Meeting very famous people in politics and the media has always been part of the territory in my line of work.
It generally doesn't impress me much, especially when it is at a presidential nominating convention, where you don't have time to stand around and gape at celebrities. (With one exception, which I wrote about in this column a while back, when I encountered supermodel Christie Brinkley and chatted for a while at a taxi stand outside a Los Angeles hotel in 2000. That got my attention.)
There was one more encounter that got my attention, just because it was under such odd circumstances – before the crack of dawn in the men's room of a diner in downtown Denver, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Obviously, the above statement requires some explanation. So here goes:
I covered that convention for the Enquirer; and, although the official convention starts on Monday, I always like to get there early to take care of credentialing, logistics and get a jump on a few stories.
So, I flew into Denver's airport (which seems like it is several hundred miles from downtown) on Saturday; and arrived at the Ohio delegation hotel on early Saturday evening.
The Democratic National Committee had put the Ohio delegation in a very expensive hotel on Curtis Street in downtown Denver. It was a boutique hotel; and the theme there was comedy.
There were constant loops of Looney Tunes cartoons playing on the TV sets in the lobby. On the elevators, which moved much too slowly, you had to listen to Henny Youngman jokes on the way to your floor.
My room was very nice, but it had a photograph of the Three Stooges in a nice silver frame on my nightstand.
It was a pretty weird place. Nice, but weird.
Months ahead of time, I had checked the Colorado Rockies baseball schedule, hoping that they would be in town the weekend before the convention because I had always wanted to see a game at Coors Field.
I struck pay dirt – they were playing my beloved Cincinnati Reds that weekend! I went online and bought a ticket in the upper deck, directly behind home plate.
Late Sunday morning, I left the comedy hotel and began walking toward Coors Field, which was a little over a mile away.
My seat was first rate; the ball park was beautiful; and going into the bottom of the ninth, my Reds were up 3-2. Alas, in the bottom of the ninth, the Rockies tied it up on a sacrifice fly and we went into extra innings.
The game grinded along until the bottom of the 12th inning, when the immortal Omar Quintanilla, a part-time Rockies outfielder, hit one of his two home runs that season off Reds reliever Mike Lincoln. Final score: Rockies 4, Reds 3.
Disappointed, I trudged back to my hilariously funny hotel and banged out a couple of convention preview stories to keep the folks on the Enquirer news desk happy.
I slept well that night, with Larry, Moe and Curly looking over me. I knew that there would be an Ohio delegation breakfast the next morning at 7 a.m.
I also knew that I would not be getting any breakfast there; I'd be too busy taking notes from the speeches and doing interviews.
One thing I knew quite well – that I had better get some kind of decent breakfast, because when you are working at a convention, you never known when your next meal will come.
So, at 5 a.m., I was outside the hotel, asking the bellhop if there was a good place for breakfast anywhere near the hotel, since I knew I wouldn't get anything at the delegation breakfast.
Sure, Sam's No. 3, he said, pointing down Curtis Street. Best diner in town. They're open.
I slipped him a couple of bucks for the info and started towards Sam's No. 3, which was only about three blocks away.
When I got there, I discovered that Sam's No. 3 was not only open, but it was hosting MSNBC's Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough. Morning Joe had a complete set constructed in the back of the diner.
And while a steady stream of famous politicians and media types streamed in and out to do their segments on Morning Joe, the restaurant itself was bustling, packed to the gills, with servers running back and forth with big heaping trays of food.
I took a spot at the counter near the set and ordered up a huge breakfast. The rule of the road: Eat a massive breakfast. Enough to last you all day if necessary.
I spent probably 40 minutes chowing down and watching Scarborough and company do the show. It was getting to be time to leave, but I needed to stop first in the little boys' room.
Now, the mens' restroom at Sam's No. 3 is a tiny thing, no bigger than a broom closet. Or a water closet, in this case.
And, when you enter it, the door swings in, not out.
Still a little groggy, I pushed the door open, a little too hard.
The sink was not a yard from the door; and there was a man in a white shirt and suspenders standing there washing his hands.
The door slammed into his rear end and pushed him forward, so that he ended up knocking his head on the mirror.
The guy turned around; and I could see who I had just smacked in the behind.
The former anchorman many adored and just as many couldn't stand the sight of. Always one of the most controversial figures in American TV journalism.
Of course, I apologized. He said it was no problem.
Dan looked at the convention media credentials hanging around my neck; he was wearing his too.
Weary-looking, as if he hadn't had a wink of sleep, he realized he had encountered a fellow journalist. He looked me up and down and this is what he had to say:
I gotta tell you, buddy, you and I are getting too old for this stuff.
Except he didn't say stuff.
You got that right, brother, I said.
We shook hands; and he was off, out the front door of Sam's No. 3 and into a waiting car.
Soon, I was ambling back down Curtis Street to our laugh-a-minute hotel and one thought occurred to me.
How many millions of Americans, I thought, would like to do what I just did.
Whack Dan Rather in the rear end.