It's true. For 72 hours in Grand Canyon National Park, everybody knew me. Not everyone exactly, but enough people that I could have passed Geoff Livingston's Safeway Test. Some would smile and nod at me with wide-eyed identification. Others immediately approached me with compliments or quips. And a few of them even acted like long lost friends, striking up a conversation.
It wasn't incessant, but surprisingly frequent. And when it did happen, there was enough exuberance in these random exchanges that some onlookers couldn't help but wonder who was that guy.
How 10 minutes of fun turned into 72 hours of fame, maybe longer.
Who was that guy? Those in the know, knew. In total, those in the know included about 600 people who filled the bleachers in front of the railroad tracks at the Grand Depot Hotel in Williams, Arizona. All of them, like me, were there to see a shootout before departing to the Grand Canyon.
Having the foresight to know the show would be packed, my family and I even arrived early to get good seats. But what we didn't know is that the cowboys would pass over every audience volunteer with their hand up and pick me to participate in a card game prior to their shootout.
As the story played out, I was transformed into the "rich" tourist playing for an unknown stake in a card game with three brothers who had lost everything they had the night before (along with their mother, who was still sitting in jail). I played along, drawing up some dusty high school and college theater experience to lend expression to my mostly non-speaking part.
When the cards were all dealt out, I found myself sporting aces over kings. My hand easily beat two of the three brothers who had been dealt in, but not the third. He conspicuously won with five aces.
Accusations of cheating followed, with a younger brother getting the drop on the older brother by plugging him in the back. That might have been the end of it had the sheriff not shown up. My heroes quickly changed their tune to avoid jail time and fingered me as the most likely villain in the story.
According to the new account, I not only cheated but also gunned their brother down in cold blood. The sheriff didn't buy it for several reasons. I wasn't holding the alleged murder weapon. I was walking around in "underwear" and a purse. And that purse, duly noted, didn't match my shoes. Long story short, I didn't measure up to same rugged toughness as the company I kept. I was asked to sit back down. Sigh.
The verdict stung almost as much as being gunned down so I took my seat. The sheriff stood his ground on his own. Then there was a shootout. Bang, bang, bang. Cowboys dropped. We took some photos. It was done. Except, it wasn't done.
Why the prospect of fame is full of empty calories, never fulfilling.
Almost immediately upon boarding the train, another family recognized me as the guy from the shootout. A few hours later, while overlooking the Grand Canyon, someone came up to mention what a good sport I had been. Another couple, walking by, pointed out my shoes still didn't match my purse.
It went on like this for the next 72 hours. People would call me everything from "the five aces guy" (I wasn't) to a "no good dirty cheater who got those boys killed" (I wasn't). It was fun, but also odd in that some people seem to expect more from me than a laugh, a thank you, or other pleasantries. After a few encounters, the novelty wore off and some left me feeling empty or even awkward.
Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. While I never seek it out, I have been picked (or seen family members picked) more often than not. It makes trips like this memorable.
The first time it happened, years ago, I was pulled up on a stage, strapped to chair, and surrounded by scantily clad women singing Hanky Panky. Another time, I joined friends to compete in a bed race down the main drag of Oatman, Arizona. A few weeks ago, I ran across a baseball field dressed as a Girl Scout cookie with my daughter. But unlike those times, something was different this time.
The intimacy of the show, the proximity to the audience, and the percentage of time on stage made me part of the show and, by default, part of the vacation experience of an audience and their photo albums. And as such, I became known not for who I am but for a part a played for about 10 minutes.
This is significantly different from teaching or speaking or receiving an award or writing an article, where being recognized is the result of recognition. This was akin to fame as in the condition of being known and talked about by many people but necessarily for any achievement. It's the difference between Miley Cyrus being known for a wrecking ball video but not as a singer. Call it set dressing.
Recognition will fill you up, even if no one knows you on sight.
Conversely, no one in the Grand Canyon knew I was simultaneously being recognized by a colleague I respect nor that an article I wrote was picked up by an online publisher. And therein lies the irony of this observation.
No one will likely recognize me on the streets for either the recognition nor the article, but both have considerably more value from a perspective of reputation. Never mind that no one will recognize me on the street as the result of either. Even if they did, it wouldn't mean much.
Fame is fun but not a substitute. And if you need some help applying my meaning to public relations or social media, sum it up as being careful what you wish for. For many people, fame is nothing more than a flash in the pan before they return to being anonymous. Reputation, on the other hand, can last a lifetime. Ergo, the shootout was a load of fun and I would do it all again. But the fame that followed afterward, while novel, I could do without.
A few more words. My hat is off to the cowboys of Grand Depot Hotel in Williams, Arizona. They add something extra to the entire experience like nowhere else. Let them rob you on the return. A full review will follow on Liquid [Hip] Travel.