It’s not always best to meet an idol. Sometimes the actual person doesn’t live up to the idealized.
This was anything but the case on two occasions shared with Ray Bradbury, each some 20 years apart.
The first was during the Deukmejian administration in the mid 1980s and Bradbury was a dinner speaker kicking off a tourism conference in Sacramento. Successful begging of the head of Tourism Commission, an old friend, won attendance at the dinner, which was held at the Firehouse in Old Sacramento.
Mrs. Lucas and I went early to share a drink in the bar.
We were the only two persons present. There were no representatives of the Tourism Commission or any other part of the Deukmejian administration.
The front door opened. Bradbury and his wife, Maggie, entered.
We greeted them, said we were here for the same event but that the hosts had not arrived. Would they care to join us?
And for 20 minutes or so the four of us sat at a table and chatted.
Among the topics were Bradbury’s friend and fellow writer, Harlan Ellison and his continued efforts to quit smoking.
Bradbury was affable, avuncular. His wife, like so many other wives, seemed to be gently in charge.
Whether it was at the dinner speech or at the table in the bar, Bradbury recounted how he met Walt Disney in 1960.
It was the holidays and Bradbury was in Bullocks Wilshire shopping. A man barely managing a large stack of gifts approached – Walt Disney.
Eventually someone from the Deukmejian administration arrived and Bradbury became the evening’s celebrity.
Indeed when he spoke at the event, it was though a light switch had been flipped hand e became a larger-than-life raconteur, cheerleader of all things California — the Grand and Glorious Wizard Of Fiction.
The second visit with Bradbury was in 2005 at a special Disneyland event celebrating the Anaheim park’s 50th anniversary.
We were sitting on the curb along Main Street watching the evening parade.
In between the floats and the costumed characters I caught a glimpse of a man across the street slumped a little to one side in a wheelchair wearing a pair of the gold Mickey Mouse ears that were handed out as part of the celebration.
He had familiar black-rimmed glasses.
If he wasn’t an 83-year-old or 84-year-old Ray Bradbury, he could have impersonated him.
The utter randomness of the potential sighting required action. Crossing the street, it became clear it was Bradbury.
To the man holding the handles of Bradbury’s wheelchair I apologized for intruding but said I couldn’t help myself since Bradbury was the greatest short story writer of the 20th Century.
“Tell him that.”
I shook Bradbury’s hand and told him something very close to that. He raised my hand to his lips and kissed the back of it.
While neither as spry nor as effervescent as 20 years earlier, Bradbury’s attention was swiftly diverted when an attractive brunette knelt beside him to thank him for all he’d contributed to her life.
There was a merry twinkle in his eyes.