Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I got to tell Bill Schonely the other day about one of those rare times back in college when I was a dedicated student.
Over lunch at Stanford's Lloyd Center, my son Delaney and I got to know the man with the most famous voice in Oregon.
I told Bill how, on the day of the famous Blazer victory parade in June 1977 when I was a student at MHCC, I stayed home in Gresham and studied for finals, despite my temptation to hop on the old No. 44 Tri-Met to see Bill Walton bicycle down Broadway amid swirls of ticker tape.
But in the booth at Stanford's, it was Bill's stories that mattered: great stories about his dear friend Bill Walton, Blazer player-coach Lenny Wilkins and Bill's late, beloved friend Maurice Lucas. Delaney and I enjoyed the privilege of a rich conversation with this gentleman with the distinct voice.
Why was I having lunch with one of Oregon's most famous men? Bill has graciously agreed to emcee an event on July 22 for Start Making A Reader Today (details below). He's already an ardent supporter of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Providence Child Center Foundation and other causes.
We took care of our SMART business and then talked plenty about one of my favorite topics: basketball. It was a great opportunity to get the skinny from a man with a fat trove of tales.
This was the first time I had met the Oregon Sports Hall of Famer, the man who called 2,522 Blazer radio and TV games, the originator of the timeless phrase "Rip City." Bill told me he started with the new NBA team in 1970 on a handshake with team co-founder Harry Glickman.
The stories kept coming, and Delaney and I enjoyed listening to them and answering Bill's questions about our lives. He treated us as old friends. Bill is a courtly man, but he does not "hold court." He is casual and quietly gregarious, and the time passed without my noticing it.
But at one point, Bill wondered aloud at how long we were waiting for our food to arrive. The waiter came by to say it would be "just a few more minutes," and Bill mildly commented, "It really shouldn't take that long."
Well, the meal finally did arrive, and it was excellent. Over sandwiches and tomato basil soup (his recommendation), Bill confirmed as true the wonderful story I had found on Wikipedia, about a 1957 Western Hockey League game in San Francisco: an obnoxious fan repeatedly blew a loud horn in Bill's ear, while Bill was on the air doing the post-game show, and Bill announced that at the station break he would deal with the guy.
He took the headphones off and, as Bill tells it, "I turned around and smacked the guy. And I went back on the air and said, 'Folks, that guy got his knuckle sandwich.'"
At lunch, Bill looks down for a moment, and says, "I don't know why I did that." Then he smiles.
Not long after, when we had finished our meal, the waiter came by and said, "Sorry for the delay; we have taken care of it. Thank you for your patience." We thanked him and Bill put down a generous tip, boosted by Delaney's $5, since all Dad had on him was a debit card.
I thought back to when Delaney and I arrived at the restaurant and I told the host we were meeting Bill Schonely; he said he would let him know we had arrived. "I bet he's a regular," I said. "Well, he had a table with his name on it until we remodeled recently," said the man.
We met Bill so we could discuss a unique event happening July 22 in Hood River, in which Bill will lend his beloved voice to a fundraiser for the Start Making A Reader Today program: He will emcee and be guest speaker at the first-ever Tongue Twister Tournament. It will be at Hood River Valley High School at 7 p.m., and will feature more than 15 local residents who will try to wrangle some of the most difficult combinations of words ever devised.
You can try your hand at a tongue twister, and maybe win prizes such as gear, bottles of wine and restaurant certificates. And Bill will demonstrate some of his favorite tongue twisters as well as tell stories from his time with the Blazers and other sports radio days.
But if you'd like to get to know Bill a bit better, SMART hosts a $50-per-plate dinner, before the tournament, at Cornerstone Cuisine in Hood River Hotel, a meal specially created for the event by executive chef Mark Whitehead. (The cost includes admission to the tournament.) Call me at 541-386-1234 to reserve a place.
And thanks in advance on behalf of SMART.
I can tell you, wherever you may be, with Bill Schonely you feel like you're at his regular table.