Saturday, September 02, 2006

Chris Fowler: The Fight is On!

I decided to travel to Atlanta to interview ESPN’s College Gameday Host Chris Fowler. It was a spur of the moment idea. So what if it has been 10 years since Fowler actively campaigned on ESPN for Charles Woodson to win the Heisman over Peyton Manning? Fowler made it personal. My thought was that this metrosexual wine collecting blowhard would never be more accessible. Using profiling techniques, I surmised that Fowler and his posse would hang out in the swanky part of Atlanta where bottled water costs $5.00 each. Friday night, I bumped into none other than Chris Fowler at a popular Atlanta Buckhead Mexican eatery. Fowler was trying to be inconspicuous in the standard celebrity camoflauge--big sunglasses and a baseball hat. But my sharp eyes spotted him through the crowd at the crowded taco shop. We sat down for a quick conversation over a couple of steaming fajitas and a tin of pico de gallo.

[Fowler’s a bit of a pompous ass, but I managed to pull him out of his shell once the salsa started to work its magic. A tough interview, but one I'll remember for years to come.] Joe: What's up, Charles? Chris Fowler: The name is Chris, and I am enjoying the green chile. This place is the best. Joe: I think that guy behind the counter looks like Charles Woodson, you know, the guy that you voted to win the Heisman over Peyton Manning?

CF: That man's not Woodson. Joe: You know, the guy with like one interception per year, and then you taunted Tennessee fans with that ass-hat look in your eye then you said, I created "trailer park frenzy"," then you smugly laughed it off. Way to go, Charles. CF: The name is Chris. [he takes large bite of fajita, stares down at plate--is Woodson casing him?] Joe: America needs that sort of thing right now. CF: What sort of thing is that? Joe: You know. Asskicking, Charles, lots of asskicking. CF: I think my fajitas are getting cold. And enough with the Charles thing. Joe: We named our pet Labrador, “Fowler”. CF: [smiles despite himself] Joe Now we're getting somewhere. I really, really dig the salsa in here. CF: [long pause] Yeah, it's good. Joe: Thanks, Charles. [He spears a fajita chicken strip from the fajita I was building.] CF: Thank you Joe: That was my chicken. [pause] Charles. CF: Right. It was yours. Joe: How about putting it back on my plate? CF: Why would I want to do that? Joe: If you don't, I will tell Charles Woodson over there that if you could have a “do over” you would actively campaign for Peyton to win the Heisman

[Fowler plops the chicken back onto my styrofoam plate. He stands without a word and heads for the exit. He flips Woodson the finger as the bells on the door jingle.]

Later that evening, at a Marietta Starbucks who should I see but Chris Fowler and Lou Holtz. I decide to finish my interview

Joe: [awkwardly, tracing toe slowly in front of me] Uh...hi. Chris Fowler: Oh. Hi. Joe: Listen, I just have to say -- CF: Don't. [holding finger in front of pursed lips] Shhh. [At this point, Fowler rushes forward and envelopes me in the most heterosexual, manly bear hug I have ever known, rocking me back and forth a couple of times before we heartily clap each other on the back.] Joe: So. How's the rook? [I point towards Lou Holtz]

CF: Sort of a pussy and he spits when he talks. But I guess he's OK. [pause] Well, I have to get back. I'm giving him the Notre Dame gonna win the BCS speech for tomorrow’s Gameday . Joe: I won't keep you. [Fowler starts back towards the register.] Hey, Charles? CF: [smiles] It’s Chris. [pauses] Please don't tell Herbie about the Lattes, he really rides my ass about all the carbs. [I give him the thumbs-up and he returns to the register.] Joe: You've won this round, Fowler.

Later that evening, I'm driving through some nighttime city streets in Atlanta in one of those new little cars that are somewhere between SUV and compact car and nearly always silver and aggressively marketed to young, upwardly mobile urban adventurers. A really catchy techno jam that will send the 18-34 crowd frantically Googling its origin is pounding on the Kenwood and my Uma Thurman-look-alike wife is lip-synching her heart out in the passenger seat and whom I brought with me to help break through the ESPN College Gameday security perimeter, I know Chris Fowler is a weak man and she can exploit his weakness to get me close for an interview. She's had some Zima so there's something definitely dangerous and reckless about her despite the outward flawless porcelain appearance.

After what seems like miles and miles of uninterrupted green lights in Buckhead, a red light finally slows us down. A black H2 rolls up on us, its tinted driver's-side window slides down. It's quite dramatic.

Craning my neck just a little bit, I can see his maternal grandmother-looking paramour Lou Holtz fiddling with the knobs on his stereo, mouthing to Fowler, “who's that?” Like Fowler doesn't know. Like there isn't a black-and-white photograph of me on his vanity mirror with the eyes scratched out with the tip of a safety pin and clips of the transcripts of The Loser With Socks Blog on his huge oak desk and explicit instructions to his personal assistant to always, always forward my calls to his cell, even if he suspects I'm just going to flush the toilet and hang up on him and he's just going to smash his fist onto the craft services table and send a plate of cold cuts clattering loudly to the ESPN College Gameday sound stage floor. Before I can utter a derisive "Granny” sidelong into the H2's window, Uma's hand comes down hard on my knee and the car lurches forward. If you believe the obnoxious advertising campaign, an H2's made to drive over things like abandoned bunkers and purse-size, floofy dogs rather than accelerate on a damp Atlanta suburban street. If the nighttime streets were not so damp and glistening, he would have been eating the dust kicked up by our little car. Amateur driver Fowler obviously does not have the all-wheel drive engaged and his ride spins out onto the Buckhead sidewalk, leaving black skidmarks. Uma and I find a Denny's further up the road and I leave her to order some French Toast so I can excuse myself to the surprisingly well-maintained men's room. Somewhere on the fancy side of town, Fowler’s cellphone is ringing, is answered, and is filled with the sound of the counterclockwise roar of a Denny's commode in its full fury. The French Toast is that much sweeter and fluffier and Uma keeps asking me why I'm smirking. I don't tell her, and I don't tell her that in five minutes I'm going to excuse myself again when the check shows up and not return until I'm sure she's paid it. My cell rings. Chris Fowler is calling and he's put straight through to voicemail. Uma laughs and offers me the first mint off the check when it comes back, paid, and in a flash we're back out on the wet nighttime streets.

I think to myself, we are not done Fowler, not by a long shot. I plan on pursuing this interview until I am satisfied it is complete. Fowler will not dictate the terms.

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