COLUMN: The after-effects of being starstruck

Crescent Beach resident Jack Hartline writes about celebrities, heroes and that time he gave Buzz Aldrin his copy of the newspaper.

By Jack Hartline, Special to the Peace Arch News

The most famous person I ever met was one of the first men to walk on the moon.

Out of more than six billion people in the world, what were the odds? Truly astronomical. Right?

It happened at an airport in Washington, D.C., where my wife and I were waiting to catch a plane to Vancouver on our way home after a visit with our son and daughter in Virginia.

And yet, there was something vaguely familiar about the lone traveller sitting 10 or 15 feet away from us. He was wearing a blue and gold tie decorated with moons and stars, but when he pulled out his cellphone and said, “It’s Buzz,” my suspicions were all but confirmed.

I mustered up my courage, walked over and asked if he was indeed Buzz Aldrin, the famous astronaut who had walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong. He said yes and I gushed: “It’s a real honor to meet you sir! May I shake your hand?”

He graciously acquiesced as I’m sure he has a thousand times with other starstruck admirers. He said he was on his way to Toronto to do a TV program about space for the Discovery Channel.

He noticed I had been reading a copy of the Washington Post and asked if he might borrow the sports section. Although I hadn’t read it at all, I said I was finished and magnanimously told him to take the whole paper. (It was the least I could do for a genuine American hero.)

After all, he was the guy who was right there when Armstrong stepped down from their space capsule and uttered one of the most famous quotes of all time: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

When we got on the plane, I noticed Aldrin was sitting on the other side of the aisle five or six seats ahead of us.

I don’t think the guy beside him had a clue as to who he was, and I couldn’t help feeling a little smug and self-important as I watched the sports-loving astronaut scan the paper I had so generously given him.

The second most famous person I met – under totally different circumstances – was Stephen Sondheim, the fabulously successful composer who has penned dozens of hit musicals, including West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, which has also been made into a current hit movie.

My wife is one of Sondheim’s biggest fans, so when he came to Vancouver for a question-and-answer appearance at the Vogue Theatre, she ordered two premium tickets for an exclusive wine-and-cheese reception before the show.

The reception took place in a huge music store across the street from the theatre.

We decided to kill a little time beforehand by checking out pianos that we couldn’t afford on the third floor. When we got into the elevator to go the reception, however, it stopped at the second floor and much to our surprise, in walked the Great Man himself.

As the eloquent master of intricate lyrics entered, I blurted out the first thing that came into my suddenly addle pated brain: “Welcome to Vancouver, Mr. Sondheim!” For once in her life, though, my adoring wife was struck speechless.

The PR man accompanying Sondheim eyed us a little suspiciously as we followed the into the reception which was packed with more than 100 excited fans. Many of them – including me – formed a small circle around Sondheim, hanging on to his every word.

He acknowledged his dozens of awards and honours, including half a dozen Tonys for Best Music and Lyrics, but he said the thing that really impressed his friends the most was his recent appearance as a cartoon version of himself on The Simpsons TV show.

So much for the Tonys and Academy Awards…

Jack Hartline is a lifelong newspaperman and a Crescent Beach retiree.

Just Posted

William Henry Rawlison was last seen on Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Contributed photo)
Police looking for missing White Rock senior

William Rawlison, last seen on June 20, may be driving to Kamloops

Natalie Brown and Colten Wilke star in the feature film Thunderbird, co-produced by South Surrey-raised Michael Morrison and released this month in Canada, the U.S and the U.K. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey-raised producer helps bring ‘Thunderbird’ to the screen

Michael Morrison guides B.C.-shot thriller with First Nations connection

File photo
Surrey Board of Trade vows ‘a lot of noise’ will be made about tax increases

Huberman calls for comprehensive tax review at all levels of government

2019 Red Serge Gala guests try their luck at roulette. (Simon Lau photo)
High hopes for in-person Red Serge Gala on Semiahmoo Peninsula

28th fundraiser for community safety programs set for Oct. 23 return

TEASER PHOTO ONLY - Hillcrest Drive-In's sign at the end its run in Surrey, in a photo uploaded to cinematreasures.org by hermangotlieb.
SURREY NOW & THEN: The city’s last drive-in, Hillcrest showed movies for 50 years on site turned shopping mall

‘It was a good memory, being the last drive-in in the Lower Mainland, at the time,’ says former operator Jay Daulat

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read