The Anonymity of Celebrity: Sitting Next to Levar Burton

Here is a story with no photo -- there is a reason for that lack. I swear it is true, but I am not sure what to make of it.

I was flying from Los Angeles. Thanks to a discount deal, I had access to an airport lounge. I was seated at the bar, writing another blog.

Someone came in and sat down next to me. I was paying no attention. I was trying to tune out background noise to focus on my work.

I overheard the bartender say, "Long time no see."

The stranger ordered something to eat. He also wanted a Bloody Mary. I could not help but learn his preferences for the drink: spicy, lots of horseradish.

But I continued to work. I supposed he was a regular, but I was busy.

Five minutes later, the lady on the other side of him from me, a few seats around the curve of the bar, blurted out loudly enough for all in the area, "Do I know you?"

"Because I've been trying to figure it out," she continued. "Are you famous? I'm sure I've seen you!"

I also had listened to her explain to nobody and everybody that she was from Boston; her flight had been delayed; and she and her husband would be glad to be back there.

"Maybe you're just a lookalike," she speculated.

The fellow admitted, at last, that he was Levar Burton.

Whereupon, the haranguing continued with, "How are you famous?"

Burton said, in such a gentle tone, that he had been on the television show Star Trek.

When the woman and her husband said they weren't sure they had seen the actor before, he added, "The Next Generation." They then followed up with an inquiry about who else was on that. He said it was the series with Captain Picard. That rang the proverbial bell.

He then mentioned, "And I was on Roots."

His interlocutor said, "I don't know that show."

I couldn't restrain myself. I interjected, "By Alex Haley. 1976." (It's been remade. I wonder if she will watch it.)

Burton looked over and said, "That's right." As a young man, he had played the starring role in the genealogical epic.

That was my only contribution to the scene, except a moment later Burton's luggage tipped over and fell on my leg. He apologized.

I said, "No worries." I handed him his duffel bag.

That was not the end of the episode. When Burton finished his meal, he got up to leave. I might guess he hurried up a bit, but he was so good natured that perhaps he is merely a fast eater.

The lady prevailed on him to pose for a photo with her. She was giddy. She drafted the last two patrons, who had been watching, to have their photos, respectively, taken as well. Since I had appeared disinterested, she did not invite me to join.

After Burton departed, the two other people present told the lady he had been the host of Reading Rainbow, among his many accomplishments on the screen.

I wonder what our pleasure about encountering fame says about us. We are impressed even by a celebrity whom we are ignorant of. I am no superior to any gawker at Hollywood stars, since I have jotted this little account, my own way of sharing the memory. I wish Levar Burton well, and if I see him again, I intend to leave him alone -- maybe he'll spot me and be reminded of our meeting.