You Never Know Who’s Watching

I lead a pretty normal (i.e. geeky) existence here in Southern New Hampshire, which is practically part of the Greater Boston area. I eat, I shop, I hang out with friends, and I don’t have the expectation of encountering the genuinely unusual or famous. When it happens, it’s a strange kind of surprise that makes me feel unusually quiet. For example: meeting celebrities.

I’ve met a handful of bona-fide celebrities in various working contexts: John Madden at his training facility in Northern California, when I was learning how the motion capture worked for EA football games. There were some famous NFL football players there doing the mocap, but I didn’t know who any of them were :-) Back on the east coast, I once had to demo a piece of GUI to somewhat-bored Penn Gillette in Cambridge, MA during a tour of the company I was contracting with (he knew the CEO). Very serious and thoughtful dude, which you already know if you’ve read his writing. At the time, I hadn’t. On both occassions, I kept quiet. I had nothing to really say.

I’ve chatted briefly with illustrator Craig Frasier at an AIGA lecture, not really knowing who he was at the time. I was just going through his book The Illustrated Voice before the signing, got very excited, and gushed how I had . He was amused, and wrote in my copy, “To Dave: READ SLOWLY! Craig.” That was maybe the only time I’ve actually had any conversation with a celebrity. Most of the time, I don’t feel I have anything meaningful to contribute to that celebrity’s life, so I’m just polite and respectful. I figure that the best thing I can do is acknowledge who they are and treat them like regular folk. And not hammer them with questions or pester them for autographs, but to engage them as real people in a real conversation. Not knowing what to talk about, though, is sort of a hindrance :-)

One of the more interesting stories I’ve been in the vicinity of was at E3 2002, the big video game show held every May in Los Angeles. This was the year Id was showing DOOM 3 for the first time to the public in an enclosed booth; the wait was a couple hours long to see it. I was there with a friend from Blizzard and was there after the show had closed to non-exhibitors, and Id Software was letting other devs (who had been working booths all day) in for a peek, so we’re all there waiting. A story came down the line about how a Chinese gentleman had tried to cut, mentioning politely that he was rushed for time but would like to see the Doom 3 demo. The Id guy who was doing traffic and headcount. The Id guy refused, saying that everyone else had been waiting, sorry. The Chinese gentleman nodded and went away, but another Id guy rushed up to see what had happened. “Dude, you’ve got to check name tags! That was John Woo you just turned away! You never know who someone could be, they could someone famous, like…like…”—a familiar-looking guy happily strolls by with his bag of E3 swag—“Robin Williams!” That’s the story I heard on the line at E3 2002, didn’t witness it personally. The story did have a happy ending, with John Woo being escorted back to the booth and getting to experience the Doom 3 demo after all. Hooray!

Something similar just happened to me. I was just IMing Zach Inglis, who seems to know everyone in the Web Development world. Everytime I talk to him, I have to google names to figure out who he’s talking about, since I don’t follow this industry closely. Anyway, a few days ago a couple of weird comments popped up on my I am not Dave Shea post. One was from “William Renquist”, and the other was from “Dave Shea”. I left the William Renquist one because it was harmless, and deleted the Dave Shea one because it seemed like a spoof: the originating IP address was in the UK, the email address went to a dark site, and I didn’t want people to troll the post with links back to mezzoblue. That would be uncool! But Zach, who actually was in London last week, passed along a story that a bunch of famous web development people were having a get together, Dave Shea included. Anyway, they apparently showed “The Dave” the post, and he entered the comment himself! So it was the real thing. Oops.

The moral of the story is you never know. I think I did the right thing by assuming it wasn’t The Dave himself…one can’t be too careful! Maybe the moral to The Dave (that’s Shea, not me) is not to post your celebrity comment right after the one where “William Renquist” complains about being locked in the basement of the Pentagon :-)

I’m still kind of surprised by this contact; will follow up in email to say hi of course, because it’s the polite thing to do, and celebrity makes me unusually polite.

The followup thought comes to mind: if celebrities are regular people (as I believe many of them think themselves to be), then regular people have “celebrity” inside of them too. That random guy on the street is someone’s Dad, and maybe in that context the most important person in the world to someone. Likewise, most people in the world couldn’t name a famous blogger, but in our context these people are part of our consciousness and culture. Like, I can’t imagine the web without Heather B. Armstrong. Her blog was the first one that made the web feel real to me. Not sure why, but that’s how it is.

I think finding celebrity is why I’m drawn to stories in the first place; I like discovering the special parts of an individual that should be shared with others. This follows an insight I had yesterday about the kind of design I think I do, but more on that some other day.