When I met the original Jenner

bruce-E-buck

Although this is an economics and policy related blog, I may take the occasional Friday to write something lighthearted. Today’s story came back to me through all the recent press on Bruce and now Caitlyn Jenner.

As the accompanying souvenir suggests, I met Bruce Jenner in 1984. I had just gone away to college and left my high school job at Chuck E Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater. I was a good employee. In fact I was named employee of the month in my first month – a little like being named rookie of the year in a sport no one cares about. I worked every position in the place and not surprisingly, my favorite task was playing the costumed rat (yes, he is a rat). I was animated, good at pantomime, and shined in this role. If you know me, this isn’t a surprise.

After I went away to college, Pizza Time Theater, as the parent company was called, sponsored a city-wide Wellness Day with Rockford Memorial Hospital that involved a foot race and a fun run. They scheduled and likely paid Bruce Jenner to come support of it. With 20% unemployment, this was probably Rockford’s darkest period and Bruce Jenner was a big deal. Consequently, the management at the restaurant wanted to look their best. They called me and asked me to come back for the weekend and play the plushy role. In return, I would be paid my standard minimum wage and get my Greyhound bus fare reimbursed. I felt a little like a celebrity myself after that offer.

The late summer day of the event was one of the hottest on record with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees. My job was to don the full fake-fur (and not entirely pleasant smelling) rat costume and run the entire 1 mile fun run….And then return to the half way mark and do it again… and again and again until all 300 kids had crossed the finish line. With nothing on under the suit but a pair of teeny ‘80s running shorts, I did it. I ran the full mile once, and then did the half mile 4 more agonizing times. Following my final finish line cross, I collapsed and mimed a heart attack to some good laughs and deserved applause.

Still in costume I was escorted over to the VIP tent where I was finally allowed to take-off the huge inner tube lined suit. I was dripping wet, practically naked, and exhausted. And there was Bruce Jenner laughing heartily at my efforts. I wish I would have had a camera so I could have had a portrait with him, but selfies were years away. Instead I grabbed one chuck E Buck off the table and asked him to sign it. As he did, he said “Young man, you must be worn out. I don’t think I could have done that.” Coming from a decathlon gold medalist I took that as quite a compliment.

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One thought on “When I met the original Jenner

  1. I won the 15 – 19 age group category and got my picture taken with him / her. 🙂 He / her sat at my table the night before the race at the spaghetti dinner. I will have to hunt down the photo with he / her arm around me after the race. I also won the following year and got my picture taken with Joan Benoit. Referring to him or her is so awkward! 🙂

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