Chowing Down With Cosby
There I was, minding my own business.....
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I was 10 years old. In my hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, the public school kids got half-days every Wednesday afternoon. By virtue of the fact that my parents wanted me to be a virtuous young man, I went to the local Catholic School, Holy Trinity. Kids at Holy Trinity did not get each and every Wednesday afternoon off, but when they did decide to give us a half-day, it was usually on Wednesday.
So on this one particular Wednesday, I decided to celebrate my early release from the prison on Beacon Street by having lunch at the local McDonald's franchise, which was located about as close to the school as it was from my home.
Being a half-day for everyone in town, McDonald's was jammed that day. I slid into the last table open in the place, and proceeded to chow down on my Big Mac, large fries and a Coke, just minding my own business. All of a sudden, I heard this voice right behind me. That was a familiar voice I knew well, not because I had met this guy in person, but because he was on television every Saturday morning. He was the voice of Jello. He was Bill Cosby.
"Excuse me," Bill said, causing me to twist around. "Would you mind if my son and I joined you for lunch?"
What was I going to say? "Uh, no thanks Mr. Cosby. You and your son can stand there." Of course not. The problem was, my tongue was so tied, and my mouth was hanging open, as a little drop of drool fell down from my lip to my Big Mac. To this day, I'm not sure whether I actually said anything, but I suspect my gaping mouth told Mr. Cosby it was quite all right for he and his son to join me for lunch.
What Was Bill Cosby Doing in McDonald's in Greenfield, Massachusetts?
Bill Cosby may have grown up in Philadelphia, but these days, he calls the small town of Shelburne, Massachusetts home. If you happen to drive down Bardwell's Ferry Road and over the bridge, heading from Conway to Shelburne, you'll see the Cosby estate. Shelburne is about 15 to 20 minutes away from Greenfield, a town of 20,000 that all the hilltown folks call "The City." Not that there's not another McDonald's in Franklin County, this one was definitely the closest one at the time to where Bill, Camille and their children resided at the time.
The full gravity of this chance meeting never struck me until January 16, 1997, when young Ennis Cosby was slain on the side of I-405 in Southern California. If I am not mistaken, Ennis was the child Bill was treating to lunch at McDonald's that day when I was 10. Though I never saw Ennis again, I felt an immediate sense of loss when I read of the tragic nature of his death.
If it struck me hard, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for the Cosbys. Despite this, when Bill took the stand during the sentencing phase of the trial, I am sure he shocked many by asking the court to spare the life of Mikhail Markhasev, the man found guilty of having robbed and murdered his son. This was during a time when many states, wanting to appear "tough on crime" were passing death penalty laws, and in states where they were already legal, they were finding new reasons and means to execute people.
So while there may be a special place in hell for Mikhail Markhasev (although Wikipedia reports that in 2001, Markhasev wrote a letter to the court admitting guilt in the crime and apologizing to the Cosby family for the pain he had caused them) there is a special place in Heaven waiting for Bill when one day he will finish his time on Earth. How many of us could stand before a judge and jury, after losing his beloved son, and plead to the court not to take the killer's life in compensation for his crime? I am dead set opposed to the death penalty, but as I consider how I would feel if this were one of my children, I don't think I would have had the strength to make such a plea.
In my life, I have had the occasion to interview people like J. Geils, and Lester Chambers (of the 60's Gospel/Soul group The Chambers Brothers), both of whom I felt honored to have met and interviewed. I have shaken hands with Senator John Kerry years before he ran for President, and I was proud to have helped elect him to the U.S. Senate. I was within 50 feet of President Bill Clinton, speaking in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts during the waning days of the 1996 reelection campaign. I even sold a bag of popcorn to Penn Gillette, of Penn and Teller fame, and a 1972 graduate of Greenfield High School.
I also had the opportunity to write a news article about Jesse Jackson, who, while visiting his friend Bill in Shelburne, became ill and had to be taken to Franklin Medical Center. These are all highlights of my career as a journalist and as a political activist. As special as they all are, none can rise to the level of that chance meeting in the spring of 1977 when I had the honor to share a lunch with Bill Cosby. He is genuinely as nice in person as he appears to be on television and on stage.
It's unlikely that I'll ever have the opportunity to meet Bill again in person, but if our paths should ever cross again, you don't have to ask, Bill. Of course I'll be happy to share my table with you.