I saw a local radio personality at the grocery store last week. I smiled and waved and he looked at me with a look like he was wondering if he knew me or maybe I was just a fan. I’d met him a few times because we have a mutual friend but I didn’t expect him to know me and I wasn’t going to shout out his name. I try not to go nuts when I see someone famous. I’ve met a few celebrities in the past. One time I was introduced to Ivan Dixon at the radio station he managed. I didn’t tell him how much I enjoyed Hogan’s Heroes or even that I admired his work in A Raisin in the Sun (which I never saw). Instead I got all star struck and blurted out how much I loved him in the movie Car Wash. He laughed and shook his head. I made a hasty exit from the radio station’s offices and hoped nothing would come of it. But later that afternoon, KONI radio played the Rose Royce song: Car Wash. It was not in their format. I was responsible. Somebody at the station was still laughing.
So after that I really tried to be better when I met someone famous. Don’t talk too much, just be cool. And this past weekend it wasn’t easy to remain calm. I went to the Storyline Conference in San Diego. I met published authors. I bought their books and waited to get them signed. Every single author was friendly and gracious to me. There was no line with Tricia Lott Williford and I shared a little of my story with her, it being similar to hers. She thanked me for sharing and I thanked her for writing her story, she encouraged me to tell mine. I bought four books and was able to get three of them signed. The one writer I had not met was leader of the conference, Donald Miller. His book, Blue Like Jazz is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. It’s encouraging and convicting at the same time and he is one of my favorite authors.
Saturday evening, the conference was over. My last line was to say hi to Bob Goff. He was smiling and hugging everyone. He gave me a hug and signed my book. Then I looked over to the line around Donald Miller. He was being swamped. I really wished I could get him to sign his book I’d bought. But the line was so long, and the book was in my truck anyway. Plus I was tired. It was time to go home.
As I waited out some of the traffic leaving Point Loma Nazarene University I called home to say I was on my way. Standing with my passenger door open I talked first to Prajna and then to Jamie. I asked him if he’d done any writing and he said a little. Jamie loves to write too and what little I’ve seen astounds me.
I was about to say goodbye and someone walked by me. I recognized the plaid flannel. I began to stutter on the phone.
“Um, Donald Miller just walked by me,” I said to Jamie.
We made eye contact and I waved to one of my favorite authors. He smiled and waved back with no glance first to see if he knew me.
“I enjoyed the conference,” I called to him.
He got to his rented Chevy Malibu and said “See you later.”
He said he’d see me later. I don’t remember what I said after that. I may have thanked him, or just agreed with him. I think I said something.
I got off the phone with Jamie. Donald Miller was in his car with the motor running. I looked on the front seat of my truck and there was his book, Searching for God Knows What. I wanted to snatch it up and run to him.
I could say: “Oh, hey I’m sorry to be just one more person who does this but could you sign this for me?”
I’m sure he would have. But I wanted to say more than that.
“Oh, hey Mister Donald Miller. You know, I’m an aspiring writer and, you see my truck? That’s my truck. I drove out to the desert late last summer and listened to the audiobook of Through Painted Deserts and I read Blue Like Jazz by the light of a Coleman lantern. Hey, do want to drive to get coffee or something? I mean, could we maybe be buddies?”
But the seconds ran by and I got in my truck. I lost sight of his car in the traffic. I was tired and I had just been attending the conference. How must he feel? So as much as I wanted to, I also understood that folks need their privacy. And I sure don’t like random people starting conversations with me. The poor guy may have just needed to get away.
I sat in traffic and thought. Maybe I could have just gone over with my book and asked him to sign it and then thanked him. Was I afraid I would make a fool of myself like I did with Ivan Dixon?
I drove off the campus and into the wet San Diego night, still thinking. Donald Miller, Ivan Dixon, the local radio personality, and me, all just people. I don’t need to go to a guy who wrote an awesome book and ask him to be my friend. He has enough friends.
Maybe I’ll attend more conferences and keep reading his books and never get to shake his hand. Instead of letting that thought disappoint me, maybe I should try to inspire a few people myself. There are lots of regular folks who might enjoy a cup of coffee. Maybe we could even wash a car together.