This morning when I got in my car to head to work, the radio station was set to a local country music station. Stinkin' teenager. Now, I'm by no means a country music fan (shocking, I know) and couldn't even begin to render a guess at who was singing the song violating my ears before changing back to my preset.
Is he still in the business? I just don't know. The incident did, however, take me back to my college days when I was running around the Mecca of country music...Nashville, Tennessee.
Country music made a resounding boom in the early '80s, and the town was completely saturated with the extraordinary influx of higher per capita income. Of course, I was a broke college student working his way through a higher education with a part-time at the local Mickie D's. This particular McDonald's was located in Green Hills, which at the time, was one of the more affluent parts of town.
Yep. Even rich people eat Big Macs.
This morning, I recalled on my way to work a particular evening of handing white bags out the drive-thru window...a story that has stuck with me through the years. It wasn't uncommon (by any stretch of means) to run into a country music star of the time just doing their normal routines. As a matter of fact, a few years after this particular story I'm about to share, I actually put shoes on Emmylou Harris without a clue who she was and why people I worked with were making a big deal about her. She did have a nice bod, but...
Yep. I worked in a retail shoe department too. Stop laughing.
Don't worry jerk. I'm a professional, and your Diet Coke is in good hands.
As closing time approached, a late buzz of the drive-thru bell signalled either the most die hard of golden arch fans or a local co-ed with the munchies. Hmmm.
I'd like an order of Chicken McNoogets and a large orange drink please.
The slow southern draw and mispronunciations of McDonald's newest food craze provoked a giggle from everyone working this pre-headphone evening as it came across the box. I was anxious to interact with this character.
Pull around please.
From the box: Hey partner. Make sure I get some of that honey-mustard sauce if you would.
Please pull to the window.
I went to put the order together, and we all had another laugh in the late hour. What a hoot. Chicken McNoogets. Walking back to the drive-thru station, I watched the Ford Van circa 1978 or so pull up to the window. It was one of the popular vans from the '70s with the teardrop window on the rear upper corner, but this one was also sporting an advertising paint scheme:
My eyes trailed from the side of the van up to the driver as I walked closer. Now... I'm standing face to face with none other than Porter Wagoner himself. Wow!
Growing up, The Porter Wagoner Show was regular viewing at our home. I heard not only Dolly Parton, but also stuttering Mel Tillis for the first time on his show. Here was the Wagon Master himself in one of his famous rhinestone jackets with a ring on most every finger! He must be coming from a gig!
He had to turn the van off because the exhaust system was both loud and in need of obvious repair.
Partner. Don't forget that honey-mustard sauce. (wink)
No sir Mr. Wagoner. I'll put in a few extra.
I appreciate that cowboy.
There is a certain unwritten etiquette when dealing with stars in public. After all, they're just people too and like their privacy. I was pumping gas one day across from none other than Randy Owen of Alabama fame and just coolly nodded a confirmation of recognition and left it at that. There was a certain degree of personal satisfaction on my part for not doting and appreciation conveyed for that fact on his part. Of course, that moment was completely shattered when a vehicle came whipping onto the lot, and a screeching lady with both breast nearly out of containment went running over to him for an unsolicited bear hug.
But this was Porter Wagoner... a Grand Ole Opry staple!
Fighting back the urge to strike up meaningless conversation, I focused on getting him on his way with sauce in tow.
I'm surprised a young fellow like you recognized and old washed up singer like me...
Okay. Now I'm seriously fighting back my innate sarcastic mechanism that wanted to point out his name was plastered on the side of his van like a mobile billboard. Not to mention, the lift in the front of his hair was peaking somewhere around 8 inches...his signature trademark.
As he fired back up his van and pulled away, I thought about the Ferrari from a few hours earlier. Without a doubt, that jack-wagon had made a ton of money in the country music industry on the foundation built on the back of this falling star who was driving a near dilapidated vehicle.
Both sad and pathetic.
Of course, I found out years later that Wagoner was just notoriously cheap and filthy rich from his early music career and syndicated television show. He also had a serious hankering for honey-mustard sauce...but then, maybe I'm the only one holding that telling information.
I don't know who these generic, pop-called-country music stars of today are...but they're no Porter Wagoner for sure. He is and always will be an original character of the genre.
* Porter died in 2007 at the age of 80. Misery Loves Company was one of several #1 hits for the singer from 1962.