Our eyes met as we approached each other on the sidewalk. I didn't know him that well, didn't even know his name. He was just one of dozens of familiar faces that you see everyday here at our park.
But as he got closer, his eyes brightened in recognition. He slowed down to say something as I approached. Oh no, I thought. Here it comes. From the sly smile on his face, I could tell that he had seen it. Oh, he had seen it alright. At that moment I wished that I could crawl into a hole.
It was a cool, crisp January morning in Mesa and I was walking down the sidewalk, making my way to the weekly computer club meeting up at the clubhouse. The sun shone brightly that day as I strode past the curving line of palm trees that dotted both sides of the road.
This weekly trek was usually uneventful and routine, an undertaking done without much thought or deliberation. But this morning was different. This morning I was a little more than one hour removed from being on TV. "Good Morning Arizona", a popular morning show on Channel 3 had invited me to appear and be interviewed about my book. What a break it would be, I had thought, a great chance to reach a lot of people in one fell swoop.
But when I had left the TV studio a short time earlier, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. At one point during the interview, I had committed the cardinal sin in broadcasting. I had frozen right there in my chair after being asked a question and allowed a few seconds (it seemed like an eternity at the time) of dead air to creep into the living rooms and kitchens across greater Phoenix.
They say that silence is golden. Just don't let it happen on live television. I was sure that it was exactly what Channel 3 did not sign up for when they asked me to be on their show.
From that point on, nothing was the same; the rest of the interview, the walk out to the parking lot, the drive home-it was all a big blur. I was absolutely sure that I had blown it.
"You're not going to lie around here all day and sulk," Diana demanded after we got back home and I had told her that all I wanted to do the rest of the day was stay holed up in the house. "Go up to your meeting like nothing happened. It was only a few seconds. It wasn't as bad as you think."
So, reluctantly I put on my jacket and started out the door, hands in my pockets and eyes to the ground. And it wouldn't take long before I would get my first critique of the day right there from the man who approached me on the sidewalk.
It had all started that morning when Diana and I showed up at the big Channel 3 building on 7th Avenue bright and early at 7am. We were ushered into a waiting area where there was a couch to sit on and television monitors on the walls. The program, "Good Morning Arizona" was already in full swing, beaming down at us from above our heads.
"Olivia will be interviewing you," an aid said as she smiled and clipped a tiny microphone on the collar of my shirt. "Just relax, you'll do fine."
We were led down a dark narrow hallway and into the small oval-shaped set of "Good Morning Arizona". Bright lights blazed onto Tara, a thin blonde who was one of the hosts as she waited for a commercial to end. She was sitting upright in one of four big leather chairs that were lined up on a raised platform. The Grand Canyon with its entire red splendor was sprawled out on the wall behind her.
"Great name for a book," she said smiling as we crossed in front of her, following the aid to a small couch off to the side. We were stumbling over cables and wires that were strewn at our feet all over the floor.
"Thank you," I replied, trying to force a nervous smile.
"You can wait here," the aid said warmly as she gestured to the couch. "Olivia will be here in a few minutes."
Over the course of the last few weeks, I had made it a point to watch the show at home. I had become acquainted with the hosts, Tara, Scott, Dan and Olivia. Their banter and easy going manner in front of the camera was familiar to me by now, and I had wondered just who would be my interviewer. When I was told that it would be Olivia, I felt at ease. Her bubbly personality radiated through the TV screen and her bright toothy smile highlighted the biggest dimples I had ever seen.
In a few minutes Olivia appeared and introduced herself to us. Her warm handshake and that big dimpled grin started to relieve some of the nervousness that I had been feeling. It wasn't long before Olivia and I were seated at a table on the set and the interview began.
Being the pro that she was, Olivia took charge of the interview from the outset. In her calm relaxed way, she would ask a question and sit back and let me answer. As I responded, I felt as if I were sitting at a kitchen table with an old friend. Time flew by. My answers seemed to flow out of me like I was on autopilot.
This was a piece of cake, I remember thinking. How silly of me to be so nervous. After about two minutes of back and forth dialogue, Olivia turned to me and proceeded to wrap up the interview with one last pertinent question.
"Before we leave, can you tell us Len just one little tidbit of information that we need to know about snowbird life?"
Suddenly, my calmness left me. I was frozen in place. I couldn't think of anything to say. I mumbled. I stumbled. My tongue felt as if it weighed a ton. Olivia looked at me with her plastered smile and her enormous dimples. As the silent seconds ticked on, her smiling eyes bore into mine, pleading with me to say something, anything. But it was useless. My mind was a complete blank.
Finally, I blurted out something. I don't even remember what. And the interview ended. The damage was done.
As I walked down the sidewalk that morning, I wondered how many residents at my park had seen this fiasco on the tube. I didn't know. I wished then that I had never told a soul about my upcoming television appearance. But in my excitement, I had told everybody; friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances. Oh yes, everybody knew.
"I saw you on television," the man said as he stopped next to me on the sidewalk.
Inwardly I winced and opened my mouth to try and explain away the disaster.
"Oh, you did real well," he continued, before I had a chance to speak. "I thought it went very well. But I do have one question."
"Well, I . . ."
"That last part," he interrupted. "Did you think that up yourself or did somebody suggest it to you?"
I looked at the man dumbfounded. "Huh?"
"I mean, having a senior moment on TV while you're talking about snowbirds. Now that's marketing genius right there." He looked at me and patted me on my left shoulder.
"Well, it wasn't exactly . . ."
"Oh, I have to get going," the man said looking hurriedly at his watch. "My wife's waiting for me to get back so we can go grocery shopping. We'll see you later."
The man patted me on the shoulder again and went on his way. "You did a good job," He said smiling as he turned his head in my direction while he walked away.
I stood there on the sidewalk motionless, staring at his retreating back, wondering if this whole morning so far had been a dream.
PS: If you would like to view the interview, just drop me an email and ask for it. I will email a video clip back to you. A link to my email address can be found on the "About the Author" page of my website: secretlifeofasnowbird.com