
Yeah, I know. The celebrities' insurance companies were trying to bribe me to put them on my list.

Lulu-
Has he taken out a restraining order on you yet?

When he and Lynda Barry were still a couple, they were regulars at Minnie's, the place Larry co-owned before the Smokehouse. They seemed really happy and we always loved seeing them. I was really saddened when they split.

Cheer34:
Here are this year's picks
Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Baker)
Ariel Sharon
Pete Kleinow (rock guitarist--scored)
Roger Ebert
Fidel Castro
Gen. Giap (commander of North Vietnamese army in Vietnam War)
Art Linkletter
Charles Lane (actor-- many movies)
Margaret Thatcher
Richard Widmark

Skyler's Dad-
Only after. At the moment, besides not wanting to kill someone, I was thinking about my continued residency in Chicago.

Anon. Blogger-
Yeah, I didn't think he'd like it much if I told him. And he's a pretty fun guy. He might have had a laugh if I'd told him over a couple of drinks. And of course, he'd have the last laugh-- that was 7 years ago and he's still alive and kicking.

Deadspot-
I remember that. You and Lex were up for a soccer game, weren't you?

What's the payoff? A Blue Moon-- with an Orange Slice?

Vikki-
Yes, he was. Great guy. "Working" was a book that I think everybody should read.

Erik-
He's an amazing interviewer-- an amazing guy. A burglar broke into his home about ten years ago or so and he talked the guy into leaving calmly.

His wife passed away less than a year after the event I mentioned, during open heart surgery. I was saddened-- she was a lovely person, and very cool in her own right.

Busterp-
Absolutely. He's a national treasure.

Splotchy-
Good point-- in a way, he's an inspiration to bloggers.

Kim-
I remember you telling me that story when we first met.

That's funny-- usually it's me repeating a story.

Grant-
You're welcome! I did it just for you, you know.

Dale-
Well, they only work for me. I keep watching the cartoons and they keep failing Wile E. Coyote. I keep thinking that'll change eventually, if I watch often enough.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Falwell and Tammy Faye in the same year, eh?

I wonder what the Vegas odds are?

lulu said...

He moved to New York, so chances of my hitting him are much slighter. I did meet his siter-in-law at a party last summer and she thought it was pretty funny.

deadspot said...

I thought we just came up for that. It was an event for the Lincoln Brigade, wasn't it? It was back when I was doing freelance graphic design, and they invited me because I'd done some posters for them. It seemed like a good excuse for a road trip.

Unfortunately, Lex doesn't remember meeting him, but he was pretty small at the time. Lex, I mean, not Studs.