i remember the day walter cronkite died. it’s still as if it was only yesterday.
you never forget where you were when you learned that someone important to you died. with elvis, i was in the newsroom. john lennon, newsroom. ok, actually i was on the porch with sue who pleasantly drunk at lunch the next day (don’t ask). but i sobered up on the drive to the newsroom. michael jackson? newsroom. mother teresa? (sorry to place you so close to mj, mama t). newsroom. jfk? outside playing with a train set. but i grew up as quickly as possible so i could get to the newsroom. abe vigoda, newsroom. what? abe vigoda is still alive? how is this possible?
but it was different with walter. i also remember the exact day i almost met him. nineteen ninety something.
at the time, i had wandered into a somewhat important position at my newspaper. my boss, whom i would take a bullet for, asked me to go with him to the annual luncheon put on the by the cronkite school. i asked if i could just take a bullet for him instead. he declined, i was stuck. the one redeeming factor: walter, whom the school is named after, would be there. i could meet him. how many times do you get to meet an honest-to-god hero? i was in.
i dutifully put on my suit for the first time in that decade. the event was quite formal, with multiple forks and napkins that appeared to be made from cloth. my newspaper had two tables: the adult table with the publisher and dignitaries, and the kids’ table with the riff-raff. all would be ok as long as …. then they stuck me next to the publisher. i suffered through the longest hour of my life as she chatted with some important regent guy and glanced at me occasionally as if to wonder “WHO THE HELL IS THIS PERSON SITTING AT MY TABLE.” i could only weakly smile and resist the urge to vomit in her water glass.
eventually the chitchat ended and the presentation wound up. i rushed out to a little dark spot in the hallway and hid for a long time, waiting for my entourage to come by for my escape.
then i saw him. sitting in the hallway alone, shaking hands with anyone who cared to walk up, was america’s most trusted man himself.
i watched for a while. it’s interesting how various people approach so differently. some greeted him as if they were old friends. maybe there were. some greeted him as if he was god. maybe he was.
and then … there was no one. walter cronkite was sitting by himself, no more than 30 yards away from me. i could just walk up, mumble something about honor hero zucchini pancakes excuse me i have to pee and then actually shake the hand of the last living american legend. i would shake his hand BEFORE peeing, of course. certain celebrity protocol must be followed.
but it was like coming face to face with santa all over again. i desperately wanted to meet him, but was terrified of sitting in his lap.
so i didn’t.
i rode home silently, hating myself. for not having eaten what appeared to be a lovely meal because i feared slopping it on the publisher. for being too scared to take a chance. and for knowing that someday i’d be writing about how i wish i’d done something all those years ago that was worth remembering.
i’ll never forget where i was the day walter died. and i’ll never forget where i was the day my dream of meeting him died as well.
thanks, mr. cronkite. sorry the business let you down.