What a treat. I find myself saying that a lot these days. A rainy, calm morning. A steaming hot cup of coffee. And, best of all, the chance to do what I love most. I get to sit with an interesting older person while I simply listen to some great stories. Ahh ... life is good.
Last Saturday, following weeks of advance work and arrangements, it was time to drive over and spend time with a genuine Kansas City treasure - Mr. Walt Bodine. (Rather than using space here, feel free to check out this link so you can read up on Walt's work and adventures). I called him at precisely 9:00, as planned, then turned the corner into his condominium parking lot. Walt lives just around the corner from me, but, as with most of KC, every time my car moves forward, hitting a new street or sight – an fresh adventure unfolds.
“I’m in a wheelchair,” I heard from the other side of the door. Telling him not to rush, I heard the knob turn a bit and the door slowly opened. A small man wearing sunglasses smiled up at me from his wheelchair.
"Come on in, Harry."
* * * * * * * * * *
“I don’t know if they told you but ... I’m blind,” Walt filled me in as I continued to set up my stuff. I didn't know it for sure, but Walt's producer, Haley, might have mentioned it to me earlier in the week.
When it was time to get started, Walt started to make his way over to the dining room table and at first moved in the opposite direction toward the front door. He caught himself, chuckled and then turned back toward me, still laughing.
"If I'd headed that way, it would've taken me 250,000 miles to get to you."
I loved that line.
Within a few seconds, I clicked on the camera and that was that. For almost two hours, we sat together and shared thoughts and stories. At one point, Walt told me he was enjoying his time with me. I smiled when he said that. I mean, a chance to interview the interviewer was the ultimate treat for me. I wasn't nervous, mind you. But, I always want people to feel at ease and want it to be fun for them. I know it feels that way to me.
He’s seen so much and met so many interesting people. At one point we did a little arithmetic, figuring how many people he has interviewed over his career, spanning fifty years. I think we figured it was well over 20,000 people, but I'll have to check my numbers when I go back to work on the transcription.
“It’s not one of my better days,” Walt explained at one point. "You'll come back and we can talk again," Walt offered.
But, he was just fine. There is no rating system when it comes to these visits. Walt talked freely about his family and career, sharing stories about each. The rain pounded outside onto his terrace. It was a perfect setting.
* * * * * * * * * *
When we finished, Walt took me into his library/office area and asked me to go over to one of the bookshelves to take a look. I didn’t know what he was suggesting but I knew he was leading me to look at something.
“Read off some of the titles,” he smiled in the chair. I smiled back and took a look. One shelf was labeled, “Quotes, A-D.” The next one down had a sticker labeled “Quotes, E-G," and so on. I read off some of the titles – “Great Quotes from American History” - “Marriage Quotes” - "2774 Quotes & Quips." I swear there must have been over 300 books, all of them filled with just quotes.
“I didn’t know there were this many books about any one subject, especially this one.” I laughed with Walt.
“When you come back, you'll look at more of them, look at some of the sayings. Amazing, huh?"
When I walked into his office, I couldn't help but notice a few photos on the right wall. One, in particular, struck me immediately. Martin Luther King, sitting with Walt and his news partner, at the time. Reverend King is looking over his shoulder toward the photographer. (See the photo on the right). That's Walt on the left.
“King has a concerned look on his face. See it? He'd just come back from Birmingham. The march."
There were a few photos of Walt standing with President Harry Truman. Many of you know that Truman's home, Independence, Missouri, is right down the road to the East and Walt had many experiences with President Truman. He shared a funny story about Truman picking up a pair of Walt's son's shoes and handing them to him.
When the phone rang, it was a signal that my rainy morning meeting was about to end. A friend of Walt's was coming down to meet him for lunch, so it was time to go.
Of course, I'll be tuning in to listen to The Walt Bodine Show whenever I get the chance. I forgot to mention, at 86, Walt is still going strong, his familiar voice flowing over Kansas City's airwaves as it has for so many years.
One of this city's most genuine of gems - Walt Bodine is a real K.C. masterpiece.