My Half-Star Obsession

One early 90s summer on Martha’s Vineyard I pocketed Walter Cronkite’s vehicle registration card because I was too scared to ask him for his autograph.

Composite by Ray Houghton/ Creative Commons

Since then I’ve met, bumped into, worked alongside, and shook hands of some actual “celebrities.”  I once bumbled out of an elevator at Fox and came this…close to walking face first into Kimora Lee’s chest. I was in the same rooms with people like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Kevin Bacon, Ed O’Neil, etc. I accidentally said aloud to Grace Slick “oh you did the ‘we built this city’ thing?”  Not to be an ass though, I always liked the song.  We shot some promos with Stephen Colbert for his then new late night show on CBS. 

All very cool.

I was a Promo Floater in Washington, DC for some Late Night Promos

But celebrity worship really isn’t my thing.  It’s neat to meet notable people, but it doesn’t butter my bacon.  Okay, that’s not entirely true–  I do get geeked bumping into half-stars.  Mainly I classify half-stars as mildly well-known news people, comic book artists, and obscure writers.  Like if I almost walked face first into John Seigenthaler’s breasts– that would be a story I just wouldn’t be able to shut up about. 

Seigenthaler, of course, was the dude in the NBCs farm system waiting for a major news reader role but only really wound up reading intros for MSNBC’s lockup–  which, great show.  I realize that it’s not exactly fair calling Seigenthaler and other news folks “half-stars” as most would push back on the “star” label, period.  But I had to title this collection of paragraphs, something.

So for instance, I bumped into a visually flustered Chris Mathews in the basement floor of a studio we were shooting promos in.  “Where am I?” Mathews asked.  “Washington, DC?”  I blurted, not completely sure if he was dabbling in some existential exercise.

“Don’t you think I know this is Washington?  I’m looking for [random audio recording booth].” Evidently he thought I worked there. 

My biggest half-star news crush in my younger years was Walter Cronkite, he had such a great voice.  After riding “Spaceship Earth” at Epcot I was hooked on some Cronkite.  

BTW I heard that Judy Dench somehow took over that roll like 10 years ago and am glad I didn’t convince my wife to go with me to Disney to specifically ride the giant Cronkite golf ball, which now belongs to Dench.

I wanted to be like Walter Cronkite when I grew up.  I walked around the halls of my military school announcing “this is Walter Cronkite” as I tried to nail an impression.  I have developed a far superior Rita Cosby impersonation in comparison (but both are terrible truth be told).

So, it was with a bit of serendipity that I got to drive his car.  I worked at Old Colony in Edgartown for a few summers and was a mechanic helper, basically the shop’s “gofer.”  I ran around and cleaned bathrooms, cars, the showroom, shuttled customers, etc.

Doug, who I imagined as the shop’s Yoda (he was ancient and knew his shit), barked at me to drive “Cronkite’s car” out of the garage and park it next to an aged mini-van.  “Woah, wait a minute, like the Cronkite from Sapceship Earth?!”

Google Streetview

“Huh?”  Doug didn’t know what I was talking about.

I grabbed the keys and sat in his car for a few moments trying to catch my breath; holy crap I’m sitting in Cronkite’s old Caddilac (I think it was).  “Go!  Go!” Doug was waving his hands.  I put the car in drive and let it push gently out of the bay.  Full disclosure, his breaks were kinda’ loose.

Working at Old Colony I had run into John Belushi, Christian Laettner, and some singer for the Lemonheads.  Hell, I even almost got run over by Marcia Cross in the rental lot of the Vineyard Airport.  I mean it was all pretty neat.  It just wasn’t the big deal that it was driving Walter Cronkite’s busted ass car.  

I sat idling for a few seconds after parking to take it all in.  Wait until I tell everyone at school (who no doubt, had no clue who Walter Cronkite was).  I was amazed at how normal his car was, pedestrian.  I investigated the glove box; thumbed over his vehicle registration.  This was my hero’s vehicle registration with the state of Massachusetts.  Soooo cool.  I was 16 or 17 so I knew better than to steal his vehicle registration as a sort’ve autograph… I was just far too shy to ask for an actual autograph. 

So, I took his vehicle registration.

I brought the keys back into the garage and handed to Doug as he was chatting with some other guy, “I parked Walt’s car ‘and that’s the way it is.’”  The other guy eyed me.  It was similar to the look I got from Eeyore while at Disney World after saying “I didn’t know donkeys could walk on two legs.”

Recreation (not real)

It is embarrassing to ruminate over such ridiculous episodes from my youth.  Worse, I lost the registration while trying to show it off at church to girls who didn’t know who the hell Cronkite was to begin with.  I somehow thought having met some mega-famous news guy would help my chances at scoring a date or pen pal, it probably wound up diminishing my chances.

And worse I misplaced the registration later on in a bathroom during the service.  We didn’t have iPhones and barely had Gameboys in the early 90s so taking your time going number 2 meant fighting off boredom emptying and then staring at the contents of your wallet.  Ticket stubs from failed dates, pictures of girls that had long since asked to to stop receiving letters, impressive Knicks box scores from old newspapers.  And Cronkite’s car registration.

I probably misplaced the Cronkite registration while restuffing my wallet after finsing the number 2. 

After the service I noticed it was missing while examining my wallet while waiting for our ride back to school (again, no iPhones).  So I ran back inside to locate the registration.  I hustled through the sanctuary, past the organ, turned a corner to the bathroom and halted.  A gentleman stood halfway in the bathroom handing over the piece of paper to a thoroughly confused pastor.  “Walter Cronkite, the newsman?” He was saying.  It must have been pretty confusing to find Walter Cronkite’s Massachusetts vehicle registration in a church bathroom in South Carolina.

And I couldn’t just sidle over saying it was mine because, obviously it wasn’t. 

And then there was the whole “thall shall not steal” thing.  I apparently wasn’t so worried about God knowing I took Cronkite’s vehicle registration, but shit would get real if the Pastor found out.  So, I just kept walking. 

I bet no one had “Walter Cronkite,” “car registration,” and “bathroom” on the their bingo card that day.

Composite by Ray Houghton/ Creative Commons

The next week during the sermon I snuck out to the Pastor’s office hoping to open a desk drawer and viola there it would be.  A few of the drawers were locked but most were open and contained pens and loose paper. 

A woman shrieked.  “You scared me, what are you doing in here?!”  She demanded.

I couldn’t tell her I was looking for Cronkite’s registration and there was no plausible reason for me to be in there, so I blurted “I was looking for a cigarette.”  I stammered on after some silence, “the older boys they make me find cigarettes for them and I thought I could find one here but there weren’t any and if they find out I didn’t find any they might beat me up…” I kept talking until her expression softened.  I was breaking all the commandments at a church over a slip of paper.

She dropped her hands into her lap, “oh sweetie, the Pastor doesn’t smoke…. And you and your friends shouldn’t either.”  She led me out closing the door behind us.  We said a little prayer and she told me to rejoin my classmates in the sanctuary. 

She never told anyone of my snooping and I never held the registration again (hopefully they mailed it back to Cronkite).  My fanboy days were near the end, anyway.  I had other celebrity crushes on Martha’s Vineyard, but after my Conrokite days I would just think “wow, cool there’s Ed Bradley.  So cool…”  And that would be it.

As for the mildly shitty kid I once was…. I mean obviously my parents sent me to military school for a reason.

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