Showing posts with label great western forum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label great western forum. Show all posts

Monday, 12 August 2013

Tea with Tait: The Gretzky Tales - Part I

(We celebrated 25 years of Wayne Gretzky leaving Edmonton for the Los Angeles Kings last week. This week I am sharing my personal memories of Wayne from my personal collection. Tonight: I couldn't believe he wanted to talk to me.)

Cam and Wayne in the Kings dressing room

February 4, 1989 — The L.A. Times, Philadelphia Enquirer, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and other media had gathered around the far corner stall of the Los Angeles Kings dressing room in a semi-circle looking for the first quote from  Wayne Gretzky.
The Kings had just played the Buffalo Sabres at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and the media wanted answers on his four-point night: a hat-trick and an assist. Wayne saw me outside the semi-circle and stood up.
“Could the rest of you wait for a minute?” Wayne asked the other reporters.  “I need to talk to Cam from Edmonton.
“Cammie, get in here. Got your tape recorder working? Let’s do this.”
I kind of felt bad knowing other reporters were on deadline for the late night news in a few hours as well as the next day’s paper. But I jumped at the chance, as everyone did, to talk to Wayne.  He had a friend back in Edmonton who had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Earlier that day at the Kings’ morning skate, Wayne asked me if I could write a story in The Edmonton Journal where I was working as a reporter that might help the cause. I was in Los Angeles on a little holiday and didn’t have any reporting gear so I made a quick shopping trip to buy a small pocket recorder.
Great Western Forum in Los Angeles

SO WHILE OTHER reporters in the room anxiously looked at their watch every 30 seconds with their looming deadlines, Wayne talked to me for a good 10 minutes about his friend, how he wanted to help and where people could donate.
It was a heartfelt story. And, more importantly, Wayne was answering my questions.
For years, he could not understand me because I have cerebral palsy.
I first met Wayne in the Crown Suite of the Westin Hotel in Edmonton in July of 1979. He was at a reception the night before a charity softball game and I went as a reporter with The Spokesman, a monthly newspaper in Edmonton about people with disabilities. I wasn’t using a tape recorder then and had my trusty notebook and pen.
I wheeled up to Wayne and introduced myself and asked if I could ask him a few questions. He had a confused look on his face and then, very gently, took my notepad and pen from me.
“I would be thrilled to give you my autograph,” he said in kindness. “Who do I make it to?”
I explained myself. This time, he even looked more confused.
Wayne turned to Herman Wierenga, a colleague from The Spokesman who was at the event with me. “What did he say?”
Herman repeated what I said, and Wayne agreed to answer my questions. He couldn’t understand me so Herman kindly acted as my interpreter.
I bet that’s the first interview Wayne did with both parties speaking English.

The crown suite is on the top floor of the Westin Edmonton

OVER THE NEXT  few years I would run into Wayne after Oiler games. And for those years we said hello but, not much else. In 1982, Wayne played in a floor hockey game with kids with  mental disabilities. I arranged to interview Wayne outside the Oiler dressing room after a recent home game.
My buddy Gerry Postma was with me and Wayne led us into a quiet corner under the stands where I asked my first question.
Wayne had that confused look on his face. Again. He then turned to Gerry and asked: “What did he say?”
And then it happened again: I interviewed Wayne with Gerry as my interrupter  — with all of us speaking the same language.
But that all changed in 1983. And I’ll tell you how Tuesday.