Saturday, November 15, 2008

Running Into Studs Terkel

A few bloggers have commented on the passing of Chicago treasure Studs Terkel. A couple, including Bubs, had a nice story of he and Mizbubs meeting him personally.

As my friend Lulu has pointed out, I apparently have managed to make the acquaintance of most of Chicago, and a good portion of the rest of the world. A notable instance of this was when she was like the third person reading my blog after she and I had lost touch for a decade.

In any event, I did, of course, have no fewer than three run-ins-- one almost literally-- with Studs Terkel in my life.

The first was at Minnie's, a restaurant I worked at in the late eighties. It was located down near Depaul University and was a hugely popular place. I'd work Saturday and Sunday breakfast shifts and then a few weekday lunch shifts and was rolling in the clover. College friends asked why I wasn't working a "real job" that had any relation to my two college degrees (Bachelor's and Master's in Political Science), and then I'd point out that I didn't live with my parents like they did.

We had a number of celebrities in there. TV newsguy Bill Kurtis, reporter Pam Zekman (longtime Chicagoans will remember that she was the reporter who got the Sun-Times to open the tavern "The Mirage" and then reported about the long line of Chicago city inspectors who approached her and her assistants with hands out for bribes), Chicago Bear Tom Thayer, and actor John Cusack were among the folks I either waited on or saw in there. When I started watching "The X-Files," I realized that Gillian Anderson, the actress who portrayed Agent Scully, was among a group of acting students that came in for lunch occasionally. I didn't like her; she was snotty and tipped poorly.

One day there was a buzz in the small restaurant. I looked over to see what was going on and saw what it was about. Studs Terkel was in the restaurant. I didn't wait on him, but one thing did really strike me-- he obviously didn't care about how he dressed. He was wearing a combination of strips and plaids. Even I know better than that.

Years later, I was involved in a group dedicated to commemorating members of the Lincoln Brigade, American volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. We sponsored an exhibit of posters from the Spanish Civil War when it came to Chicago. The Chicago Public Library co-sponsored it-- we had the exhibit at their main branch, the Harold Washington Library, in downtown Chicago. Studs Terkel agreed to speak at the opening of the exhibit. I was asked to emcee and to spend the day hanging out with Studs and his wife. It was way-cool. I just had to keep my mouth shut about one secret.

My old friend Dan ran a "Dead Pool." You pick out ten celebrities, and give them point values. I had Studs Terkel on my list that year.

I can't remember if my old friend Deadspot was a particpant that year in the pool (he is now), but he and his son were in the audience, and would probably have managed to notice if I had "accidentally" bumped Studs off of the ten foot stage while I was introducing him. Well, them and the rest of Chicago.

About a year later, I was driving my car, a huge Chevy station wagon that I'd gotten when my grandmother died, down Sheridan Road on the North side of Chicago. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people running across Sheridan Road. I came to the realization that they'd run right in front of my car, which was moving at the speed limit, about 40 miles per hour. Even worse, I realized that I knew them; it was Studs and Mrs. Terkel, running to catch a cab that was on the other side of the street.

I poured ever ounce of strength I had to both push down on the brake and pull back on the steering wheel. I think I left clawmarks in the steering wheel, but I managed to stop the mammoth car in time. Studs and his wife got into their cab oblivious to the fact that they'd almost been run over by the "nice young man" they'd spent the day with at the Washington Library a year or two before.

Later, I called Dan and asked a theoretical: they were on my Dead Pool list; if I hadn't been able to stop the car in time, would I have gotten the points?

Dan pointed out the "no-bumping-off" clause in the Dead Pool rules-- a contestant can't be involved in the death in any way, shape or form, or the points are invalid. Otherwise, everybody in the pool would just go out and whack their whole list. I protested; it would have been accidental. And on top of that, it was the least he could have done-- if I'd have run over Chicago's most beloved figure, I'd have to leave my hometown. Dan was unrelenting-- he told me that I wouldn't have gotten the ponts. Bastard.

In any event, I fortunately missed Studs and he lived to the ripe old age of 96.

I must have a thing about nearly running over important Chicago folks. About a year and a half ago, Illinois' governor, who lives just a few blocks from me and is an avid runner, ran in front of my old Blazer. I was able to stop in time. But he is one of the most unpopular governors in Illinois history-- his approval rating is well below that of even George W. Bush, 13%. If I'd have accidentally run him over, I may have been a hero around here.

4 comments:

lulu said...

I've almost run over Ira Glass on three separate occasions.

Mathman6293 said...

Working retail, for me, in Chicago allowed me to have run-ins with celebs, too. I always thought that it was fun: Johnny Morris, Jerry Taft, Robert Jordan, Jesse Jackson and Sandra Bullock.

But mentioning Ira Glass, reminds me that his boss whom he makes fun of every week at the end of his show - used to work for me at Radio Shack.

mikejaz said...

Lovely, lovely reverie about nearly killing a Chicago icon...nice.

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