Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Yesterday, I was standing in the Minneapolis Airport, frustrated by the ubiquitous Headline News (someone had caught on fire, some cat saved a fat man's life by dialing 911 with his squeaky mouse, some TV star hates some disease).

I'd been trying to write a story for a magazine that, at long last, decided it didn't want it. My hometown newspaper maybe wanted it, might pay me $10 for it. In one moment, I hated news and was trying to make it at the same time. I was haggard, airport-sick, contradictory, and staring over the shoulders of three air travelers who were browsing the same three USA Today headlines (someone had caught on fire, some dog had swum the Mississippi, some TV was good or bad and, either way, aired tonight).

I couldn't help looking at news, thinking about news, wanting news I couldn't have.

And then I saw Dan Rather.

He walked from my right to my left; he blocked, for a moment, the overhead, omnipotent airport television; he changed direction, said, "Oh, this way?" and was gone like a switched channel.

A blond woman said, "Well, there's our big celebrity for the day." I said, "That was crazy." She joke-sneakily walked around the corner to see if he was still there. My Quizno's grinder rumbled in my stomach, its hot mayonnaise mixing badly with canned airport air and canned airline ginger ale.

But I was briefly reordered. My bag felt lighter. I'd had an unmistakable moment. There was no "is that who I think it is?" Dan Rather was Dan Rather. He didn't look smaller in person, or meaner, or funnier. He looked definite and grave.

I quickly told everyone I knew. I had seen the 781st most famous man in America.

Then I wondered if he feels like a defeated man. He lost his newscast, after all, lost his lawsuit. His scoops about President Bush have been discredited even though they were probably grounded in reality. He's been criticized for rolling up his shirt sleeves during 9/11. In the future, he may be remembered most as part of the inspiration for this mostly forgotten, though excellent song. (See here). And now he's presumably speaking at a small institute or university in middle America, worn out and faux-folksy.

To me, though, he was headline news.

As we all re-aimed our gawks at the TV--at the inescapable outrages of the day--I felt a kinship: Dave and Dan, two men dominated by news, momentarily unsure of their direction.

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