Friends often tease me about what a cool job I have, and I'll admit it doesn't usually feel like work. But as players, fans and media converge on Augusta, Ga., for the Masters this week, I'm reminded of the hard part: the travel. Take, for example, the four hours I spent with Huey Lewis last year.
It was a Monday. Zach Johnson had held off Tiger to win the green jacket, and I'd driven from Augusta to Atlanta to fly home. I was on the aisle, and I'd struck up a conversation with window seat when Huey parked right between us. It was pretty clearly him because he wore a cap with "Titleist" on the front and "H. Lewis" on the back. Atlanta to Salt Lake City; four hours plus; middle seat.
Huey Lewis and the News was a huge band when I was growing up. Their third album, "Sports," with "I Want a New Drug," sold nearly as well as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in 1984. Now the band's lead vocalist and harmonica player was sitting next to me in coach, suggesting Huey had invested terribly or had in fact found a new drug or five, and I had missed the whole sad story on VH1's "Behind the Music."
I figured we'd make the best of it. We could talk golf! I could tell Huey all about how I cover the PGA Tour for a living, and he could tell me great stories about playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and making an album called "Fore!" and winning a Grammy and having a hit song in "Back to the Future" and suing Ray Parker Jr. over the "Ghostbusters" theme song.
We both lived in the West. We both enjoyed music. We were practically brothers, or we would be, anyway. In four hours we'd be tight.
"Did you go to the Masters?" I asked.
"Yep," Huey said, staccato as you please, without looking up.
"So did I!" I said, trying in vain to act casual.
Nothing. No reply. Huey still hadn't looked up. In a panic I thought maybe he didn't hear me. Maybe he couldn't, after all those years of jamming. Or maybe he was just slow to warm up. But then, reality: He heard me. I know what a cornered celebrity looks like. I'd just never seen one wearing a hat with his name on it.
I was interviewing Karl Malone once when a fan approached the Mailman with a Polaroid of a cat watching TV. The cat enjoyed watching Tom Chambers play basketball on television, and could Malone please give the photo to Tom?
"I'm not making any promises," Malone said.
I didn't want to be that guy with the photograph of his cat.
Huey studied his fingernails. Could he not he see how cool I was? That I wasn't a typical fan? I had stories! He'd like me!
On the flight from Salt Lake to Atlanta the week before I'd sat next to Larry Junstrom, the bass player for .38 Special. He, too, sat in coach and wore an identifying cap, with his band name, but he seemed happier, maybe because I had to ask what he did, who he was.
Huey never said a word, just picked his nails and poked at the tiny TV set in the seatback in front of him. He watched news. He was not happy to be stuck with me.
I got up to stretch my legs and a flight attendant told me Huey was on his way to Montana, where he lived. Like I cared. I had been having a great conversation with window seat when Huey unfolded between us. I'd been rock-blocked. What did I want to talk to him for anyway? In Atlanta he was a childhood idol, but by the time we were somewhere over Kansas, or perhaps Oklahoma, he'd become a deaf, old has-been with a bad travel agent.
Finally we touched down in Utah, and I thought of firing a parting shot, something to tell him I didn't care that he hadn't paid attention to me.
"Bruce Hornsby was better."
That's what I should have said, but I didn't, and I'm sort of glad I didn't. I'm flying to Augusta today, Delta again, Salt Lake to Atlanta, and who knows? I might sit next to Huey again, and this time we might really hit it off. I think he'd like me.