Jan. 10, 2012 — Last week I had the pleasure of casually strolling into a Main Street eatery and sliding into a booth across a freshly bleached table from the mighty Ben Wade — famous for his work with the college soccer teams, the Susanville Symphony, his world-record-breaking kayak trip, a daring escape from famished, spear-toting natives on the Amazon River, a book based on his journals, another in his own write, a rock and roll movie and, of course, his participation in the Survivor reality television show.
Ah, yes, it was just little old me and Coach — that gnarly, long-haired, tattoo-wearin’, back-stabbin’, alliance-bustin’, traitor-turnin’, Russell-fightin’ Dragon Slayer — spitting small talk back and forth between big juicy bites of chicken molé enchiladas, steaming chili rellenos, tamales, beans, rice, chips and spicy, spicy salsa.
You see, Ben had bought me lunch quite a while back, and I’ve been trying to return the favor for what seems like years now. (My mom always told me that’s what you were supposed to do.)
After several mix-ups and a few not so near misses, we finally got together.
Believe it or not, I was one of the first people to meet Ben when he roared into Susanville as the new women’s soccer coach up the hill at Lassen Community College a decade or so ago.
I was the sports editor at the newspaper then, and Ben came by to introduce himself.
He also wanted to show off a few members of his gang of international superstar players. Oh my, lots of strange new accents.
Let me refresh the record for those of you who didn’t save the clipping.
Ben brashly boasted about how great his team and this new program would be and how he was going to put good old LCC on the junior college women’s soccer map. Strong talk for the new soccerslinger in town, I said.
“You’ll see,” he said, smiling and wagging his pointy index finger at me when I expressed my honest disbelief. “You’ll see.”
Of course, I took a photo of Ben and his gang sitting by the fountain in Pancera Plaza outside the old Lassen County Times building on Gay Street, and I had an interview for my story introducing his lofty highness clad in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops to our community.
When I walked through the little side door of the old office someone asked me what I thought of our new coach.
I said, “Man, that guy is really full of himself.” I laughed and opined about how the gods of sport hate hubris more than just about anything else. Really, I didn’t expect all that much from him.
Truth be told, under Ben’s leadership, the upstart Lady Cougars went 23-3-0, made it to the final eight in the state tournament and earned the number six ranking in the nation that first year.
Not bad, Coach.
The next year the Lady Cougars earned a number three national ranking and lost the state championship game to the eventual national champion, Long Beach City College. Yep, Ben delivered big time.
It would be incorrect to say Ben brought us the Susanville Symphony, but he’s played a huge role in making the symphony and its academy for young players a success over the years.
And he’s currently working on building a successful men’s soccer program at LCC — the team that went 17-2-3 or something like that last year, according to the newspaper’s sports editor.
In between sips of root beer, an excited teenage girl from San Jose suddenly appeared at the end of our table with a crumpled piece of pink notebook paper seeking an autograph, interrupting our private conversation about his parents’ recent move to Southern California, untellable Survivor secrets, symphony sounds and compositions, movie post production and future soccer team plans.
“You’re Coach from Survivor, aren’t you?” the girl stammered, tripping over her tongue, rapidly bouncing up and down with an odd mixture of excitement and anxiety. “My dad thinks you’re the greatest Survivor player ever, and he’d love to have your autograph. Could you sign this, please?” She continued to praise Coach, and then as Ben handed the ragged, folded piece of paper back to her, she said, “Oh, my God, I don’t believe I got to meet you and get your autograph!”
After she left with a personalized message to her dad, Ben said he can always tell the difference between the Susanville people (who don’t pay undue attention to him) and the out-of-towners (who get all wild and crazed). So, hey. What about me? I’m having lunch with the dude!
I know Ben is one of those people some folks in Susanville just love to hate, and that’s OK. Have fun. Yuck it up. Enjoy yourselves completely. I’m very happy to have made Ben’s acquaintance, and I truly respect and appreciate his many accomplishments.
Ben, I’ll twist tortillas and crumble tacos with you any time. Just don’t forget you promised to call me when Survivor’s superflippin’, tribe-bustin’ John Cochran comes to town.
I mean, Cochran! Cochran! Cochran! OMG! It’s Cochran!
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