Brushes

As I emerged from the subway at 96th Street yesterday, I spotted a face I recognized coming down the stairs toward me. Immediately I could see it was Steve Somers, a WFAN personality I grew up listening to–at least, I believed it was. After all, I’ve only ever seen a single picture of Steve’s face on the WFAN website. (As you can see, it’s not a perfect picture, but he appears to be a distinctive-looking guy, and the man I spotted looked identical to the man in that photo.)

Understand that the sight of Steve Somers in the flesh affected me as a star athlete or a Hollywood celebrity would affect many others–only on top of the element of fame, add a tremendous amount of admiration and years’ worth of memories. I started listened to Somers’ show, on WFAN before and after Met games, at age 11, tuning in most nights a week for four or five years. For months at a time my radio wouldn’t be turned off; instead, I turned the volume down when I left the apartment and back up again when I returned. Nearly every weekend evening for several years I heard Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy call Met games, followed by Steve Somers schmoozing with fans. Somers was smart, gentle, funny, and warm on the air. He was an electronic friend, a comforting voice that never needed to belong to a real person as long as I persisted. Still today, when I turn on WFAN, I hear Steve Somers most evenings.

In the moments after recognition, I debated whether I should stop him and tell him I was a fan. I didn’t worry about what I would say, nor really that I might upset him. Instead, I worried mainly about my self-image. I considered, as reasons not to stop him, that I would feel guilty if I made him miss an incoming train; that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure this was the man I thought it was (a man I had never seen before); and that I’m supposed to be a good New Yorker, a quick-footed and unfazed pedestrian who treats other New Yorkers, famous and anonymous, with the same ambivalence. But here was a childhood idol of mine! If I let him go, would I regret it forever?

I guess I’ll find out. I did not shout, “Mr. Somers!” as I climbed the stairs, so I don’t know for sure it was him. But I believe it was, and only time will tell whether I continue to regret my missed opportunity. For know, I’ll have to be content with the moment I had, my brush with a hero from my past.

When I’m not on the street, I approach famous people and people I admire more boldly. It’s easy to do by email, so I’ve recently made a habit of doing so, sending emails to people whose work I appreciate. I’ve found the notes are valued, often returned with thanks. I heard back from Michael Shaw, the brains behind BAGnewsNotes, a blog dedicated to analyzing photos that appear in journalistic media, when I wrote to him several weeks ago. And, most recently, upon discovering Ta-Nehisi Coates, the newest blogger for The Atlantic, I sent him an email saying I’ve begun going through his impressive archives and I look forward to reading his blog in the future. Not more than forty-five seconds later, an email arrived in my inbox. Coates had written back:

wow. that is really really awesome. thanks so much for the kind words.

t.

No, what’s awesome is seeing a childhood idol as you hop off the subway, or getting an instant response from a writer who you know has more important things to do than answer your emails. I feel very lucky for even these small excitements.

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