Fame

At 9:30am Ryan Nielson started his Kenworth T700 tractor-trailer rig, checked his immediate surroundings, and carefully pulled out of the truck port at the Wal-Mart warehouse in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Within minutes he was on Interstate 78 heading east toward Pittsburg. He’d subcontracted both himself and his rig and had a load of something he didn’t really care about to be dropped off at one of those Pittsburg Wal-Mart stores, and about seven hours of driving lay ahead of him. He settled in for the long haul.

What Ryan didn’t know was that the warehouse guy who slid the trailer door shut had noticed a thin layer of dust coating it. He smiled a bit and wrote a simple sentence in that dust: “I’M A CELEBRITY!”

Several hours later Ryan stopped at a Starbucks in Harrisburg for a quick break and a stiff cup of coffee before continuing on. It was located among many other stores in a giant shopping center and he knew he had plenty of space to find parking for his giant rig. There were two young college girls who happened to have been pulling into that parking lot behind him.

Megan, riding in the passenger’s seat, read the writing and said, “Look what is written on the back of that truck.”

“That’s funny,” her friend, Ashley replied.

“Wouldn’t it be weird if it was true?”

“No way. That would be impossible.”

Ashley found a parking place near Ryan’s truck and shut off the engine of her Volkswagen Jetta. Megan started to open her door when Ashley grabbed her arm.

“Hold on,” she said, “let’s just see what he looks like.”

Ryan picked up his wallet located on the dashboard and hopped out of the Kenworth. He left the engine running as semi drivers often do, locked the door with his remote, and then stuffed the remote into his pocket. He was wearing Wrangler blue jeans, a dark blue plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, and black cowboy boots. He walked about sixty yard and around the corner toward the front door of the Starbucks.

Many people in his life agreed that he was good looking by any standards with his muscular build, full head of dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and a smile that had gotten him many dates when he had attended community college ten years earlier. People often told him he looked somewhat like Jon Hamm and asked him if he’d ever considered modeling or acting, but that wasn’t ever on his radar. From the time he was ten years old he wanted nothing more than to be a truck driver, and that’s where he’d landed in life, at first working for various companies, then becoming independent. And he was happy. He didn’t know that two college coeds were watching him cross the parking lot.

“Megan, what if he IS a celebrity?” Ashley mused.

“What would he be doing driving a truck?”

Ashley thought for a moment, then said, “Maybe he’s an actor researching a role that he has coming up as a truck driver and he’s really getting into his character.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Megan replied, “he is VERY hot! You know what, he looks like that guy on the show Mad Men. What’s his name?”

Their eyes followed Ryan into Starbucks, the door shutting behind him.

“Let’s go get something!” Ashley cried and they both jumped out of the car and walked quite fast toward the Starbucks.

Inside there was a long line, about twelve deep, and Ryan took his place at the end. Megan and Ashley scooted over to an empty table and sat down. They both kept their sunglasses on so that they could secretly eye the supposed famous person standing in line. Megan glanced over and saw a guy her age at a table beside them working at his computer.

“Hey,” she whispered, causing him to look up, “What’s the name of that actor on the show Mad Men?”

“I don’t know, but I can look him up,” he replied, and snapped a few keys on his computer. Seconds later he had an answer. “Jon Hamm. Do you want to see a picture?” He slid his computer at an angle so that she could see. “My name’s Chase, what’s yours?”

“Ashley, that’s GOT to be him!” Megan gasped, ignoring Chase’s feeble attempt at a flirt.

“Who are you talking about?” Chase asked, hoping again to possibly land the attention of at least one of these two.

“That guy in line over there,” Ashley replied.

Chase looked over at what was causing the attention to not be on him and saw the Jon Hamm lookalike. He glanced at the picture on his computer, then back at the man. “Dang,” he said, “You might be right.”

Megan grabbed Ashley’s hand, “Let’s get in line behind him!” she loudly whispered, and they moved quickly and stealthily across the floor and were able to secure their position directly behind their supposed celebrity.

Ryan had no idea what was transpiring behind him. He just stood there patiently, checking his email, and kind of glad there was a line because it gave him more time to stretch out his legs. He was just reading his third email, a company that needed his services for about twenty days coming up in December, when he felt a gentle tap on his left shoulder. He turned around and saw two young women with wide eyes and large smiles. The one on his right extended her hand and said, “Hi, Jon. My name is Megan and this is Ashley. It is SUCH a pleasure to meet you!”

Ryan, being polite, reached out and shook Megan’s hand, but replied, “Hi, Megan. But I’m not Jon, I’m Ryan.”

Megan smiled again and leaned in closer, whispering at a level that was a bit loud for a whisper, “It’s OK. We know who you are and your secret’s safe with us. It must be difficult being a celebrity and keeping a normal life.”

At the word ‘celebrity’ a man in front of Ryan turned around to see what was going on. He sidestepped a bit so that he could glance at Ryan’s face. “Yeah, I know you!” he cried and reached out, grabbing Ryan’s hand. “My wife’s a giant fan of that show…what’s it called? Uh…oh yeah, ‘Angry Guys’ or something like that!”

Ryan shook his hand, again, being polite, and tried to say, “I’m not who you…”

“Can we get a picture with you?” Ashley interrupted and immediately the girls were on either side of him. Megan drew her i-phone out of her pocket like Billy the Kid in a gunfight, and before he knew it he was in a three-person selfie, well actually four. The guy he’d just met photo-bombed the shot.

A woman appeared out of nowhere. “Can I get your signature, please? Just make it out to Peggy. Say whatever you want!” she said, handing him a Starbucks napkin and a pen.

“I don’t think that I’m the person you…” Ryan started to say.

Just then another guy who had been listening in to this whole mess of confusion walked up. He was dressed poorly, and it was obvious to the casual observer that he’d not showered for a couple of days, more likely a week. He pushed passed the autograph seeker and maneuvered himself so that he was directly in front of Ryan, his face about a foot away. “Listen, I know that guys like you like to help people out,” he said, his breath bludgeoning Ryan like a 32-ounce ball peen hammer. Ryan winced at the onslaught that seemed to have been a combination of rum, sour kraut, eggs, and cat pee. The man continued, “My son can’t get into the Boy Scouts because I can’t afford the uniform. It’s only $175 and I know that for guys like you this is just chump change.”

Ryan stammered, “Er, uh, I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m a truck driver. That’s all!” A crowd was forming and whispers of who they thought he was were rippling across the room. He started backing away. As he did he bumped into someone. He turned around and was face to face with a very sad woman holding a baby.

“Mister,” she said, tears starting to form in her eyes, “My baby, he’s sick. Would you just touch him? I know that life has been good to you and I know that your touch will make him better. Please?”

The crowd moved in closer to get a better look at the unfolding drama. Ryan was feeling more and more uncomfortable with this situation. Being an introvert at heart, what was happening could be described as his own personal hell.

“Touch the baby, heal the baby,” he heard some of the gathering crowd say, “the baby needs you. Touch the baby. The baby…”

“I have a latte for JoAnne!” the Starbucks barista called out. No one responded. The room became quiet, the woman continued to hold out her baby, the crowd of twenty-five or thirty people remained poised in anticipation of a genuine miracle that could take place in their presence, and many were catching this moment on the video app of their smartphones. Sweat appeared on Ryan’s forehead as he slowly looked around at these people. “What can I do? I can’t heal this child!” he said to them. Some looked confused. Others had smiles that indicated they were the wiser and were in on his supposed secret. He racked his brain for a way out. “Please, sir,” the woman said again.

“OK, fine,” sighed Ryan. This made no sense whatsoever, but he was willing to do anything to get out of there. He reached forward hesitantly and gently touched the forehead of the small, whimpering child that was being held out in front of him. The surrounding crowd was on edge as to what would happen next and their eyes and cameras went from Ryan to the baby. Nothing really did happen, except the baby stopped whimpering, probably, figured Ryan, that this child felt the touch of a total stranger and was curious as to what was going on.

“It’s a miracle,” whispered someone at the edge of the crowd, “the baby was just healed!” Gasps of oohs and aahs swept through the room, with the occasional ‘miracle’ and ‘divine’ heard as well.

“I have a child at home who is under the weather! Would you mind waiting here for ten minutes?” a man at the edge of the crowd yelled.

“My son refuses to do his homework!” called out a woman as she pushed a stubborn teenager to the front, “Will you bring the hammer of the gods down upon him until he completes his English assignments?”

“What are you doing?” Ryan protested. He had to get out of there. As someone who hated attention he was more uncomfortable than at any other time in his life, including the public speaking class he’d forced himself to take in community college. In the confusion a plan came to mind. It might not work, but he needed to try something. Ryan held up both hands, quieting the crowd. He was going to speak and they did not want to miss a single word. Smartphones popped up again. Hushed silence, as if Jesus was on the mount ready to say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” They were poised. He was addressing them. THEM! Oh, if only their friends could see that they had an audience with this, unadulterated fame, with their possible fortunes following closely behind!

Using the almost forgotten skills he’d learned in the public speaking class he cleared his throat and made a statement. “Many of you may not realize that celebrity is always accompanied with responsibility. And that responsibility takes a toll. I would love to help all of you, but first I’ll need to take fifteen or twenty minutes to meditate. In my truck that I was driving there is a compartment with a bed in it. I’ll go there and relax for a bit, say a mantra or two, then I’ll be back.” Somewhere in the back of his head he thought he remembered that some famous people meditate. And the word ‘mantra’ came to mind as well.

He started to move through the crowd, when the lady who’d wanted his autograph asked, “Why are you driving a semi?”

“You’re driving a semi?” another asked.

Ryan stopped and turned around to face questioning eyes. He had never needed to figure out why a celebrity would choose a tractor-trailer rig as an everyday driving vehicle. He remembered his brother.

“Uh,” he stammered, “because…uh…my brother owns it and let me borrow it for a few days just for fun. Normally I like to drive my Ferrari or Porche, but on occasion I like the feel of a big rig.”

“You don’t have a brother,” said Chase, looking at Jon Hamm’s information on Wikipedia.

Ryan, quicker on his feet this time, replied, “I have a really close friend and we are like brothers. That’s how I always refer to him. My brother. Yes, that guy you’re reading about there.” He started moving again, slowly toward the door. “Uh, please wait here. I’ll be right back.” And out the door he went. He tried to walk swiftly without looking hurried, but felt as if it wasn’t working. He took a risk and glanced back. He saw faces peering at him through the window. He stopped, turned, and waved. They waved back. He motioned for them to relax, smiling and facing both of his palms before them. “Relax,” he whispered out loud, “relax.”

They smiled back and slowly turned away from the window. About fifty yards and to the left, just out of view of their window, Ryan’s truck patiently sat, idling, waiting for him. He toggled the remote, opened the door, and climbed up and into the truck. Knowing he was out of eyesight of the mob at Starbucks, he gently pushed in the clutch, popped the gearshift into first gear, and slowly drove his Kenworth away.

What Ryan didn’t see was that the crowd in Starbucks had formed an area in the middle of the store and was holding vigil. The woman with the “sick” child sat in the middle and many reassured her that help was on the way soon. Every now and then someone broke out in a song and others joined: “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad…” or “This land is your land…” or “Row, row, row your boat…” in the round. This went on for two hours before they sent a rep to find Ryan and realized he was gone. Eventually they all dispersed and went about their normal, un-famous lives.

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