By Ken Lass
“I know you. You’re Ken Lass!” the lady exclaimed upon our random meeting. “I used to watch you do the weather every night. You were my favorite weather man.” She went on about how impressed she was with my knowledge of meteorology, and thanked me for all those years of helping to keep people safe in times of severe weather.
I politely expressed appreciation for the kind words and told her what a pleasure it was to meet her. As we parted ways, I was thinking such an encounter should be justifiable reason to swell up with pride and self admiration.
And it would have been, except for the fact that I’ve never been a weather man. I don’t know anything about weather. Those folks have to know fancy words like stratocumulus and vortex signature. To me, vortex signature just seems like a really awesome name for a rock band.
I was a sports anchor in Birmingham for seventeen years and then a news anchor for another fourteen years, but never did weather. All of that lady’s sweet remarks were meant for someone she had mistaken me for. Must have been a great guy, whoever it was. Oh well, it was a nice little ego trip for a few moments, even if it was fraudulent.
Ever notice that, any time you feel the temptation to become full of yourself, life has a way of bringing you crashing back down to earth? Certainly true in my case. Back in 1984 our pro football team, the Birmingham Stallions, had pulled off a big coup by signing quarterback Cliff Stoudt away from the prestigious NFL Pittsburgh Steelers. The Stallions threw a big public welcome party for Stoudt and picked me to emcee the event.
Cliff was tall, dark and handsome and all the girls were ga-ga. Prior to the start of the program, I took him aside to take down some notes as to what he wanted me to say when I introduced him. As we were talking, I noticed a moony-eyed teenage girl slowly approaching us. She was clutching something to her chest. I recognized it was an autograph book.
Having obviously been raised as a well-mannered southern girl, she waited patiently for our conversation to end. When Cliff left to take his seat at the head table, much to my surprise, the pretty young thing did not go to him. She came up to me instead. “Mr. Lass?” she said, her voice quivering, her eyes in a wide open gaze, the way one looks when awed by meeting someone they have idolized. Wow, I thought. Perhaps the real celebrity in the room is me.
Whereupon she breathlessly uttered “I would be so grateful if I could please borrow your pen so that I can get Cliff Stoudt’s autograph.”
The rest of the event is kind of a blur.
For several years I anchored the weeknight sportscasts on Channel 13. The weekend sports anchor during part of that stretch was good-looking and talented Matt Coulter. I have a fond memory of the time Matt was on vacation and I covered the weekend for him. On Saturday night, the phone in the sports office rang. It was a viewer who told me he was a diehard Atlanta Braves fan, but he had been out with his family all afternoon and couldn’t find the score of that day’s game. He was most appreciative when I told him the Braves had won.
“Thanks so much” he gushed. “By the way, you are my favorite sportscaster.” As I reveled in his compliment, he went on to say “Yeah, I like you so much better than that Ken Lass.”
I chose not to tell him I was not Matt. I didn’t want to embarrass him. I never told Matt either. Humbled as I was, in some twisted way, I still enjoyed stealing Matt’s compliment.
When we covered the races at Talladega, our crew often had the benefit of avoiding the infamous traffic crunch gridlocking the roads leading to the track. We flew our monogrammed helicopter right down into the infield. Prior to landing, the pilot would cruise the aircraft slowly across the bleacher area so that all the fans would take notice of the huge “Sky 13” logo on the side. Nothing like free publicity.
Thousands of race fans went wild waving and cheering at the chopper. In fact, we were so close, I could have sworn many of them recognized me sitting on the passenger side and were shouting my name. Upon landing, I decided to bounce out, run to the inside edge of the track, and give a big wave to all of “my people”.
This was a blisteringly hot July day. And all those fans? Turns out they were not waving at all. They were fanning themselves, desperately trying to cool down. The cheering? That was for the drivers behind me who were climbing into their cars.
There were many more instances like these throughout a 44 year career in broadcasting, but I’ll stop there because I feel my self-esteem dropping even as I type this. The moral of the story is, don’t ever let yourself get to the point where you think you are, in the words of Will Farrell in the movie Anchor Man, “kind of a big deal”. Because life will quickly bring you back down to humbling reality.
Take it from a former TV weather man. (Not)
(You can read more from Ken at kenlassblog.net)