Just Another Saturday Night in 1980’s Atlanta

We pulled up in my Alfa Romeo wearing Dave’s dad’s suits to try to get into one of the trendiest clubs in Atlanta at the time: Elan.

I gave my keys to the valet, and we approached the bouncer who’d seen us get out of the car. I tried to go first hoping he wouldn’t notice Dave, who almost looked like the kid at the end of the movie Big, swimming in his adult-sized suit. The seersucker I picked out might not have been the most chic-looking, but at least it fit.

“Just act like you own the place,” Dave muttered to me as we made our way to the entrance. What Dave lacked in height, he made up in confidence.

Getting in turned out to be the easy part, socializing with this crowd was a bit more challenging. We got a few drinks and Dave tried unsuccessfully talking to any girl that came within a six-foot radius.

On the surface, this group seemed a bit more polished than at some of the other places we could get ourselves into with our young faces and hodge-podge of fake ID’s: The biker bar that probably figured if we were ballsy enough to enter, then have at it; Confetti’s which was the after-work dance club for all of Atlanta’s bar and restaurant crews, so we could have been bar-backs or busboys paying it sideways; then there were any number of bar & grills that would serve you if you knew the waitress or could smooth talk them; and there was always Clarence Fosters, which was so packed every Thursday to Saturday they couldn’t keep track of what day it was, much less what year you were born.

I went to the bathroom at Elan and was greeted by an attendant. There were empty urinals, but I was never able to go with someone peeing right next to me. The attendant noticed I was eyeing the stalls, so he pushed one open for me and stood aside to let me in.

“Thank you,” I muttered while wondering what kind of tip I was supposed to leave for this experience.

When I finished peeing, I came out and washed my hands, while eyeing all of the different impulse items the attendant had out on the counter. There was mouthwash, cologne, combs, mints, even condoms.

I really wanted a mint, but I didn’t want to have to tip the guy so I held back. When I finished washing my hands I looked for a paper towel, but the attendant beat me to the punch. He offered me the towel he was holding.

Flustered, I just wiped my hands on my seersucker suit and walked out.

While I was navigating the bathroom, Dave had surprisingly lured two women to our table. I nodded as I walked up.

“There’s the dentist,” Dave said.

“Huh?” I asked.

“Marla here, has a question for you.”

Marla suddenly got real close. “I’m a little self-conscious about it,” said Marla.

“Oh, just ask him,” said Dave.

“Okay then,” she looked me right in the eyes. “Do I need braces?” she asked as she smiled at me, a mosh-pit of teeth two inches from my face.

“Uh, ya’ know, I’m a dentist, not an orthodontist, so…”

“Give her your opinion,” Dave said.

“Okay,” I acted like I was studying her teeth, “no, I think they’re fine,” I lied.

When the girls went to the powder room, I looked at Dave. “Dentist? And what are you?”

“Architect.”

“Of course, you get the cool job.”

Dave just shrugged. “Look, my Dad and Carine are at my house tonight, so let’s take these two to Carine’s.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Dude,” he answered with his multi-purpose word. Depending on inflection, it could mean many things including: “come on, let’s do it”; “don’t even think about it”; “awesome”; or the definitive “you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” This one was a “come on, be my wingman” type of utterance.

The Alfa was only a two-seater, so the girls had to follow us. I’d never been to Dave’s Dad’s girlfriend’s house so Dave navigated.

Carine’s place was in a Brady Bunch style Dunwoody neighborhood. The house had a For Sale sign in the yard and lockbox hanging from the front door. We pulled up the driveway and Dave hopped out.

“Keep them busy for a minute,” he said as he ran around the back.

“You don’t have a key?” I called out.

“Dude,” Dave answered over his shoulder with the “you fuckin’ kiddin’ me” inflection.

I kept the girls busy by showing off my new car until Dave opened the front door of the house from inside. The girls and I entered, taking in all that this single mom’s house had to offer: flowery wallpaper here, pink pillows there, a family portrait of Carine and her kids over the fireplace.

Dave’s girl spoke first. “You married?”

“No, no. Divorced,” Dave said, as he took the picture off the wall and turned it away from us.

“You build this place?” the girl asked, still believing Dave was an architect.

“You like it?” he threw out.

She looked around again. “I do,” she blurted.

“I did,” Dave lied, “let me give you a tour.”

 

A half hour and several discussions about teeth later, Marla must have thought I was either gay or not that into her and she gave up. She went to look for her friend and they both left shortly thereafter.

Later that night Dave and I recounted our evening over scattered, smothered and covered omelets at Waffle House. Dave had the time of his life. I, on the other hand, did not.

“Dude,” I said to him in his own language. He just laughed. I took a bite of my omelet and shook my head, “next time- you’re the dentist, and I’m the architect!”

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The Kids Are Alright

We were at Dave’s cousin’s place, who was out of town with her parents. We walked around to a side gate which was locked. “You don’t have a key?” Dave shook his head, “we’ll climb the fence” he said in his usual matter-of-fact way. So much for belonging. In a matter of minutes, we’d scaled the fence and were basically breaking-and-entering. But not to steal anything. We were just there for the pool.

After a quick dip, we settled into a couple of lounge chairs to soak up some of what we considered healthy 1980’s sunshine. I shut my eyes and felt the warmth down to my bones. The bright sun created psychedelic images through my closed eyelids. I still had the Baba O’Riley synth going through my head, and I was just about to doze off, when I sensed a giant shadow above me like a bird, but bigger. I felt a whoosh of air and heard a loud splash. This would be Conor who had jumped off the roof, instead of climbing the fence.

Conor was known for grand entrances. This was a guy who created dress-up Fridays at school; not as a school-sponsored thing mind you, just something he did for kicks. One Friday he’d be Steve Martin from the Jerk, carrying a broken chair, the next he’d be dressed as our principal, Mr. Whaley, down to the tan leisure suit with wide lapels and fat tie and even a walkie-talkie on his hip. “Go for Whaley,” he’d say into his walkie-talkie, totally in character, “we’ve got a smoker outside the designated smoking area, code 10, code 10!.”

But the ultimate Conor entrance would be later the next year at senior prom, when he’d take a mannequin as his date. He named her Monica, dressed her in a silky sequin-belted sea-green number, even bought her a corsage. The photographer asked him why the mannequin, and he said “the girls here are all plastic anyway.”

In all fairness, there were some great girls at our school. Better than us really. We weren’t bad guys, we just wanted to have some fun, and since the girls in our grade seemed to be all sincerity and seriousness, we hung out more with the girls in the grade below. They were dubbed the Smurfs. The nickname came from the girls in our grade who saw this gaggle of younger, one-year-more naïve girls as an annoyance, and the name just stuck. Dave’s cousin, who’s pool we were borrowing, happened to be a Smurf.

Conor dried himself off and popped a beer from a cooler that appeared out of nowhere. I say out of nowhere, because that’s how it always seemed. I mean, we were teenagers who probably should have been drinking Gatorade but we always had beer at the ready. “You hear about The Who retiring?” Conor asked. “Dude,” Dave said with an inflection that meant “what a shame.” “Any Smurfs coming today?” Conor asked. “Nah,” Dave said, “just us.” Dave didn’t really get our infatuation with the Smurfs, maybe since his cousin was one, or maybe it was that feeling of not wanting to go backwards. Dave and I were always looking ahead, trying to do things that we hadn’t yet done.

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My Generation

Atlanta in the 1980’s was an ever-evolving tapestry. Like a 16-year-old boy, it was full of ideas, hope, and testosterone. For years, the little brother to older and bigger cities. But after all the hand-me-downs and noogies, Atlanta had finally gotten its driver’s license. As had I, and looking for a car of my own.

From the candy-apple red, to the curves, to the easily removal top, she exuded sex appeal. Her name rolled off the tongue like foreplay: Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. This was an R-rated car and I was a PG-17 kid… in the eyes of my father anyway. Unfortunately, he was the one person I had to convince to buy the car for me: and for that I would need detailed information.

My dad was a stickler for details. He would read a manual before even touching a new device. I, on the other hand, had to touch, feel, maybe break something before I could really understand it.

This was the pre-internet early-1980’s, so I couldn’t just Google the information. I had to go out of my way. I had to go to the dreaded library. I borrowed my dad’s brown-turd-of-a-car, with a name that stuck to your tongue as you tried to spit it out: Chevy Citation.

My dad had bought the Chevy after Car & Driver magazine had given it a front page with the headline: “Outperforms a Ferrari Boxer.” As I drove down Heards Ferry- one of Atlanta’s many hilly and winding roads named after ferrymen- I jammed the sticky gearbox into 3rdgear, I wondered in what category this rattlebox could have surpassed a Ferrari. To me, this turd on wheels felt more like driving a covered wagon to the ferry, than a Ferrari to the library.

The library was not the most user-friendly experience back then. I’m not even sure “user-friendly” was in the lexicon of the day. Once past the judgy-looking lady at the front desk, who glared at me over her reading glasses just waiting to shush me, I tried flipping through the giant filing system. This behemoth held thousands of 3×5 notecards, which meticulously catalogued everything in the place. This was Google’s Lucy. After a good ten minutes of dead-ends and frustrated noises on my part, I noticed the judgy-lady coming my way. Oh, crap, do I just walk away so I don’t catch the wraith of this woman?Too late, she was quicker than she looked.

“May I help you?” she asked icily. “Uh, I’m looking for information on cars?” “Have you tried a car dealer?” she said, apparently wanting me gone as much as I wanted to be gone at that moment. But my quest was too important to abandon. “I, uh, I’m trying to talk my dad into buying me a used Alfa Romeo, and I need some stuff to convince him.” The lady took the reading glasses off her nose and put them back in her hair. “Convertible?” she almost cooed. Wow, if I get this kind of reaction from just a mention, imagine what driving it would be like? 

About an hour later, I had all the documents I needed, and the librarian’s phone number. She slipped it to me on my way out. Her name was Liz and she insisted I take her for a ride one day… with the top down.

The first piece of evidence I presented to my dad was a Car & Driver magazine article that Liz helped me track down on micro-fiche and even Xeroxed for me. For some reason my dad still trusted the magazine. I think he was in denial that his Citation was anything short of what he had been sold. “Look dad, Car & Driver calls it ‘a dream’.” “Yeah, you’re dreaming alright,” was his response. He then grabbed the Xerox copy and said “where’d you get this anyway?” “The library…. Look, a friend of mine’s dad, who’s loaded, is willing to give this car to me for cheap.” I figured this would make my dad listen. After-all, he was the most frugal man with money I knew. Probably the only heart surgeon driving a Chevy Citation anyway. “You went to the library?” was all he said, in a surprised tone, as he left the room.

I waited until the first olive from his martini glass was in his mouth before I hit him up again. From years of observation, this was my window when all was good. By the second olive, everything was an argument.

“Here is a current Kelly Blue Book,” I said as I handed him the book. “I’ve earmarked a page I want you to see.” He smiled at my unwillingness to cave as he looked over the details. “$12,000 dollars?” he snorted. “My brand new Chevy Citation was only $6,500, and it outperforms the Ferrari Boxer.” But does it. Really?I thought about saying, but I held my tongue and pulled out more evidence. “Current used car ads. Notice your Chevy tends to lose value rather quickly. The Alfa Romeo does not.”

He was already into his second olive. That was fast, I thought, I’d better wrap this up. “He’s willing to sell it to me, as a friend of his son’s, for $7,000.” He shook his head, but he didn’t say no.

My next move was a little more subtle. At the advice of Liz the librarian, I’d rented “The Graduate”. After the argumentative stage of martini drinking, my dad would sometimes get a case of melancholy. Bring on the melancholy, I thought.

I stayed quiet throughout the film, even when the red Alfa Romeo made its appearance. I’m still not sure if it registered with him that this was the car, in an older version. He cleared his throat at the end of the film, and I looked over to see him wipe his eye. Was that a tear or just an eye rub? I’ll never know, but the next day he bought me the car.

Car & Driver got this one right: driving around Atlanta in the Alfa Romeo was a dream. You know when you hug someone and everything fits just right?  Well the leather seats in this thing were like that kind of hug, and the smooth burled wood steering wheel and stick-shift handle felt like they were made for my hands. I took the top down and cranked up the aftermarket Blaupunkt 6-speaker stereo. It sounded like a symphony in that small space, but this was no classical score. No, this was The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” aka “Teenage Wasteland.”

We listened to a lot of music, me and my friends, from Springsteen to Zeppelin, from Jimmy Buffet, to Soft Cell. (Yeah, Soft Cell. Tainted Love. You know the song even if you won’t admit to liking it). The Who, however, was a constant. I’d say the soundtrack of our lives. They had a sweeping powerful operatic vibe and a little of that snarly young rock attitude that we connected with at our age.

“Baba O’Riley” started off with a pulsing synthesizer that built into a pounding piano, and a crescendo of deep thumping drums… And that was just the intro! By the time Roger Daltry’s voice took off with “Out here in the fields”, I was rocketing down Jett Road in my convertible with the top down. Jett Road was somewhat unique for Atlanta: relatively straight, long, and traffic-free. Being Atlanta, there were hills, but they were of the rolling kind, which made it all the more fun to speed on.

Off of Jett Rd. there was an appropriately named Tanglewood Trail. Oh, the tangled webs it weaved. This area of Buckhead was an enclave of old and new money. There were the houses with tennis courts and swimming pools of course, and then the one on Tanglewood with the basement disco: professional sound-system, professional lighting, even a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. The son and daughter went to our school. Rumor was that the father was in the music business and owned the rights to some Beatles songs, among others.

I always felt a little out-of-place in this area, even as a doctor’s son. You remember the car he drove, right? Well today I felt like these were my people as I turned my bright red Alfa Romeo onto Tanglewood Trail. I pulled into a driveway across the street from the disco house just as Baba O’Riley was reaching its final verse and Roger Daltry screamed “they’re all wasted!”

My friend Dave was sitting, shirtless, on his old dark-orange Camaro. The color was more like rust. I don’t believe this was a Camaro approved and applied color. Dave directed me where to park. I was just about to turn off the car when the DJ made an announcement that would change both of our lives forever: “Okay Who fans. Dates have been set for the farewell tour. Yes, I said farewell. Now if you haven’t seen them live, you’d better do everything and anything to get there because this is your last chance! Unfortunately, the closest to Atlanta they’ll be is Birmingham, Alabama…”

“Dude!” was all Dave said, but I could tell by the inflection that he meant “this is a once in a generation event and we have got to get tickets!”

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Marking My Territory

In Los Angeles, we’d see a duck land in our black-bottom pool or a raccoon in our water feature. There were even coyotes on our streets from time-to-time. They’d come down from the hills of the Santa Monica Mountain range probably looking for small pets, disappointedly I’m sure, since most of the small pets in LA are safely carried by their owners in handbags or strollers.

Here in Atlanta’s outer suburbs now, we get coyotes and many other kinds of wildlife: from the hawks constantly catching thermals as they circle above, to the wild turkey, snakes, and even bears. But the ones that seem to affect our lives most are the deer- especially when they eat the things we plant.

A co-worker who lives nearby told me he pees around his garden to mark his territory, and claims it works. Now I’m all for a good old outdoor pee at the right place and time, but I think my neighborhood association would frown upon it around my house.

So I’ve armed myself… with deer spray. It smells kind of like pee and rotten eggs, so maybe my co-worker was onto something after all. I sprayed the stuff on every hosta, azalea, gardenia, camellia, and any other plant ending in “a” that I saw out there.

And it’s worked so far! We have lush hostas now that we’ve not seen since we planted them years ago, and azaleas that could be on the 13thhole at Augusta National.

Unfortunately, the deer spray is expensive. So, if I lose my job or something, don’t be surprised if I’m out there marking my territory the natural way.

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Hometown Pride

I guess we’ve lived in Atlanta long enough now to feel some hometown pride. There was a skit on SNL last Saturday that proved that point. They were trying to make fun of typical people from each city vying for Amazon’s new offices.

Boston had its thick accented tough-guy and tough-gal types, offering up Fenway seats and Dunkin Donuts stuff. Miami had Latinas and Pit Bull (ironically who once lived in our suburb of Atlanta). And for Atlanta they had a man and woman from City Hall and Paula Deen.

Paula Deen isn’t even from Atlanta, she’s from Savannah. That’s a world away. About 4 to 5 hours by car, depending on traffic and where you’re starting from. And the two people representing City Hall were about as uninspiring as, well, City Hall.

Later that night in bed, where we tend to do our best thinking, my wife looked at me and said, “that’s all they could come up with for Atlanta?”

I know SNL is supposed to be comedy and all, so what about any one of Atlanta’s more relevant characters: Zombies from the Walking Dead? Tyler Perry dressed as Madea? Danny Glover (not the one from Lethal Weapon, but from the show Atlanta) dressed as his singing persona Childish Gambino? The Spanx founder giving out Spanx? Usher dressed as an Usher? QB Matt Ryan fumbling a Super Bowl trophy? And a bit dated, but still relevant: Captain Courageous himself, Ted Turner, of, well everything Turner… Broadcasting, Network Television, Classic Movies? You get the gist.

We may not have the Hollywood sign, but we’ve gotten a lot of Hollywood’s business lately. We may not have The Statue of Liberty, but we’ve got the Martin Luther King Center. We may not have Wolfgang Puck, but… okay, we’ll still claim Paula Deen.

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Mixed Nuts, Swingers and Acapulco Facelifts

We hadn’t been in our Atlanta neighborhood long when we heard rumor of a couple who liked to swing- and not on the community playground swing set.

Now, coming from LA we didn’t pass judgement. After all, LA is the land of mixed nuts… but not in a bad way, you know, like the Premium ones with everything from peanuts to pistachios and pecans?

Well out there in the land of mixed nuts, we had lived across the street from a lady who used to be an “entertainer” at a place called The Classic Cat. This was early burlesque-type stuff, which I assume was pretty risqué back in the day.

She would invite us to parties with all her old Classic Cat friends: a little man from Acapulco who used to dance with her, who’s stage-name was “Mr. Perpetual Motion”; a bunch of people who looked alike since they’d all gotten facelifts from the same Acapulco doctor (probably a cousin of Mr. Perpetual Motion’s); and a lady who married her dog- you heard me, she married her dog- and she had pictures from the ceremony to prove it.

So the Atlanta swingers were not that big of a deal to us, but boy did they get a lot of airtime in the casual conversations of our new suburban Atlanta neighborhood. It always seemed to start with “have you heard…” or “have you met…” Well, we hadn’t met, but that was about to change: they were hosting a neighborhood party.

It was probably the best turnout for a neighborhood party ever. I think people were expecting to discover some kind of sex dungeon or something, but it was pretty much like any other house on the street with nice and neat conservative décor. Though, I would surmise that the folks at this party had never had a stage-name (and if they did, it was definitely not as provocative as Mr. Perpetual Motion), if they’d been to Acapulco, it wasn’t for facelifts, and many were on their second or third marriages… to other humans, albeit with age differences that could have been in dog years.

My wife Alex has a knack for getting people to open up, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me later about sitting down with the lady of the house (no pun intended). It was getting late and the lady and Alex were discussing how to politely shut down your own party. The lady said she wasn’t any good at it, and would normally just let it go until it met its own end, but she’d had an experience that she didn’t want to relive.

She quietly pointed to the drunkest man in the room, “see that man there? One night we had a small group over and after we thought everyone had left, my husband went to sleep. I stayed up to clean a little and I found that man in the whirlpool in his underwear. Of course, I had to take him home, but we couldn’t find his clothes. So I got him into my brand new car and brought him home.” “What did his wife say?” “Well, she’s not here at this party, so I can imagine it didn’t go over well.”

After Alex told me the story about the man she now referred to as “soggy underpants”, I felt bad for the lady. I mean, maybe they were just an innocent couple who liked to throw parties, and one guy in his soggy underpants later, they were labeled swingers.

Well, they could always move to LA where they would be just another normal peanut among the various mixed nuts.

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The Life of a Pro Sports Rep ~ Chapter 2

I almost didn’t take the job. I had recently gone through boot camp for a pharmaceutical sales position. I say boot camp because that’s what it was—an intense one-month long session, away from home. I had never worked so hard to get a job. There were pass or fail tests. There was on-camera sales role-play where you reviewed yourself and made adjustments and went at it over and over. We studied like med students. We had to know more about our drugs and what they did to the human body than the doctors we were selling to. Being outside sales reps with company cars, we even had driving lessons (for our safety, and of course the company’s bottom line) where we got to push the cars to their limits and brake fast and see how it felt to be almost out of control. They weren’t just trying to sell a drug to the public, they were trying to sell us on them: and I had drunk the cool-aide.

So I already had a job that I liked in sunny Southern California back in 2008, when Easton came knocking with an even better offer…with one big caveat. When I broke the news that the job was not in LA, my wife Alex said “where is it then, Orange County?” “Atlanta!” I tried to say as cheerfully as possible. “Well, that’ll be a long commute” she retorted. And it was. I spent the first two years going out to the southeast every other week or so, visiting teams from the Washington Capitals to the Florida Panthers, and flying home a week later.

After those two road-weary years, it was time to start thinking about really moving to Atlanta, but we had been in LA for fifteen, and we were very comfortable there. We had recently finished renovating our house after a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We had made it through the initial rough waters that most experience when moving to the expensive and expansive metropolis of LA. It’s a city of extremes: A lot to love, and just as much to hate. But like seasoned surfers, we had found our balance and we were riding a good wave.

While I was jetting back and forth between LA and Atlanta for Easton, Alex was doing some surfing of her own of the Internet kind. “Where is Alpharetta?” She asked one night while I was back in LA. “Look at these houses… Three acres, and a pond!? You can’t get a crappy condo in LA for these prices.” I’m not sure if it was the nesting instinct in her, the bargain hunter or what, but our LA home was on the market the next week.

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Biking’s Destination

The smell of virgin blacktop baking in the sun emanates from below. Knobby rubber tires roll smoothly over the surface. Tall grasses and trees on either side blow in the summer wind. A low black construction fence borders the edges of the street and creates a racing feel as I descend the curvy path.

There’s a certain allure to a newly paved subdivision sitting empty as it awaits the bustle of the next building boom. Back when I was a kid, we would search these places out for skateboarding, or cul-de-sac parties. Now I use them for suburban biking.

Granted, biking the PVC farms of the north Atlanta suburbs is not quite the same as biking Mount Tam north of San Francisco for example. At Mount Tam, where mountain biking arguably began, you can climb a wide fire-trail miles up the backside of the mountain and appear at the top with a 360-degree view of ocean, mountains, and city beyond. You can then descend through narrow zigzags, watching the Pacific break out of the corner of your eye. At the bottom, just down the road, there’s an idyllic English-country-looking pub for beers: The Pelican Inn.

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No, the PVC farms don’t have all that, but you can find some peace while breaking a sweat, and you can still finish your ride with a beer at a great old-style pub near here: The Olde Blind Dog, which was oddly enough voted Best Irish Pub in the World recently by a Dublin-based group.

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They say the journey is the reward, but sometimes I’d say it’s the destination!

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Give Me All Your Chicken!

My wife knows, when I get hungry the mood of our shopping excursions can plummet faster than a diabetic’s blood sugar level. She’s gotten pretty good at reading the cues, even packing a snack in her purse to magically appear when she senses a mood shift.

This particular day the snacks weren’t doing the trick, so she had me pull the car over to get our bearings and search Yelp for a nearby restaurant. We were in an upscale suburban Atlanta area and everything was either too nice or too McDonalds.

I was about ready to just take us home to eat, when a pearly white Mercedes SUV pulls up, and out pops two calves and a cow. No, I wasn’t hallucinating from hunger pains. This was Free Chicken Sandwich Day at Chik-fil-A! Dress like a cow, get a free chicken sandwich.

I turned to Alex to ask how we might pull this one off, and she was already on it. She was rifling through the glove box, pulling out pens and scissors and napkins. Before you knew it, she’d put together a real basic “cow.”

Now Alex is an artist, so she was embarrassed by the finished product, but I give her credit for the details. She had cut eye holes in a brown napkin. Drawn a cow face on it with cow nose and cow nostrils. She used a white napkin tucked into our shirts for a tuft-of-fur look under our necks, and she even used pieces of brown napkin around our hands for “hooves.”

Alex looked us over. “Give me your face,” she said. I obliged, and she wrote “Moo” on it. “There,” she laughed, “perfect.” I looked in the rearview mirror. “They’re gonna’ think we’re robbing the joint,” I said, “give me all your chicken!”

We pulled up to the drive-thru, so as not to get arrested. It was so busy, a kid with a handheld device was taking pre-orders. He looked into our car and we both said “moo!” The kid cracked up and called his co-worker over to have a look. “What do you think?” he asked the guy who must have been his superior. “Two free sandwiches and an A for effort,” the guy said.

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That Time I Almost Got Ryan Seacrest Fired

New Year’s Eve would be a different experience without him. Kelly would not have a Ryan to chat with every day for the foreseeable future. And that famous pregnant pause between “this” and “is American Idol” would probably not exist.

Year’s back, in Atlanta, a friend was producing a game show with this likable young local kid, Ryan, with a freakishly grown-up voice, as the host. We ended up taking him out to some Buckhead bars. We were of age, he was not. I can’t remember if we knew the doormen or if we just had Ryan speak in his deep radio voice, but we had no trouble getting him in.

A few years later, I had moved to LA and my producer friend invited me to lunch with a small group of starving-artist types, one of them being Ryan. It was appropriately Mongolian BBQ: The type of place where you take a bowl for one price and smash as many ingredients into it as you can. You then hand your stuffed bowl to a guy standing over what’s basically a big flat wok. The guy dumps out all your ingredients and grills up a giant heaping of hot food for you.

Ryan had moved out to LA about the same time as me, not long after that Atlanta game show. Judging from our overfilled bowls, I’d say we were both at the starving point. He did, however, have a gig at the local radio station. Not the best time-slot, but a start. He was talking about attending community college as some kind of backup, I guess.

When my girlfriend at the time heard that Ryan worked at the radio station, she had me call him up to see about recording a voice-over reel. You know, the kind of thing that gets you jobs reading copy for commercials and such? Well, Ryan, being the nice guy that he was, said “sure thing, come on over to the studio while I’m working and I’ll set you up.”

When we get to the radio station he has on his headphones, on-air. He’s going a mile-a-minute, talking, pushing buttons, flipping switches, multi-tasking. This guy is in his element. He sees us and smiles and waves us in. He holds up his finger like “just a sec,” pushes another button or two, puts down his headphones and greets us both warmly.

He has us follow him into an empty studio next to his and shows me how to run the recorder in there to do the demo reel. It’s actually easier than I thought. Ryan then bolts to get back to his next radio segment and leaves us in there all alone with the door closed.

About 15 minutes later we’re almost done with the demo-reel, and I see a face in the little window in the door to our room. The face has a scowl. I hear a knock and I open the door. “Who gave you permission to be in here?” the face asks angrily. “Uh, Ryan” I answer. “Ryan!” the guy turns and goes to confront Ryan. I rush to the board and push record. “Hurry up,” I say to my girlfriend, “let’s finish this last take before we’re kicked out of here.”

I think Ryan got scolded, but not fired, and we kind of lost touch. I hoped it wasn’t for the recording incident.

A few years later, I was in an LA restaurant bar with another friend who was not in the business of show whatsoever. Up comes this well-dressed kid with the brightest smile, and frosty tipped hair. It was Ryan. He asked how things were and I did the same, though I knew he’d been bumped up to the best time-slot in radio: the afternoon drive. I introduced my friend to Ryan who regaled us with some Hollywood chatter. Later, my friend said presciently, “that kid’s either going to make it big, or crash big.”

I haven’t seen Ryan since…. Well, except everywhere.

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