A few years ago, I was eating dinner in Charlottesville, Virginia. We were celebrating a birthday at a very hoity-toity restaurant, the kind where you have to pretend you know French and where you’d better have extra cash stashed in your pocket.
You know the kind.
As I was ordering, out of the corner of my eye I saw a gentleman walk by. It was obvious that he was a regular—or at least frequented these kinds of fine establishments. I blinked, realizing that I knew him. Well, not knew in the way that I’d walk up to him and say, “Hey, Dave,” but in the way that I would definitely know Elvis if he walked into the room.
The gentleman was author David McCullough whose books, Truman, John Adams, Brave Companions and The Wright Brothers, I have devoured. As much as I wanted to jump up and make his acquaintance, I just sat there being cool, hoping that he might sense that there was another writer in the room and saunter over to introduce himself.
I thought about that encounter tonight while I was wasting time on Facebook. Author Rick Bragg’s name came up. Actually, I brought it up when I suggested that my tomato-loving friends read Bragg’s August column in Southern Living. (It’s great!) Bragg is one of my favorite writers. As an unrepentant Facebook stalker, I scrolled over to his Facebook page.
He, like David McCullough, is someone I’d like to meet someday. Bragg, himself, has written about his own experiences meeting great writers, like the late Pat Conroy.
I once emailed Erik Larson, another favorite writer, and got a reply. I was cool, of course, hoping he would want to be friends. Alas, it was only a casual conversation, like the time my niece (an actor) rode in an elevator with Hugh Jackman. She was just cool.
Writers, you see, are pretty cool, and sometimes you just have to play the part. I’ve been in the same room with author John Grisham and once with the late Irving Stone—but never met them. As I said, cool.
Still, I’d love to meet some of the noteworthy writers I admire. I’d love to pick their brains—hoping that some of their genius might rub off on me. So as an eternal optimist, I made a list of writers to meet and talk shop with over a cup of coffee, a Mason jar of sweet tea, or a shot of Tennessee Honey.
Here’s my list: Mr. McCullough. Rick Bragg—I would offer to share a tomato sandwich and sweet tea with him. Erik Larson. Ransom Riggs. Adam Makos. Francine Rivers. David Baldacci. Laura Hillenbrand. Eric Metaxes. Malcolm Gladwell. And Anthony Doerr.
I will probably never meet any of them, being cool and all. But you never know. Maybe the next time I see one out of the corner of my eye, I’ll try letting down my cool.