Monday, August 30, 2010

Been There, Done That – John Schneider

In the 1980s and early 1990s, I found myself free to travel just about anywhere I wanted. Living in Utah, a jaunt down to Vegas, a trip to Los Angeles, a drive north to Idaho, or a short-hop flight to Colorado was as easy as could be, and I never seemed to have difficulty finding a friend or four to   go with me. Even a second trip to the Big Apple—New York—was not impossible to pull off, but long before that my journey begins.

For several years I had been living in Provo, Utah, the place where this all begins. The Children’s Miracle Network annual telethon had made its home since the very beginning at the Osmond Studio complex in nearby Orem. I had almost annually made a trek to see as much of the telethon as I could get a ticket and a seat to attend.

Many, many celebrities came out for these shows and I often had the chance either at the studio or at the Salt Lake City airport to meet them. A few of those I remember include Richard Carpenter, Nia Peeples, Billy Zabka, Frank Stallone, and Andy Gibb. But probably the celebrity I ran into the most often was telethon co-host John Schneider.

John Schneider is one of those kinds of people who truly want to get to know their fans. Every time I saw him in Utah, which are too numerous to count, or even when the telethon moved to Disneyland, John would take the time to stop and talk. He’d pose for pictures and sign autographs, then he would start asking questions toward the group of us as fast as we could thrown questions back at him. He would really listen as we answered those questions, too. I felt like John wanted to get to know me.

That brings me back to New York and the rest of my story. One of my good friends, Mary La Fontaine, had a hankering to fly to New York to see John perform in the Broadway musical Grand Hotel. John would be playing the role of the Baron in the production currently running at the Martin Beck Theater, and she called to ask if I wanted to go.

Of course I wanted to go! I have always loved John as a performer, a singer, and especially as a person. Plans were made, tickets were bought, and a few weeks later, I was flying in late on Friday night after having taught school to meet Mary in New York late that night.

It certainly was late when I got there. My plan arrived at JFK right around midnight, and there I was, a single woman alone on New York, hoping I’d make it to the hotel alive. I’d learned to pack light for weekend trips like this, so I hauled my wheelie-bag from the plane and headed outside to the taxi stand. Now, I’d taken a taxi before when I was in New York, but I’d never done it alone—at night—with all those scary-looking taxi drivers standing around waiting for a final late-night fare.

I stood and stared at a group of them, all hanging out, smoking their cigarettes and staring at me, until I finally got up my nerve, raised my right hand, and said, “Taxi?”

None of them looked especially thrilled, but at last one mam took a final drag, stopped out his cigarette, and motioned me toward his car. I took a deep gulp of air as I slid into the seat. It’s probably a good thing because that cab absolutely reeked of stale tobacco, alcohol, and who knows what other smells.

I gave him the name and street number for the hotel where Mary had us booked and we were on our way. I had no idea where we were going. I only know the car careened one way, then another, sometimes coming to an abrupt halt behind a jam of cars, them tearing away into another side street as we headed somewhere that I assume was across town, although there were times I thought we hadn’t gone more than a street away from where our journey began. The only time I knew for sure we were someplace new was when we crossed the river and I could see bridges on either side of me a little farther up or down the waterway.

At last we arrived at my destination. Somehow I was lucky enough to have the correct amount of cash to pay my fare—some astronomical amount like 50 bucks as I recall, a number that matched the meter so I know he wasn’t being an obvious cheat—and I was a the door to the place, still not knowing exactly where I was headed.

I checked in at the desk then used the house courtesy phone to give Mary a call and let her know I was in the lobby. She came down to meet me, leading me upstairs and chattering all the way about how she had already seen the play this night and talked to John afterwards, telling him I was coming and assuring me that he wanted to see me.

Right! I thought. No matter how many times John had seen me, I knew he had no idea who I was, even if he did say he couldn’t wait to see me.

Somehow we managed to crowd into our postage-stamp of a room and settle in for an almost-night’s sleep. Despite the fact the window was the size of an 8x10 envelope standing on end, the outside noise of car horns, squealing tires, and overhead planes was more than I was used to and they all converged to keep me awake most of the night. Of course, the fact that the twin bed meant for me was more the width of a plank that a mattress didn’t help either. I think even if Mary and I had been able to slide the two beds together the whole thing combined wouldn’t have been wide enough for even a single person to sleep comfortably.

Tired, but not letting it stop me from having a great day, Mary did some Saturday morning sight-seeing before heading to the theater for the matinee. Until my luck with Christopher Reeve, we didn’t see John before the show, but that was okay. We had great seats right down front and both really enjoyed the play, Mary even more than she had the evening before.

After the performance, she said, “Come with me!” and we headed toward the curtain at the front right of the stage. There was an usher there, blocking the way for anyone to get backstage, but that didn’t seem to bother Mary. “Can you tell John that Mary and Lu Ann are here, please?”

The usher gave her a look that seemed to say ‘You’ve-got-to-be-kidding,’ but after a second he shrugged his shoulder and headed backstage. ‘He said he’s really excited to see you,’ Mary said, turning to me.
I smiled, but I didn’t believe we’d even get backstage, let alone have John excited to see me. I guess I was wrong. A few minutes later, the usher returned and Mary and I were suddenly standing on the other side of the curtain where we were walked farther into the dark recesses found backstage. “John will be here in a few minutes,” the usher said, then he was gone.

I can’t remember how long we stood there, but I do remember seeing Mary’s eyes start to sparkle right before I heard the deep voice say, “Hi Mary, and Lu Ann, it’s great to see you!” And there was John, his arms held out toward me, ready to give me one of those great big bear hugs his is notorious for. He started chatting away like we were finishing a conversation that had been started the day before. He asked me how school was going—did I have good students this year?—and how my flight was from Utah, and when did I have to go back, etc. We talked for probably twenty  minutes before he said, “Let’s get some pictures” and called over one of the stagehands who was resetting the stage for the evening performance.

Finally John said, “I’ve got to go. They have dinner waiting back in the dressing room for me, but it was sure great to see you—both of you!” He gave us each another hug and led us to the door that took us back outside. Before we left he gave us the name and address of one of his favorite restaurants in an area of the city known as Hell’s Kitchen and we were on our way—but that’s another story for another day.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Wound up here through a Twitter post. A very sweet story, and now I'm looking forward to John's reply on Twitter about it. ^_^