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Friday, March 07, 2003  

Celebrity Dirt!

Everyone has a brush-with-fame story. Aside from the piteously low readings on my celebrity-sighting counter during my last visit to New York, most of my brushes with fame took place during a twelve-day period that ended on Labor Day, 1989. That’s when I was a courtesy driver for the Minnesota State Fair.

The Minnesota State Fair is a big deal, at least in Minnesota. People in Chechnya aren’t so impressed with it, but that’s only because they’re ignorant. As I learned during orientation, the Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest, oldest, and most-attended State Fairs in the country. It’s the only one that’s entirely self-supported, taking no tax money for operations. It is a tradition, a landmark, an institution. It was bestowed upon us fully-formed from the heavens, and other State Fairs are tremblingly and unquestionably its bitch.

My older sister worked for the Fair for years. She was one of the people who booked acts to perform at the fair’s nine hundred free stages and the huge grandstand that’s bigger than the one in That Thing You Do. The Grandstand gets some big acts. It has to, to fill its 950,000 seats. The year I worked there, one of the acts was New Kids on the Block.

What? It was 1989, remember?

Anyway, Debitch the Elder helped me get hired as one of the crew of courtesy drivers. When we weren’t driving Fair bigwigs from place to place, we were driving free stage acts from place to place. And when we weren’t driving free stage acts from place to place, we were driving Grandstand acts from place to place. And when we weren’t driving Grandstand acts from place to place, none of us felt fully alive.

That might be because we were at the car wash, but still.

Although I dodged the NKOTB bullet—the guy who got hit by that ended up sitting in the van like a babysitter on wheels for fourteen hours—I did get a few chances to hold famous lives in my hands. I never veered into oncoming traffic and bawled at the Amazing Kreskin, “I bet you didn’t see this coming, didja?” But that’s not because I never had the chance.

The first celebrity I ever came within spitting distance of—and I know this because of all the celebrities I ever attempted to spit upon, he represented my first success—was Michael McDonald. Not the guy from Mad TV, but the guy from the Doobie Brothers, and a solo career, and that one duet with Patti LaBelle paradoxically titled “On My Own.” I was relieved to learn that his speaking voice is nothing like his singing voice, because they’d sent me to pick him up by myself, without an interpreter. I chauffered him from his hotel to the fair and the next day, I drove him and his band from the the hotel to the airport. They were passing around a box of homemade cookies given to them the previous night by someone named Ingrid (and by the way, thanks, Ingrid, whoever you are, for perpetuating the stereotype of Minnesota as West Scandinavia). They shared the cookies with me. I felt a little guilty about that because Ingrid clearly didn’t make those cookies for my unfamous nineteen-year-old van-driving ass, but I figured that that cookie was the closest I’d ever get to naughty backstage groupie sex. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in my life. That wasn’t one of them.

Speaking of naughty backstage groupie sex, the Commodores (sans Lionel Richie, of course—we’re still in 1989) swapped a few salacious stories. Okay, not really salacious, but more salty. Actually, not even salty, but with a light sprinkling of Mrs. Dash™. I’d give you details, but somewhere on Snelling Avenue one of the Commodores (I don’t know which one, but I can tell you it wasn’t Lionel Richie) remembered that somebody was driving the vehicle and lightly suggested that I not relay any of what I was hearing, or they’d come looking for me. Even if I wanted to risk facing the wrath of a Naval Board of Inquiry, the first rule of the Minnesota State Fair Courtesy Drivers’ Code clearly states that what happens in the vehicle, stays in the vehicle. Also, I can’t remember.

1989 also marked the twenty-year anniversary of the original Woodstock. In commemoration of the event, one of the Grandstand shows was a reunion of Woodstock acts who weren’t really doing anything else at the time. There was no Santana, no Who, no CSNY, and I’m pretty sure Jimi Hendrix was busy being dead, so the most famous performer at the show was Richie Havens. I drove Country Joe McDonald and some of the members of Canned Heat to the airport. This is where my famous discretion came in handy. First, I refrained from asking the guy in Canned Heat to sing in his “Kermit the Frog” voice. And second, I listened to Country Joe’s entire tirade about how his effenheimer cheer at the original festival killed his career without opening my mouth to point out that his effenheimer cheer at the original festival is the only reason anybody remembers him at all.

I gave one of my other passengers an option of possible routes to the airport: “We can take 35W to Crosstown, or we can go down Hiawatha Avenue, or we can cut through downtown and get on the highway to the danger zone!” Yes, Kenny Loggins was one of my passengers. No, I didn’t actually say that to him. Actually, you may not know this, but Kenny Loggins was the first live rock concert I ever saw. No, that wasn’t in 1989; it was several years earlier. But still, having a conversation with him while going down the road was kind of a kick. I still remember every word we said to each other:

Kenny Loggins: Could you turn some air on, please?

Me: Sure. [turns on air]

Yep, that’s me, hangin’ with the rockers. I was already beginning to suspect by that time that Kenny Loggins wasn’t a rocker per se, but that was driven home when I overheard him discussing the thesis of the review of his concert in the morning paper. If you’re a rocker, you don’t say “thesis” unless you’re in They Might Be Giants and everyone’s already gotten past the fact that you play the accordian.

Despite what Cartman’s mom thinks, Anne Murray is not a bitch at all. As I smoothly slipped her Lincoln Town Car into a sweet spot in front of the departure terminal that was roughly two-thirds the size of a Lincoln Town Car, she let out a pleased “Attaboy” that sounded considerably more sincere than the one she’d spared me twenty minutes before in her dressing room. Years later, when my driving record was all cluttered and I was paying through the bridge of my nose for car insurance, I had her write me a letter of commendation for my driving. But since she’s Canadian, it didn’t cut any ice with the American insurance companies. They’re so provincial. Although it’s Canada that has provinces, not America. I’m sorry, this is getting off-topic.

It was a fun job. I got to do different stuff, be outside, meet famous people, and I never had to bake on hot asphalt for fourteen hours in case Donnie Wahlberg wanted to send me up to Superamerica for some smokes. And I got a lot of fun stories about celebrities who can now Google themselves and sue me for today’s entry.

posted by M. Giant 3:38 PM 0 comments


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