The following tale appears in the 2014 Autograph University Yearbook – a collection of stories written by the autograph community. Get your free copy of the Yearbook.
March 7, 2008
I’ve never been so disappointed to see an NBA team outside a hotel.
Chicago Bulls players were streaming out of the Four Seasons and across its horseshoe driveway toward the game time buses. Over a dozen collectors and I shuffled back and forth between them, ready with Sharpies and photos in our hands. But these towering athletes weren’t our targets—they were in the way.
Our eyes were trained on the revolving door at the hotel entrance, waiting to catch a glimpse of a man with more star power than the entire NBA team combined. He wouldn’t stand out like the basketball players—he had no superhuman physique to give him away. White male, average height, dark suit. There are a heck of a lot of those walking out of the Four Seasons.
The black SUV pulled up around 6 p.m., obscuring the doorway. We scrambled for a better view but we all knew it would be only moments until we saw him. Odds were good we weren’t even going to get close but he had a reputation of being a friendly guy. Maybe we’d get lucky.
The door spun and Tom Hanks walked out into a cacophony of shouting collectors who surged toward him.
“Sorry guys, I’m late,” he said with a wave and stepped into the backseat of the SUV behind the driver. The door slammed shut.
We saw him for five seconds.
Hanks was in town for a screening of the John Adams HBO mini-series he co-executive produced. The event was being hosted at the Boston Public Library four blocks away in Copley Square. It was a straight shot down Boylston Street from the hotel…on foot. Due to a number of one-way streets I knew Hanks’ car would have to zigzag its way back through a number of side streets and traffic lights. I just might make it in time if I hurried. I watched as the vehicle rumbled out of the driveway and sped past the hotel. I had no time to calculate. I ran.
Coming straight from work I wasn’t well-dressed for a half-mile sprint. It wasn’t the leather-soled shoes clacking sharply on the sidewalk that caused me problems, it was the heavy corporate-issue laptop clanging violently off my hip bone. I wasn’t the only one who was stressed by the situation. I projected my anxiety onto every pedestrian I passed/weaved through/cut off. It’s always a bit unsettling to see someone running full bore at you, particularly when they are not wearing exercise clothes. In those moments of madness there is one thing abundantly clear. Something is wrong.
Down the sidewalk I chased a car I couldn’t see, praying Hanks and Co. were held up at red lights and traffic on the adjacent side streets. I sped by the Arlington T stop then passed Berkley and Clarendon. Copley Square came into view, the library’s façade and its rows of arcaded windows in the distance. Hundreds of people were already lined up along a red carpet. Even if I beat the livery vehicle it would still be a challenge to get a favorable spot. My chest was heaving and my forehead and armpits were dripping sweat as I made a quick turn past Trinity Church and the skateboarders practicing kick-flips by the fountain. So close.
I stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic, playing real-life Frogger as the black SUV turned onto Dartmouth Street and came to rest in front of the throng of middle-aged women clutching DVD copies of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. I found a small gap halfway down the line, just enough room for me to stretch the baseball I fished out of my desk less than an hour ago at the office. Hanks emerged from the vehicle to shrieks and cheers. He took a blue Sharpie from a fan and worked his way down the line slowly, hitting everything from notebook paper to full-sized movie posters. He was focused on signing but was engaging, offering each person a word or two as he signed. That unmistakable voice—in person, he sounds just like Tom Hanks.
His pace quickened as he approached where I was standing—he had already been signing for several minutes amidst the growing fervor of the impatient fans. Hanks was still rolling with the blue Sharpie as he scribbled across the sweet spot of my ball before picking up the next item, then another. He ping-ponged back and forth across the carpet ensuring everyone got a souvenir. With an autograph in hand I was now focused on trying to get a picture with him, figuring my best shot would be toward the end of the line where he would be nearly finished signing and more open to a photo op. I moved down toward the steps leading to the library entrance and grabbed an open spot. I noticed several slow-footed collectors from the Four Seasons were just arriving.
I introduced myself to a woman in her forties standing next to me and asked her if she would snap a picture of me with Hanks if he agreed. She said she would if I returned the favor and we had a deal. I handed her my camera turned back toward Hanks who was still signing away, now only a few steps from us.
“Tom, could I please get a picture?”
“Sure,” he said without looking up. He grabbed a DVD cover from a fan to my left and scrawled his name in blue.
“Tom, thank you so much for signing for us. Can I please get a quick picture?”
“It’s a free country, snap away,” he said. One step away.
I shot an “It’s go time, don’t fuck this up” glance at the woman holding my camera and ducked under the velvet rope, sidling up to Hanks.
There was a commotion.
“Whoa, whoa,” Hanks said, taking a step back. Security was on me.
“Sir, you need to be on the other side of the rope.”
My intentions were pure but I had literally and figuratively crossed the line. It was a miscommunication—he clearly thought I was asking to take a picture of him, not with him—but it was a misstep that soured a once-in-a-lifetime experience with an icon rare in talent and generosity. I always take great care to avoid making celebrity encounters awkward but I got greedy and was left feeling embarrassed.
I took my ball and went home.