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.

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