I guess I’ve met more than my share of famous people. Most of them by accident. Bob Hope, Zsa Zsa, Anita Bryant, Sandra Dee, stars from the USO shows when I was a kid in Cuba. There have been a lot more since then. I can’t explain it. It just seems to happen. I’m pretty sure none of them have ever written a story about meeting me, but I have written many stories about them.
My brother Gary and I worked for Carolina Tool for about 10 years. We crisscrossed the United States many times. Most of the time, selling tools on the road meant flying home on Friday and returning on Mondays. In ’78 or ’79 leaving Jax to fly to Dallas, Delta had me going through Atlanta to Chicago, then on to Dallas. In Chicago, I had a layover, then I got bumped when my flight was over booked. My seat on the next flight was upgraded to first class.
I spent some time in the lounge while I was waiting, low and behold I noticed Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, shaking hands, buying drinks and signing autographs in the lounge near the loading gate. I don’t know if he noticed me, but I was wearing western wear, with a Stetson. I’m pretty sure I stood out in a Chicago bar. Boarding the plane I was assigned an aisle seat and was just getting comfortable when the Colonel, yes Harland Sanders himself, tapped me on the shoulder, introduced himself and asked if he could trade his window seat for my aisle seat.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. Wanting to be accommodating to this dapper old man dressed in his famous white suit I said, “Sure.” He said, “Good, I’ll buy us a drink when we get airborne”. This little man was a gangster, sure nuff. My first time flying First Class, I didn’t know that drinks were free. No charge.
The flight attendant came by with a tray full of miniatures, cups of ice and sodas. The Colonel asked me if he could place his briefcase in my lap for a minute. Without waiting for my reply he then turned to the stewardess and asked her how much were the drinks. She told him,”Oh no, you’re in first class, there will be no charge.” He said, “Oh good, in that case, I’ll take all of them,” then he raised the lid on the briefcase and raked all of the miniatures into his briefcase and shut the lid. The stewardess almost had a fit. She was saying, “Hey, you can’t take all of them.” He said, “Lady, you just said they was free, now is there someone else I need to talk to?” She calmed down, walked off and left us alone for awhile.
There were a variety of different liquors, bourbons, scotch, vodka, etc. He and I started pouring all of the Ancient Age into his cane, once we unscrewed the handle. It took about 10 or so of them to fill it up. We started drinking the rest of the bourbons, straight out of the bottle. He would take his cup of ice, chew it up and spit pieces of ice through a straw. Small shards of ice would come out and hit someone in front of us in the back of the neck, then he would turn and look away nonchalantly, like nothing had happened. Annoyed passengers would turn their heads and look at me, like I was the one responsible. I just shrugged my shoulders.
Once we were in flight, he started telling me his life’s story. Wow it was amazing. He told me that he always liked to cook, but he had spent some time working on the railroad, he had operated a tug boat and ran a ferry on the Ohio River. He said he had owned several Gas Stations. Once he said, he was arrested for attempted murder when he shot a competitor that had killed his business partner.
Amazed, I asked him if he was a real Colonel? Business like, told me that two different Governors from the State of Kentucky had officially declared him a Colonel. He told me that since he sold his business he just traveled the world opening up new stores and acting as a worldwide ambassador of goodwill. Then he dropped back into character, telling me his life’s story, that he and his wife, Claudia I think it was, had hit on the idea of quick frying chicken, using a special recipe, that he had developed over the years, with a new fangled pressure cooker. They would load up the back of the family station wagon, an old Ford Country Squire with the wood grain peeling off of the sides, with pens full of chickens and travel as far as they could away from Kentucky, to sell franchises.
He told me that the further he got from Kentucky, that the easier it was to sell, using his accent and attire. He would go in and make his pitch to the owner at restaurants, while Claudia was gutting the chicken and prepared the batter.
He sold his first franchise in Utah, for $2,500 plus 5 cents for every chicken they sold. He told me that recently he had sold his business and had given away most of the money to people that need it worse than he did. (He eventually sold over 600 franchises before he sold out).
The stewardess came back with some friends, they took turns sitting on his lap and taking pictures. He seemed to really enjoy this, he turned to me and asked if he could use my lap for his briefcase again, then he raised the lid and shuffled around, there amongst the clutter was a batch of loose hundred dollar bills. He took out a couple and started signing his name. It looked like he was gonna give these beautiful women his autograph on $100 dollar bills.
After he signed the bills he tore them in two and gave each of the women half of a hundred dollar bill. Then he told them, I’ll be staying at the Greater Metro-Plex in in Arlington, right by Six Flags. If you let me take you out to dinner, I’ll give you the other half.
When the girls told him that they couldn’t because they had a layover in Phoenix, he told them that would work out just fine, because he would be in Phoenix on Friday. He said that he would be staying at the Holiday Inn by the airport. If he wasn’t in his room just go by the lounge, if he wasn’t there, just ask for Penny. Penny was an ex-Playboy Bunny that ran the bar. The stewardesses just laughed, gave him their promise that they would try to drop by and see him then they left us alone for a while
He watched the girls as they walked up the aisle tending to other passengers, then turned to me and said, “Uh, where was I?” “Oh yeah, Now, I have a secretary that goes ahead of me, booking my flights and making hotel reservations and scheduling events for me to attend. I’ll be in Paris next week, then Frankfurt. Last week I was in Singapore, Sidney and Hong Kong. I’ve even been to Rome and have played poker with the Pope.” I told him that was amazing and asked, “You’ve played poker with the Pope?” He said, “Sure did, just who do you think, that I got all of those bogus hundred dollar bills from?”
When we arrived in Dallas, we were comrades, both of us were really tipsy. I walked along side of him, arm in arm to keep him (us) steady. We rode down the escalator, heading for baggage claims. At the bottom of the escalator were a group of bald Hari Krishna looking dudes, dressed in pastel colored silk robes (light blue, pale orange and see thru yellow), banging tamborines and chanting, they had bells around their wrists and ankles.
One guy, the head monk or something, was standing in front, greeting people as they got off of the escalator. He was handing out Krishna magazines. The people would give him money, then he would turn to a big guy behind him holding a huge stack of magazines and get another magazine, then prepare to greet the next person. A couple guys were holding long poles, burning incense overhead.
He welcomed the Colonel, handing him a magazine and asked him, “Did you enjoy your flight. Would you be interested in reading about our culture?” The Colonel’s eyes lit up and he said, “I don’t know, how much are they?” The Hari Krishna dude said, “Oh, they are no charge, we only ask that you make a donation to our cause.”
I’m thinking oh, oh, here we go again. The Colonel said, “Well, if they are free, I’ll take all of them.” He reached over to the big dude, took the whole stack of magazines from his hands then handed them to me to carry for him. Then we continued on towards Baggage Claims.
The head Krishna dude tried to take them back, he said, “No, wait you have to make a donation first.” The whole group of Krishnas broke bad on us then, surrounding us like ninja warriors, screeching and hollering.
I was about to drop the magazines and take on the big dude, the Colonel reached over and touched my arm and said, “Son, let me pluck this chicken.” Turning to the leader he said, “Is there someone that I need to talk to?” Just then a group of uniformed airport police came up in a hurry with their batons out and ready for action.
Trying to explain the situation to the sergeant, the Colonel told him, “This guy tells me, that these magazines are free, so I take a couple, the next thing I know, he tells me that I have to give him some money.”
The top cop looked down at the Colonel, jerked his head around and said, “Alright, that’s it, I’ve had it with you guys. I told you that you couldn’t harass the passengers for money, I’m running you in.”
From out of nowhere, 10 uniformed cops appeared. They handcuffed the whole group of Krishnas and took them away, down the runway. I can still hear the bells around their feet and ankles jangling as they walked and skipped away.
The cops had a hold of their cuffed wrists, holding them up high, so as to make them do the ‘perp walk’ on their toes, making a jingling noise as they went. A few years later, I heard that the Colonel had died. He had Leukemia, I didn’t know, he never said a word about it. Before we parted, he shook my hand, grabbed my elbow with his left hand and asked me to call him Harland, but to save my soul, I wouldn’t dream of calling him by any other name than the “Colonel.”