His birthday, my memory

It was January 1997. I was in San Francisco visiting a friend and had decided to spend the day in the city while he worked. As I stood at a cable car stop, I recognized the photographer of a very famous man. The two were known to travel together, so I began to look around for the photog’s subject.

He must have been watching me look for him because as my eyes found his, he was motioning with his forefinger for me to join him. No one else had yet recognized him.

At first, I looked around to see if there was someone else he was beckoning. When I looked back at him, he pointed at me, then crooked his finger toward the sky in that motion that means, “Come here.”

Reaching him, I took his hands in mine, looked up into his lovely brown eyes and said, “I just want you to know it is an honor to meet you. But I have to tell you I recognized your photographer first.”

He threw back his head and laughed. The reason I’d recognized his photographer was that Muhammad Ali had lit the torch at the Olympics the summer before and a TV segment had been done on him.

A few minutes later, the cable car arrived and the two invited me to join them. I remember watching young boys on bikes riding alongside and up the hills, yelling, “The King! The King!”

In my photo taken that day, Ali has a toothpick in his mouth, and his photographer is looking into my lens and smiling.

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