Sunday, January 27, 2008

The day I saw Garrison Keillor (or did I?)

It's a Friday afternoon, maybe 10 years ago or more, and I'm about to board a train to Albany.

As I stand in line I notice that one of the other passengers has gotten off the train. He's having a smoke and looking around, a tall guy with glasses and with eyes that are taking everything in. A writer's eyes.

That's Garrison Keillor, I think to myself. I don't get all excited; I think that thought in the same way I might think "The sky is blue today."

Remembering the title of his first book, I'm tempted, as I walk past him, to say "Happy to be here?"

But I look at him and he looks at me and he doesn't look as if he especially wants to trade pleasantries with me.


I get on the train for the three-hour trip to Albany. He's in another car. I read a book, but now and then think, "Is that really him?"

Finally we're in Albany. He's among the people getting off. Boy is he tall. And that dark hair, those glasses, that chin.... Has to be him.

I see him get off. Two guys meet him. They seem nervous. If you were casting actors for an episode of "Those Nervous Guys from the NPR Affiliate," they'd do very nicely.

He says a few words, something like "They're not here." I'd heard Keillor speak before, either on the radio or TV. As Adrian Monk would say years later, "He's the guy!"

My relatives pick me up. I tell them I think I saw Garrison Keillor on the train. They look as if they're questioning my sanity, and not for the first time.

While I'm in Albany I call a couple of local NPR stations. They say Keillor isn't in town, and boy do they seem surprised that I'm asking.

A few days later, back in my hometown, I eventually look up the address of "A Prairie Home Companion." This is years before I had Internet access, let alone Google, so this takes some doing, but I find it and write a letter, asking if the creator of Guy Noir had stopped off in the state capital.

A few weeks later I get a letter. I've long since lost it so can't quote it, but this will give you the gist (and the tone):

"Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, on the date you mention, Mr. Keillor was on a flight to Europe, so he certainly couldn't have been in Albany, could he?"

I had never before realized that NPR actually stood for National Patronizing Radio.

I'd never really listened to "Prairie Home Companion," and I somehow manage to get along without it very nicely for some years, but I eventually give in, not because I'm a big fan of Keillor's (though I appreciate his talent) but because I think their voice actors are brilliant, especially Sue Scott.

And when I eventually get around to watching the Robert Altman movie inspired by the show, I can't help thinking it all over again.

That's the guy.

OK, maybe it isn't. Or wasn't.

But if it wasn't, Mr. Keillor should watch his keister, because he sure has one hell of a doppelganger. (Or, given his height, a doppelganglier....)

1 comment:

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Strange, I thought I saw Mr. Keillor at the mall this weekend: a tall, bewildered, somewhat grouchy fellow. But then I looked: no red sneakers. If I recall correctly, he wore a suit and red sneakers while here in 2003. Incidentally, around the time my daughter was born, 1997, I somehow found out his personal email. Emailed to tell him I had read his essay in Time about being a father late in life. He emailed back some encouraging words. It helped me through the long nights of "operatic" [his word] crying.