One of the first things I did when I stepped on my college campus was not to find the nearest drug dealer or burn a couch in front of a frat house. No, unlike the depictions of college in films, if you don’t come from a family with a trust fund and six yachts, you’re going to have to get some income flowing in order to pay for the fun. I needed a job.
One day I saw a flier for an informational meeting to write for the Stanford Daily newspaper, so I figured it was a good enough scam that I could probably squeeze a few bucks out of it along with some sweet sweet press passes to get in free to sporting events, etc.
I started out as a layout artist, designing page spreads in the entertainment section. Working until the wee hours of the morning after a day of classes turned out not to be as bad as it could have been though on one occasion a boulder leaped in front of my bicycle at 2am as I deliriously made my way back to my dorm. (No, alcohol was not involved, thank you. Though it would have made the crash a lot less painful.)
Unlike the rest of the newspaper which had to adhere to strict formal journalistic standards, the entertainment had free reign to do ANYTHING. I think at one point I wrote an article about how the smurfs were all communists, and once printed a picture of Bob Saget flipping the bird that somehow got onto the front page. But the best part about the gig was that for some reason the newspaper had all sorts of connections with publicity companies and film PR firms that set us up with free press screenings for movies so we could obsentisibly publish what passed as reviews for new and upcoming films.
On rare occasions, these press screenings also came with the added bonus of the press junkets. These were the coveted assignments. Seniors wanted these and there was no way a freshman would get to do it. They were usually somewhere fancy like the Ritz and they involved all the top talent from the film. My very first assignment was for the little seen and critically abused film called “Firewall.” The movie itself was nothing to write home about but it came with the mind-blowing opportunity to meet and interview Harrison Freakin’ Ford.
As any self-respecting geek will tell you, Mr. Ford is something of a geek icon. Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Decker from Blade Runner. These were the heroes that defined my childhood and here I got to meet the man that played them. AND I was getting paid. A stern face and gravely voice awaited me and maybe – just maybe – there would be a trademark whipcrack as sharp as a wisecrack.
I was late as I check in at the Ritz Carlton in SF. I was nervous because I just spent the Caltrain ride over second guessing all my questions and I was sweating like a hooker in church after having just climbed San Franciscan Himalayas. But just as I rounded the corner, there he was – a lumbering hulk of an old man, sour faced and fresh from the bathroom. He looked like he had just punched the mirror because he didn’t like the way the other guy made eye contact.
Other journalists came and went, photographers did their thing and finally, after about a half hour of patiently waiting in the fanciest of lobbies and my heartrate going through the roof, I went inside the meet the man.
There were three of us – two college kids and some over the hill journalist from some obscure film magazine. I instantly felt a connection to this middle aged portly man. He’d brought a poster for an autograph because his kid asked him to (yeah, sure) and did that thing where he tried to feign that he wasn’t staring but really was quite obviously staring holes into Harrison Ford’s face.
If you’ve ever heard the expression “deer in headlights” or had the pleasure of actually seeing it happen as you plow your pickup through a dumb deer, you’ll have an idea what happened next. I froze. Literally froze. I sat there for 30 minutes in a room with the man who had done the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs and I literally didn’t say a word. There were points I’m sure that the other two journalists in the room looked over at my dumb grin expecting me to offer up a question, but they were greeted by a 19 year old’s vacant expression. It didn’t matter that Harrison Ford was sick and drinking Robitussin from a tumbler glass (bad ass by the way) it was like anything I could have asked would have been grounds for an old fashioned butt-whoopin’. He could have been bleeding out at the table and staining the carpet for all I cared and in that moment I still would have considered him more than just a mere human being.
The interview ended as quickly as it began. Since I had already made a fool of myself, I figured I would go all in and whipped out my camera. I don’t think I even asked for a picture, I probably just pointed to it and raised an eyebrow as if it was enough to convey my intention. Apparently it was.
Yes, I survived the encounter.
I really hope Mr. Ford never actually reads this post for 2 reasons:
1.) He’ll find out how much of a boob I was at 19
2.) He’ll track me down and shoot first. And yes, he would shoot first, no matter what the Star Wars Special Editions might have to say about the matter.