Thursday, September 07, 2006

China Stories Pt. 26: Dan Rather and Me

I had two encounters with Dan Rather, both of them pleasant. And actually, I'd heard nothing bad about him. My friend Bob had ended up in the (somewhat) enviable position of being Mr. Rather's personal China production assistant, so he spent quite a bit of time with him, and didn't have a bad word to say. My own encounters were more comical.

The first time I met Dan (I'm sure he'd be okay with me referring to him by his first name), it was 11 in the evening or so, and I was minding the car pool. We had a handful of drivers on call, and there wasn't too much going on. The phone rang – someone said, "Dan wants chocolate ice cream." Okay. I don't remember why this request ended up coming to me, but I went up to Mr. Rather's room and delivered a bowl of chocolate ice cream to him. He answered the door, clothed, perfectly normal and civil, and said thank you. I assume that afterwards he ate the ice cream. (To be fair, I did enjoy imagining what else might have been going on beyond his hotel room door when I dropped off the ice cream.)

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Dan Rather in Tiananmen Square. Not my photo - found it on the website of the Houston Chronicle, which said he was he was "the only network news anchor broadcasting from the pro-democracy uprising."

The next time I encountered Dan was a little scarier.

I was running the car pool, and it was a slow day, not much was going on. My friend Topher called. "Hey," he said. "I need to run out to the airport to change some tickets, then stop at the Friendship Store. Can I get a car?"

"Sure," I said. "Take Mr. Fu."

I liked Topher – he worked hard, had a good sense of humor. I liked Mr. Fu, too – he was one of my favorites, too, and since he drove one of the Mercedes, he didn't get out as much, since we kept the Mercedes in reserve for the VIPs.

A half hour later, another call comes down, from one of the producers. "Dan wants to go out," he said.

"Sure," I said. "Let's see…"

I looked around. I knew I didn't have Mr. Fu, one of the two Mercedes drivers. Where was Mr. Duan, my other Mercedes driver? Where…oh. Oh shit. I'd sent him out, too.

"Um, okay, I'll uh, meet you in the lobby."

I went down to the lobby, and met the producer, whose name I don't recall. Let's call him Tom the Sycophant.

"So, unfortunately, I don't have a Mercedes for Mr. Rather right now," I said. Tom turned ashen. For a split second, I think he felt sorry for me, but then he came to his senses and began feeling sorry for himself.

"How could you do that? What are you going to do about it? Call them, tell them to come back!"

Of course I'd thought of that. But there was no way to get in touch with Topher or Mr. Fu, and I didn't know where they were anyway. Likewise Mr. Duan.

Tom sounded absolutely sick. Distraught. In his mind he was being frog-marched out of the hotel with a banker's box of his belongings, because of me. It was the apocalypse.

Seeing how wrecked this guy was, I started to really worry – would Dan Rather dress me down in the lobby, and then summarily fire me on the spot? Would he hit me? It looked as though Tom thought that was possible.

I decided to take responsibility for this situation, which I had created, and deal with it head on. (This is really out of character for me, by the way. You can ask anyone.)

Tom's radio crackled – "He's on his way down," said the radio.

Ding! The elevators opened, and Dan Rather strode out, wearing his safari vest. (A bit of an affectation, but whatever. He's Dan Rather.) My stomach tightened and my heart raced as Dan approached the entrance, where Tom the ashen-faced Sycophant and I awaited. As we exited the hotel, I said, "Mr. Rather, I'm sorry, but I don't have a Mercedes Benz available for you right now. I hope that this car will be okay." I indicated the Toyota that had just pulled up.

Dan regarded the car evenly.

"That's okay," he said, sliding into the front passenger seat. "I doubt it will change the course of human events."

Tom the panic-stricken Sycophant climbed in the back. They drove off, and I went back inside. My pulse rate returned to normal.

Mr. Rather seemed slightly surprised, but composed. I'm guessing he didn't get shoe-horned into a compact Japanese car very often. I had fucked up, no question. But it hadn't been the end of the world after all. Although after that, I made damned sure I never again let both of the Mercedes leave if Dan was still in the building.


At 12:13 PM, Anonymous k the sycophantic girlfriend said...

That's awesome. I mean, if you're going to have an encounter with Mr. Rather, what an awesome phrase to be able to quote!

At 8:03 AM, Blogger princess slea said...

Who knows, maybe it DID change the course of human events. Maybe if he'd taken the Mercedes, it would have broken down and Dan Rather would have been kidnapped and killed. I think you may have saved his life.


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