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Running Down the Governor of California

June 20, 2014

No, it wasn’t Arnold the Governator, and no, I wasn’t a reporter in hot pursuit of an interview. It was Jerry Brown, and I ran him down with my car.


I’d forgotten my unfortunate encounter with the former Governor of California and three-time presidential candidate (now the current Governor of California) until I dialed in to a local deejay who was asking listeners to phone in their most memorable encounter with a celebrity. The prize for the winning story was a day of pampering at a fancy spa, which I knew Mrs. Chatterbox would enjoy. As I thought about the deejay’s request, I recalled the Jerry Brown incident. It happened back in ’76 when Jerry was running for president. I still think I’d have won if my call had gotten through the radio station’s choked switchboard.

I was in downtown San Francisco, behind the wheel of my faded blue VW Bug and wearing a brown corduroy suit that made me look like the bear on the California flag. San Francisco’s hills are notoriously steep and my brakes were in sad shape, but I was broke and risking my life hunting for a job. Mrs. Chatterbox and I had only been married a few years and we’d just returned from backpacking in Europe. I was traveling south on Polk Street and had just stopped at the intersection of Polk and Grove Streets. I was looking up at the stately dome atop City Hall when it happened.

While idling at the intersection and waiting for the light to change, I suddenly found myself engulfed by a swarm of shouting hooligans gesticulating wildly and circling me like hyenas eying a wildebeest. My Bug started bouncing like I was in riot-torn Fallujah instead of downtown San Francisco. My confusion gave way to the realization that these were reporters.

Just then a fellow came into view in front of my windshield. Even though I’d been out of the country for a while and hadn’t been paying much attention to presidential politics, I still managed to recognize Jerry Brown, the former Governor of California famous for dating pop singer Linda Ronstadt. I’d heard he was running for president.

Somehow my foot slipped off the brake pedal and landed on the gas. The Bug lurched forward and struck Jerry Brown. Bumped into him would be more like it. He did a half twist and landed on the hood of my car. Our eyes locked, and I accidentally hit a switch and the windshield wipers began arcing across my dirty windshield. The incident lasted only a moment, and then Jerry rose up from the hood of my car, brushed himself off and marched away, followed by the horde of reporters.

A year later I was living in Los Angeles and decided to trade in my Bug. The fellow at the dealership scowled at the hippy-dippy bumper stickers and wrinkled his nose at the high mileage. He then offered me a few bucks for the car.

I said, “See that scratch on the hood?”

“What about it?” he asked.

“Jerry Brown did that.”

“I hate Jerry Brown, voted for Ford,” the fellow spat.

This was going to be easier than I thought. “That scratch is where I collided with Jerry last year when he was campaigning in downtown San Francisco.” 

“No fooling? You actually hit Jerry Brown with this car?”

“I really did.”     

 He increased his price.



Edmund (Jerry) Brown-The 34th and 39th (current) Governor of California.



Have you seen or had an encounter with a celebrity?


I guess these days he'd have probably sued you for that. Or his security detail would have given you a few bumps and bruises. BTW, something I wanted to pass along: last night I was watching a movie called "The Time Being" (It's relatively new I think) that you might enjoy as it involves painters and their art. Or at the very least you might be able to critique how unrealistic it is.
By: PT Dilloway on June 20, 2014
haha! my 'brush' with celebrity was dancing at a dallas nightclub next to rich little.
By: TexWisGirl on June 20, 2014
I once gave Helen Gurley Brown directions to the NYC downtown post office...pretty week compared to hitting Jerry Brown with a VW.
By: Cranky on June 20, 2014
I met Terry Fox (Canadian) during a stop in my hometown on his heroic effort to run across the country. Raising Cancer awareness and funds for research.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 20, 2014
You have lived a most interesting life!!
By: Tabor on June 20, 2014
Once I helped some big shot with something (can't remember what) and later learned he was a famous C&W singer. I guess I wasn't impressed as I forgot his name 5 minutes later.
By: Scott Park on June 20, 2014
That is priceless. I once turned down the really crude pickup line of a household name in pro golf. Then I rubbed it in by seeing him later at the same restaurant with his rival as my date. I won't name him but referred to him in a post as "arrogant golfer guy.".
By: Akansas Patti on June 20, 2014
Selling your VW Bug...kind of like your version of the Jon (John) Voight car bought by George Costanza. Except his was not the actual celebrity.
By: Val on June 20, 2014
Only local celebrities, no one you would know.
By: mimi on June 20, 2014
That's really a moment to remember! I lived in NYC for years and never met a celebrity. :(
By: Lexa Cain on June 20, 2014
Nope, nada, color me unworldly. I'm surprised you didn't get sued for that little tap!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on June 20, 2014
Not an encounter like that - wow, imagine if it had happened today! They would probably think you were a terrorist....
By: Jenny on June 20, 2014
It's a good thing you can't hear my cackling because I'm very loud. This post is hilarious. I've seen some celebrities but not because I hit them with my car. I've spoken to them at shows or book signings. Pat Conroy is my favorite. What a kind man. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 20, 2014
What a story! I have not had a close encounter with a celebrity. Probably because I avoid crowds where a celebrity might be found.
By: red on June 20, 2014
What a great story! You totally would have won the radio station contest if you'd gotten through!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on June 20, 2014
Good thing you hit Jerry Brown and not Arnold Schwarzenegger!
By: Tom Sightings on June 21, 2014
Because I live in Ottawa, (capitol city of canada) I see all sorts of political 'celebrities' I saw Jack Layton talking on the phone outside a building called L'esplanade.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on June 21, 2014
Lovely story. There are more than a few politicians over here in the UK who I would like to run over!
By: Bryan Jones on June 21, 2014
Great story, and I, too, think you would have won the contest. No famous celebrity encounters for me (unless you count the former Governor of Florida, who was on the same flight from Tampa to Washington, D.C. with me once - and I did speak to him and got his photo). My husband went to college with Natalie Merchant (she used to sing with the 10,000 Maniacs, but has been on her own for many years).
By: Pixel Peeper on June 21, 2014
Magnificent story. That certainly tops 99% of any celebrity encounter I've read or heard of.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 21, 2014
Great story, Stephen, and you were rewarded for it!
By: Catalyst on June 21, 2014
It's unbelievable that he landed on the hood, looked at you, got a bit of windshielding, and jumped off as if nothing happened. Really, nobody was after you? Well, then again, we're talking Jerry Brown. The only thing he is STILL famous for is dating Linda Rondstat.
By: Robyn Engel on June 21, 2014
Very funny Stephen. I'm sure there are some people who wish you had more than a scratch to show for your encounter.
By: flip on June 21, 2014
One evening while dining at Faneil Hall in Boston, I saw Ted Turner at a nearby table with a woman who was obviously NOT his wife. I had never asked anybody for an autograph, but my young son admired Ted because he was rich. I walked over to the table and Ted saw me approach and checked me out (basically undressed me) and I told him about my son and asked for his autograph. He smiled and kept learing at me, signed the menu and wished my son well in the future. Totally creepy guy.
By: Laurel on June 22, 2014
I have two celebrity in airplane encounters. Sweet Man and I were on our way to New Orleans and we boarded a plane here in ABQ and there sat Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn (country singers) fame. He was quite rude, oops did I say that???? And then when I was traveling for my sorority I was on a plane bound for Dallas when this really hot blonde guy came down the aisle to go to the back of the plane. It was Clint Eastwood. On his way back up the aisle, I asked for his autograph. He was very sweet and I still have the napkin he signed. I think your car knew what it was doing, personally.....just saying. tee hee
By: Oma Linda on June 22, 2014
Called Jack Lemmon"s little poodle (Frosty) a dirty little bugger since I groomed him and Frosty kept peeing on himself. Jaclk Lemmon was cool about it and tipped very generous, even with a yellow front leg.
By: Hilde on June 22, 2014
This had me laughing.
By: John on June 25, 2014
There sure was a lot of "accidentally did this and accidentally did that" to that accident. (LOL?)
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on June 25, 2014
You have had an interesting life. I have met up with a few celebrities in my time but never with my car. Today that would of got you 1000s of tweets, and a video on Youtube.
By: Cheryl P. on June 25, 2014
The final moment with the windshield wipers is priceless!
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 11, 2014

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