Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Random Rock Star Moment #13: The Thrilla In Berkeley

The sad sequel to The Great Crown Books Robbery and When The Lights Go Down In The City.

Man, the Old School bookstores are dropping like flies around the Bay Area. Last week it was A Clean Well-Lighted Place in S.F. and this week it's Cody's Books in Berkeley (after 43 YEARS!).

In 1991 Muhammad Ali did an autograph session at Cody's for a recently published authorized biography. Hundreds of people lined up outside of the store. When his limo arrived, the crowd hushed when they saw a frail Ali being assisted from the car and led into the store. He was like a zombie.

Over the years Ali had developed Parkinson's Syndrome, possibly as a result of his years in the ring. One of Ali's boxing trademarks was that he never deflected an opponent's punch to his head; he would take a hit and return it just as bad as he'd gotten it. At Cody's it was obvious the disease had ravaged him.

After waiting a couple of hours in line, my friends and I finally neared the table where Ali was signing autographs. He was only scheduled to be there for 2 hours and time was running out to meet him. Actually, The Champ wasn't signing the books on the spot, but was placing pre-signed cards into each copy. He rarely looked up at people who handed them his book; his eyes were blank.

When I finally approached the table the scenario was repeated, but I also held out my hand for him to shake. He took it and I asked if my friend could take my picture with The Champ. When his handlers nodded it was okay, my friend quickly got his camera ready... BUT THE FLASH DIDN'T WORK! As he struggled to fix it, The Champ's handlers pushed me aside and told me to move on because there were others behind me. What a bummer.

The Champ sizes me up...

However, as I began to walk away I heard a slight commotion behind me and someone shouted "WAIT A MINUTE!" I turned around and someone was motioning for me to return to the table. Someone said "WAIT A MINUTE! THE CHAMP WANTS TO TAKE HIS PICTURE WITH YOU!" His handlers seemed surprised; it might have been the first coherent thing Ali said all evening.

So, I stood next to Ali again... he held out his hand... I took it... and this time my friend's camera worked! I gripped the hand that punched Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton, and George Foreman and lived to talk about it.

Click HERE to read about the sad demise of Cody's Books.