Meeting Keith
Marriage Peril

The trip wasn’t a total loss. The morning we left in a rush I spotted Keith Jackson in the lobby of the Ahwahnee Hotel.


Terry and I like to celebrate our October wedding anniversary in Yosemite Valley. In good years we splurge and stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We were married in Yosemite, up on Glacier Point. Anniversary celebrations in the Park are always special. But, not this year. Terry got sick almost as soon as we arrived and our stay was aborted less than 18 hours later. The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. The morning we left in a rush I spotted Keith Jackson in the Ahwahnee lobby.

Yes, I know, it wasn’t Keith Richards or even Keith Olbermann, but, for those who don’t know, for many years Keith Jackson was the network voice of college football. He called all the big games on ABC for a generation, including all the Rose Bowls. When Keith Jackson worked a game, you knew it was the most important one that day. "Oh, doctor!" and ’Whoa, Nelly!"were his trademark exclamations for a big play at a crucial time. He’s retired now, a few steps on the slow side of 80, but seemed reasonably fit, is still tall, and still has the imposing presence of a successful western rancher about to take on the BLM over its wolf policy.

Actually, I saw him twice that day. The first time in the elevator.

That morning he and I shared the elevator for the short ride from the second floor to the lobby. My ride started on the third floor. When the car stopped unexpectedly at 2 I swore out loud. I was in a hurry, making the third run to the parking lot during a harried and premature check out – Terry was actively sick with the flu and at her request I was trying to get us out of the hotel and on the road home the quickest way possible. She had become ill after dinner the night before and been sick all night. She wanted to get out of there fast, away from the unpleasant memory and a room whose smell was no longer of oak leaves and pine needles.

Getting out of the hotel in a hurry meant carrying our belongings out without waiting for bell service or even packing correctly. I’ve always felt that people who carry their own luggage in swanky places like the Ahwahnee are the same ones that tend to dress in primary colors, order martinis after dinner, and over-tip at Denny’s. Now, I was one of them, although I wasn’t so much carrying my own luggage as carrying our clothes by the arm load, like I’d snatched them from a line just before a daybreak downpour.

At fifteen minutes after eight that morning, I was alone in the tiny Ahwahnee elevator, unshaven, unbrushed, dressed in un-matched sweat clothes, perspiring slightly from the previous two dashes to the parking lot, bear-hugging the remaining closet of women’s coats, clothing, scarves and gloves in one arm and a scuffed guitar case in the other. Two pairs of ladies hiking boots and sneakers were strung over one shoulder. I looked like a homeless geezer who’d slept under Sentinel Bridge the night before following a sundown hippie hootenanny in the meadow, and, to find today’s drug money, I had just made a dawn raid in one or two of the suites on the upper floors of the Ahwahnee and was now trying to escape the building in a hurry without being noticed. All that was missing were sirens and a shopping cart with a loose noisy wheel.

"Damn", I spit, when the elevator stopped at the second floor. When the door opened, in stepped Keith Jackson, one hand in his pants pocket, taking his time. At least someone was enjoying the morning. Hotel security wasn’t after him. He appeared newly shaved, his thinning executive cut combed neatly, parted on the left and still slightly damp. He looked like he’d just been dressed by Ralph Lauren in a short-sleeved yellow pastel Polo shirt and pressed beige slacks that fell tastefully to hand-sewn leather Oxfords. People in hand-sewn Oxfords don’t sleep under bridges. There was a sudden civilized hint of bath talc in the elevator, to counteract the ambient scent of recent sickness I hoped he couldn’t detect on me.

I kicked the guitar case a little to the side to make room for him. We exchanged glances but did not nod or smile. I had the chilly feeling he had sized me up appropriately in one short look and was no doubt grateful the apparent looting hadn’t started on his floor. I recognized the face instantly and before the door slid closed I remembered the name. Keith Jackson. I wondered if I should say something, to show respect, to thank him for making college football games that much more enjoyable. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t implicate him in what he might be thinking was a larceny in progress. He’s likely due at a breakfast mixer in the Dining Room downstairs and a police report would be inconvenient.

Before I could decide what to say the elevator bounced to a soft stop at lobby level and Keith Jackson silently headed off to the right, toward the Dining Room. Just as I thought. A relaxing brunch with Ralph and other clean, well-dressed beautiful friends, over mimosas, scrambled egg whites, goat cheese and chives, with dry sourdough toast. Me, I’m not eating brunch with a crowd of jet-setters. I’m making a break for it past the bell captain and concierge desk, carrying a load of stolen, unused hiking clothes. It looks more like a fashion heist than a check-out.

Later that morning, once the car was loaded and Terry stabilized enough to make a quick forced march out of the building, I saw Keith Jackson again. While we were turning in the keys to what would normally have been a splendid anniversary interlude, he was just leaving the newsstand behind us and was now making his way slowly across the lobby toward the gift shop, scanning the headlines in the Monday Los Angeles Times. Something came over me and I forgot my own rule of leaving the famous alone with their fame. I’d been around enough famous sports figures in my newspaper days in the 70s in San Diego to know that most journalists, while perhaps secretly relishing the recognition, would rather not be bothered. Among journalists, it’s considered unprofessional and even a little uncouth to stoop to the pandering antics of fatuous Hollywood fame.

I approached him anyway, like a fawning teenager stalking Brad Pitt.

"Are you Keith Jackson?" I asked, leaning in, with a grin that was probably too toothy. Compared to his country-club attire I was still dressed like a vagrant, and still sweating from my pillaging sprints to the parking lot.

"What’s left of him," he replied without irony, glancing over the paper at me. He didn’t stop or slow for a short polite chat or a handshake, but instead kept moving across the tile mosaic lobby floor. Apparently, he’d had enough adulation for a Monday morning. He was probably thinking "You again", but I fell in step with him anyway, a little awkwardly, and we both headed toward the gift shop entrance – Keith Jackson and his newest fan, an elderly homeless burglar.

"We’ve enjoyed your work over the years," I offered, leaning in. The damn teeth again. Maybe the royal "we" would convince him I’d been dispatched by a committee of meddlesome zealots and wasn’t entirely to blame for this assault on his privacy. At least I hadn’t asked for his autograph or a two-pals photo.

"Thank you," he muttered without looking or smiling. I slowed, the message delivered, my mission complete. Before pealing off and abandoning the intrusion I raised my hand to pat him on the back – a parting love pat – but he saw it coming and flinched – expecting, I suppose, that anyone who would steal clothing from a sick woman was likely also to try to pick the pocket of an old sportscaster.

dp 12-04-2010



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