My phone rang. 5:00 am. My boss was calling.
"Hey man. What are you doing?" she asked. "Want to come down here and help us out?"
My boss was a morning radio producer and my job was "Morning Show Intern." The year was 2003 and I was a college freshman at Butler University. This was an unpaid, uncredited, completely under-the-radar internship. The show was broadcasting live from the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 and this crack-of-dawn wakeup call was my formal invitation.
"I don't have an extra ticket, but if you can find your way in here I'll get you back into the pits," she said.
I suppose it must have been ignorance. Or arrogance. Maybe it was just a few too many Bugs Bunny cartoons that allowed me to convince myself that it was a good idea to approach the main gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without an actual ticket.
"Hey, I'm supposed to drop off these Krispy Kreme donuts inside," I said confidently to the yellow-jackets manning the gate. "You guys don't want any, do you?"
There is no way that should have worked. No way in hell. No way it will ever work again — so don't even bother trying it. But it worked that beautiful day in May and I'll never forget it. Now the job description of "Morning Show Intern" is somewhat vague on a typical morning, but my role was made explicitly clear to me as soon as they saw me in the pits.
"Hey! Go find celebrities and get them to come over here. And get David Letterman to come over and talk to us."
Are you kidding me? Didn't she realize that I just used my one miracle of the day getting into the track? How was I going to just stroll up to one of the most celebrated and notoriously private Hoosiers of all time and convince him to grant us an interview? I mean — he's going to be cranky and I just gave away the last of my donuts!
We interviewed Wynona and Naomi Judd. We spoke to former President of the United States George H.W. Bush. Somehow I ended up dancing and flirting with a very recent Miss Indiana. Overall a pretty solid Race Day by all accounts. But alas, still no Dave.
I walked by the Letterman-Rahal tent and surveyed the scene. I mean, his name is right there on the sign. He's got to be in there, right? A very sweet woman approached me and asked if she could help. "I'm actually here from that radio station across the way. I just wanted to check and see if Mr. Letterman has a few minutes to come join us for an interview."
"You know I'm not sure," she confided. "But you're welcome to stand over here and ask him when he comes by."
Really? He's going to walk right over here? Right by this potted fern?
I waited for my moment. I tried to blend in and look like I was supposed to be there. To be honest, I was doing such a good job of blending in and looking like I belonged there that Dave walked right past me. I joined the crowd of fans at the gate and waited for the right time to make my ask: "Mr. Letterman - it's such an honor to meet you," I said in a voice more sweaty and shaky than I'd ever heard come out of my mouth.
"You know, in high school I was voted Most Likely To Be The Next David Letterman."
He grinned and said very warmly, "Well, I wish you more success than I've had with it."
It was a short exchange. Maybe 10 seconds. But those 10 seconds may have been the highlight of my college experience. I mean, how do you top THAT?
A few years later I moved to New York City and took a job as a Page at The Late Show with David Letterman. That led to the proudest moment of my life: the first night one of my jokes made it into Dave's opening monologue. I don't know where I'd be if a fellow Hoosier hadn't shown me that you can leave Indianapolis, work your ass off, and actually achieve the things you want most in life. So, Dave — to you and your remarkably talented and gracious staff that helped produce the show each night — thanks for making me who I am today.
And meeting you? It’s something that never would have happened without a little ignorance, a little arrogance and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.