Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No matter where you go, you end up somewhere*

In the time I've been volunteering at Ellis Island, I've heard about various notables coming to visit from politicians to Bruce Springsteen... yet I've always heard after the fact, so I couldn't plan to be there to possibly see them.

This time was supposed to be different.

About a month ago, we were informed that the Bob Hope Library would be rededicated on October 12. It's the main research area in the museum and is also home to the park's oral history library. And, of course, it's named for one of the most American of 20th century entertainers, who just happened to emigrate from England, through Ellis Island, as a youngster in the early 1900s. Hope's family would be on hand for the private ceremony, joined by a host of luminaries, including, we were told by reliable sources, George Clooney.

Now, I don't regularly go ga-ga over celebrities. In the early part of my career, I met several through my work and never saw the reason to idolize any of them, but I'll admit that there are a couple that get my interest up. George Clooney is one of them. Forget that he's impossibly good looking; he's got a great sense of humor, and he's true to the same friends he had as a struggling actor more than 20 years ago. And he gives a shit about worthwhile things. I'd still want the chance to meet him if he looked like Yogi Berra. (Admittedly, I wouldn't want to date Yogi the way I'd like to have a few dates with George, but cut me a break... I'm only human.) And yeah, I wanted a photo with him for my Facebook page. I've already got Mr. Met and Thomas Edison, so I need a third. I'm weird like that.

You can imagine that I woke up yesterday morning with some anticipation. Fortunately I didn't have to think about what to wear, as the Park Service shirt was de rigeur for volunteering. As I was getting ready, I was trying to figure out what time the ceremony would be, and, thus, what time the celebs would be getting to the Island and how they'd arrive without causing a ruckus among the populace. Then I saw that George was on the Today show, talking about Sudan. At 7:45 in the morning, during the show's usual hard news hour. Clearly that meant he had to be somewhere that required him to be on the road by 8 a.m. Knowing the traffic I faced to get to the Island, I got out the door early.

The big question was whether the celebs would be coming by boat or by land... which meant that Mr. Clooney would either face annoying traffic down to the Battery or a slightly easier route through the Lincoln Tunnel from Rockefeller Center. Things looked good as I drove through Liberty State Park and saw a sign pointing VIPs to the temporary bridge to Ellis. A black town car with New York plates was leaving the security check to cross the bridge just as I drove up to have my car checked by the Park Police.

I got through security and across the bridge just in time to see three people who were Not George get out of the town car, so I figured we were safe. My fellow volunteer for the day was also eager to see Mr. Clooney (I think his exact words were, "He's the only man I'd go gay for.") and reported he hadn't had any sightings yet, either. A ranger confirmed the plan for the day: the notables were coming by the island by car and taking the same back hallways we do to get to the public area, but they'd be sequestered on the third floor near the library until the 11 a.m. ceremony. Everyone was expected to be on the island by 9:30.

Then reality came crashing down. One of our ranger buddies came by to tell us that George wasn't coming. No joke. He was headed down to Washington to meet with the president on Sudan. NO! Say it ain't so! Well, I guess a potential civil war is a bit more important than meeting me, but at least tell me it came close...

After lunch, we were subjected to a stream of self-important-looking people walking past the information desk, back to the staff-only area on the way back to their town cars. One had a profile that seemed to indicate he was Bob Hope's son, but mostly these folks weren't faces you recognized.

Until... who walked by but... you guessed it...


Yes, the fabled Yankee walked right past our desk, waving and smiling to us as we called out his name. Somehow I squelched the urge to plead for him to manage the Mets. And then he was gone, with no other notables to follow.

So... the day wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be, but at least we got one nice-guy legend out of it. One wonders whether he'd called Clooney in advance and warned him, "Nobody goes to Ellis Island anymore. It's too crowded."

*I was tempted to use the quote "Wherever you go, there you are" and attribute it to Yogi. However, a quick Google search brought up questions about the statement's origin, and the "you end up somewhere" is more reliably attributed to Berra.

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