Harris: Bob Greene is absolutely one of the best columnists in America. He writes several times a week for the Chicago Tribune, and has just come out with his 17th book, Chevrolet Summers and Dairy Queen Nights. It is a pleasure to have you back, Bob.
Greene: Thanks very much. I appreciate it.
Harris: Before we get to the new book, let’s talk about something we talked about last time you were on, when you had written another one of your Michael Jordan books. How is the thirty six million dollar man?
Greene: Well, people are thinking that this may be his last year. As a matter of fact I just wrote a column about that for next week. People are trying to figure out how to react to this, because it’s been a run unlike any sports team has ever had and few sports teams anywhere. There is a strange sort of bittersweet feel in the United Center, because people feel that whether they win it or not, this is it.
Harris: Is that because they feel that way about the Bulls or because it is Jordan’s last year?
Greene: Well, because it’s going to be Jordan’s last year and because the Bulls have made it very clear that Phil Jackson is not welcome back, even though he has brought them five championships. It’s a very odd feeling, and I think it will get even odder, and come June when the playoffs are in full swing…it’s got almost a funeral feel to it and yet there is still the same excitement. For a town that didn’t even know how to accept the fact that they had a winning basketball team, it’s just very odd.
Harris: How does Michael feel about that? You must talk to him about this every once in awhile?
Greene: That’s why I try and wean myself from going out there so much, but he’s said all along that he wants to go out when he’s at the very top. He did it once when the baseball was going on and against all odds, showed that he could still do it. But what Jordan has always said is that the worst thing for him would be for him to sense that the people in the stands think that he had lost a step or that Phil Jackson would take him out. It is a different game than he has ever played. You watch and you do realize that he is not flying through the air any more. He has reinvented himself once again.
Harris: Do you think he’s the kind of guy that would do a Kareem Abdul Jabbar-like goodbye tour or at the end of the season say, “Okay, I’m just going to sell my cologne, run my businesses, and work for Nike and that will be it?”
Greene: He does not want to go around the league and have people give him gifts. He finds something not seemly about that. If there is anybody in the world who does not need a goodbye gift, it’s Michael Jordan. We were driving through Sarasota, Florida, once when he was trying out for major league baseball, and he was driving a Stingray, a Corvette. He said that he had mentioned that he might want to have one and Chevrolet sent him down one and let him drive it around in Florida. The irony was not lost on him, that there are so many people who can’t even get a car, and here’s Jordan who has all the cars he wants, and people are just giving them to him.
Harris: Unbelievable. Let’s talk about the new book and going from Corvettes to Chevrolet Summers is a nice segue here.
Greene: Didn’t mean to do that.
Harris: First of all, it’s a great title, Chevrolet Summers and Dairy Queen Nights. Something that certainly every American can identify with. And reading through the book, this is a wonderful piece of Americana again, Bob, I don’t know how you do it. There are shocking stories in here and there are wonderful heart-warming stories that give me that warm goose bumpy-feeling, too. Then again, you have stories like the one about the naked guy.
Greene: Well, Chevrolet Summers and Dairy Queen Nights is made up of the columns people tell me are up on their refrigerator door or put in the drawer in the kitchen for a while, the ones that are not just about that day’s news. The Naked Guy…just because the people listening are wondering what in the hell you’re talking about…
Harris: It’s a story we talked about on the air. It’s a kid out at Berkeley who went to school naked.
Greene: Yeah! There was a thing in the paper about it, about how the naked guy was suing the university or was considering suing it. What happened was he was expelled for going to class without any clothes. And you would think, well of course, if you don’t wear clothes to class you can not be in school. But, Berkeley could not find any rules to keep this guy out of their classroom. Finally, when they did throw him out of school the great fear was he would sue them. You had parents of freshmen, eighteen year old boys and girls, young men and women, who go away to college and sitting in the next seat is a naked guy. I mean, this guy wore nothing to class. So, I had two columns about the naked guy where he tried to explain to me why he did this.
Harris: And it took them months to get him out of there.
Greene: Yeah, they couldn’t figure out a legal reason to expel him from the university. And I’m thinking, well let’s see, he’s going to class naked! And they said they had nothing in the rules against it. Could you imagine you’re the parent of a college freshman and you call and say, “My son or daughter has a naked man in the next chair!” and they say “We can’t find any conceivable way to throw him out”? And everyone’s in great fear of him ending up owning the university be cause he’ll sue them for throwing him out for no good reason except he goes to class naked.
Harris: That’s right. Another great column that you put in here, which I first read in the paper and I’m glad you included, is about the cool hotel in Los Angeles that you stayed at but you felt like the uncoolest man in America.
Greene: I checked into a hotel and it was so cool. Every thing about it. Every body was wearing boxing trunks and it was the coolest people in the world. When you check in the hotel, in the room, was a magazine about the 100 coolest people in L.A. So I did a column about being so uncool in this hotel. I was afraid I’d be found out and thrown out. Like the naked guy wasn’t.
Harris: What I like about it is, you’re like me, you’re a burger-and-shake kind of a guy and this was a hotel where there was no chance of you getting either of those things.
Greene: No, it was just so cool. You go to this hotel, and it was very nice, and I felt sort of unworthy the whole time. I did go across the street to a record store, I guess they call it a CD store. My antidote for all this, I bought a repackaged collection of the same fifteen Beach Boys songs I’ve been buying since 1965.
Harris: Which they just keep repackaging.
Greene: Yeah, I bought another one. I’m just grateful they’re repackaging. I took it back to the cool hotel, because clearly they all have CD players in the rooms.
Harris: One thing that’s not in the book, but you wrote about this week, is your idea for a postage stamp lottery. What is that?
Greene: Yeah. Actually I’m glad we’re talking about that because the postal service is right within your listening area. I got an idea to raise money for the government. All you have to do is…people love lotteries, the postal service is always in need of money, first class stamp prices are always going up, so what if we had a lottery for fifty cents or a dollar and the prize was not money, but for a year you get to have your picture on the front of a postage stamp. Only one person, and for a year if you win the lottery, you’re on a first class stamp for awhile. What it could do is, the lottery could bring in enough money that they could guarantee us the first class stamp isn’t going up for awhile. But they point out all the reasons they can’t do it. For instance, there’s a regulation that only dead people can be on stamps.
Harris: So why can’t we send in pictures of our grandparents?
Greene: Well, they could change the rules. When they shot that down I got another idea, which I just put out in the column, which is, what if the postal service sold advertising space on the front of stamps?
Harris: Do we want that, Bob?
Greene: Well, I don’t know if we want it or not, but if Coca-Cola or McDonald’s bought a first class stamp maybe the price would go down! You know, it’s not like we’re not living in a totally commercial country anyway. I got the feeling the postal service is getting a little sick of hearing from me calling and asking about these things, but I’m just trying to help the government raise a little money.
Harris: But, here’s my problem with your idea for advertising on stamps. That takes away from the one place advertising should be, and that’s on our show.
Greene: And that’s your segue? What if the naked guy won the lottery?
Harris: Oh man, we’d be in trouble. It’s a terrific book, Chevrolet Summers and Dairy Queen Nights, by Bob Greene, published by Viking. When we come to the holiday season and you’re looking for something to give people that they are going to read and tell other people about, this is the book to get.
Greene: Thanks for saying that.
Harris: My pleasure, Bob. Always great to have you on. Thanks so much.
Greene: See you next time!
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Sue Gaegler