One of my absolute favorite things about living in Green Bay, WI is the fact that running into a Packer player somewhere in public is almost inevitable. I can recall every situation when this has happened to me as clearly as I remember the births of each of my children. From seeing former stars like Ahman Green and Bubba Franks at Best Buy to seeing a living legend such as Brett Favre at Prime Quarter Steakhouse, it’s always memorable for me as a life-long Packer Fan. Years before he became a Dancing With The Stars Champion, my family even ate a couple of tables away from Donald Driver at a Culver’s. He was there with his wife and children the day he signed his last contract extension. The one that ensured he would retire from the NFL as a Green Bay Packer. We left the restaurant that afternoon only to discover that his white Cadillac Escalade, with the license plate “QUICKIE”, was parked next to our minivan.
Of all of these various run-ins over the years, though, one stands out in my mind for a number of reasons. However, when I think about things in my life that I really regret, this situation is also one of them oddly enough. It was the day that I blew off Aaron Rodgers. [shudders and gasps]
A lot of people in Green Bay know there are certain spots on the west side of the city that are popular hangouts for Packer players and even other stars when they’re in town. One such place, believe it or not, is The Pancake Place on Military Ave. In fact, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel caught a meal there one afternoon after attending a Packer game on the previous day. The social media storm that followed was only recently topped by Hollywood celebrity Charlie Sheen who had also been in Green Bay for a Packer game at the time. His bar hopping trail was posted all over Facebook in real-time the night he was in town.
My story also begins at this favorite local eatery a number of years ago. It was a cold winter morning following a late season Packer win against the Bears at Lambeau Field the night before when I found myself sitting down for breakfast there with my wife and youngest son. We had just dropped our eldest son off at school. (To this day, he’s still upset that he wasn’t there and tells us so every time this story comes up.) As usual, the place was packed at that time of the morning. However, the staff is extremely skilled at getting people in and out pretty efficiently, so we didn’t wait too long to be seated.
Not long after ordering our food, a group of four young men were seated at a table behind us. My wife and I both caught bits and pieces of their conversation during the pauses in our own. “It looks like him,” said one. “It is him,” said another excitedly. My ears admittedly perked up when I heard mention of “the singer from Counting Crows” in their enthusiastic chatter.
In my early days as a musician, “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows was one of the very first songs that I learned on bass guitar in my first real band that I had started back in high school. The chance of a famous singer like Adam Duritz being at The Pancake Place that morning, though, seemed highly unlikely to me at the time. However, I was still genuinely curious to find out if it was true or not despite always having taken hearsay with a grain of salt. After all, regular people are sometimes mistaken for celebrities. Right?
Our son decided that a visit to the bathroom before eating was necessary, so my wife took him while I waited at our table. I would find out when they returned that, on their way to the bathroom, our son loudly and a little impatiently told a tall, dark-haired man with dreadlocks and a goatee waiting to be seated, “Excuse me!” while trying to get through the crowd by the front doors near the bathrooms. As my wife continued shuffling him through the people standing there, the man turned, looked down at our son and responded, “Oh. Sorry,” then made as much room as he could for them to get through.
My wife was clearly convinced that the guy they’d almost literally run into was in fact Adam Duritz. I, on the other hand, was still doubtful. After a minute or two, though, the curiosity got to me and I made my own trip through the restaurant to the bathrooms up front.
We had been sitting close to the back, and there are basically just two long aisles that make up the floor plan of the restaurant. I decided to make my way up one aisle and then take the other aisle back to our table after using the bathroom. On my way, at one of the tables near the front, I saw the familiar face of Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers grinning from beneath the visor of his hat while conversing with someone. On my way back to our table, I saw the unmistakable countenance of Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz sitting directly across from Aaron. I immediately started texting a couple of former band mates upon returning to our table.
After we paid our bill and walked out the door to our vehicle, I made it a point to stall as much as possible before pulling out of our parking spot with the hope that we might catch a glimpse of them on their way out. I did pull out of the parking spot we’d been in, but then merely parked in another one that gave me a much better vantage point to monitor the restaurant’s main entrance.
After what seemed like hours, though it had only been about twenty minutes, we finally saw Adam and Aaron exit along with a woman who had been sitting at the table with them. They stood on the sidewalk and talked while a young kid approached them with what appeared to be a CD in his hand that Adam signed and handed back to him. All the while, I discussed what the best approach would be with my wife. We both knew that there might never be another opportunity to meet two stars like this who are from two such different worlds – sports and music. I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt them either. They looked like they were having a nice conversation, so wanted to wait for just the right moment. Then things started going through my head that made me hesitant. Nonsense like, “What if they’re both complete jerks? Then I’ll feel embarrassed and have to live with that for the rest of my life.” Stupid things like that crossed my mind over and over again as my wife and I talked.
As I was thinking about all of the ways that this could now go wrong while I watched them like some kind of stalker, Adam and Aaron hugged and appeared to be saying their goodbyes. “It’s now or never,” I thought to myself. The problem was, though, that I still didn’t really have a plan. I just straightened my Packer cap and quickly got out of the minivan. My wife and I had decided during our conversation that it would take too long to get our son unbuckled from his car seat and he obviously couldn’t be left alone, so I was on my own while she stayed in the minivan with him.
This was the point where everything started to go wrong. As I carefully walked across the ice-covered parking lot, Adam and the woman who had been accompanying him and Aaron parted ways in almost completely opposite directions. Now I had to make a decision. Who do I to try and approach for a quick chat and possible a picture? Aaron was headed almost directly toward me on his way to his truck, but the chances of me running into him in Green Bay again were pretty good. This had actually been the second time that I’d seen him in public. However, Adam Duritz resides in California, and the odds of seeing him in this area were pretty slim at best.
As the Super Bowl XLV MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers approached, I finally made my decision. When we crossed within about two feet of each other, he looked up and made eye contact with me. At that moment, I coolly and nonchalantly nodded at him and said, “Hey,” and then… kept on walking. It was at this juncture, though, that I realized how close Adam and his female companion were to their car – just a couple of feet away. The ice covering the parking lot was extremely slippery at the time too, and they both slid a little a couple of times as I watched them go. The thought of me trying to catch up to them and falling flat on my back then entered my mind.
I quickly looked back in Aaron’s direction to see him getting into his truck. I then looked back toward Adam in time to see the initial puff of fumes waft from the exhaust pipe as the car started and began to pull away. I knew that both of my chances were gone. Sadly, I ended up continuing toward the restaurant and paused in front of the newspaper machine as though contemplating the purchase of a copy. I then turned with my head hung in self-disappointment and walked back to our vehicle.
The point of this story, aside from hopefully being an entertaining read, is that I have since learned to be better at prioritizing and making quick decisions based on this experience. I think that being able to quickly weigh our options at any given time is a skill that everyone needs to have, especially when it comes to making business-related or even life-altering decisions. I wanted two things – the best of both – and ended up with neither in my experience of having the chance to meet two high-profile individuals. My emotions, especially my fear of embarrassment at the time, got the better of me. The next time I’m in a situation like the one described here, though, the outcome will be much different.