“What are you going to say?” Kristin Alberts asked for the third time. I shrugged. I had no answer. In all my years, I never expected to be at this point — waiting to see one of my idols.
“I don’t know,” I responded in earnest.
“You have to think of something poignant to say. It’s Chuck Norris,” she enunciated, her Wisconsin accent impressing the words on me even more.
It wasn’t a name. It was a statement. Chuck Norris.
My love of Chuck started back in my younger years, pigtails swinging from each side of my head. I spent many days tucked away in a back bedroom of my grandparents’ home, belly down on a floral bedspread watching Walker Texas Ranger. My parents worked long hours and as such, I spent most of my early years digesting the programming at my grandparents. Chuck, of course, was a staple in cable broadcasting in the mid-90s.
Walker Texas Ranger was one of the only shows I deemed entertaining enough to regularly tune into. I watched in amazement as he always got the bad guy and with such flair that it was hard not to be mesmerized by his martial arts moves. Occasionally, I would hop out of bed and emulate what I saw. Kick to the chest. Punch to the face. The imaginary bad guy falling dramatically out of plate glass window while I, Jacki Tennessee Ranger, stood triumphantly above — saving the day once again — in pigtails and purple overalls, of course.
Chuck’s work has always been synonymous with kicking butt and taking names. The epitome of action stars, films like Lone Wolf McQuade, Missing in Action and Way of the Dragon somehow transcended time finding fans in every generation – illustrated by the array of fans, young and old, patiently waiting to see the movie star.
Now, decades later I stood in a ridiculously long line with everyone else waiting for the opportunity to meet the man himself. Kristin and my plan to meet Chuck formed after Glock announced across social media that he would attend the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. What started as banter on Facebook, quickly evolved into a full-fledged commitment to meet Chuck. Texting Kristin upon arrival at the show that morning with the schedule, we agreed to meet up for the 1 p.m. signing.
“I’m under the Mossberg sign, across from Glock,” my phone alerted me a little after noon. I steered towards Kristin’s location and scanned the crowd. Almost immediately, I saw Kristin’s familiar, friendly face and blue Guns.com polo shirt. She was immersed in a line that wrapped around the corner, her Canon camera and monopod in one hand and phone in the other.
“I should have gotten in line earlier,” she said, a half apology.
“No worries. I’m later than I thought I would be.” I slipped in line with her, muttering an apology and a shoulder shrug to the lady behind her scowling at my disregard for proper line procedure. “How long do you think this will be?” I asked Kristin, hoping it would be a fast endeavor. I had stories to write, pictures to capture and deadlines looming – the life of a journalist pounding the proverbial pavement at a major show.
“The line starts on the other side of the Glock booth, then winds over here,” she said gesturing to the area we occupied opposite Glock. “They should process everyone fast, right?” It was half question, half hope-filled statement.
Years ago, I stood in line for 30 minutes to see R. Lee Ermey, aka Gunny, Glock’s much-beloved representative since the early 2000s. The line to meet him at NRAAM in Nashville had moved swiftly. I even had time to ask him a few questions so there was no reason to think today’s wait wouldn’t compare.
The energy in the room shifted suddenly as a flock of people descended upon the Glock booth. A sea of people, phones out chattered enthusiastically. “He’s here.” A couple in line ahead of us whispered to each other.
“Do you see him?” Kristin asked, attempting to peek around the fans in front of us.
I stood on my tiptoes, stretching out my entire 5-foot 2-inch frame desperate to grab a look. For a brief moment, I saw the top of brown hair. “I think I saw his head,” I responded.
“He’s up there, but he’s surrounded.” The 6-foot man in front of us explained. “Everybody loves Chuck.” I briefly contemplated asking this tall stranger in front of me if he would lift me on his shoulders like a child to get a better view, but somewhere that seemed too weird even for Chuck Norris. I glanced at my watch. It was now 1 o’clock. Chuck was officially on the clock signing autographs.
I shifted the backpack on my shoulders as I rocked from one foot to the other.
“We should have had someone from Guns.com bring us something to eat,” Kristin quipped an hour into the wait. My stomach growled in response. We were no closer to the Glock booth, in fact, we were still across the aisle, contained within the confines of red rope that twisted and turned. My desperation grew. I looked down at my watch for the thousandth time. It was just after 2 p.m.
“I feel so bad. I should be working, not wasting my time standing in line,” I said to Kristin.
“It’s not a waste. It’s Chuck,” Kristin replied casually. As we stood in line we chatted about her love of Chuck. She too had been introduced as a kid and was enamored with him. The thought of spending a whole day in line, simply to meet Chuck and get a picture was just par for the course for one of his biggest fans.
“You’re going to ask him something, right?” I leaned against the back of the Glock booth, my feet seriously aching now. It had been close to two hours of standing on thin carpet laid over concrete floors.
“Yeah, I feel like I should,” I responded.
“What are you going to say?” The question that loomed over my head. I looked back at my reporter’s notebook. I had jotted a few notes down in the event we got an interview.
-Fave Chuck Norris meme/joke?
-Open or concealed carry? Which Glock?
-How’s your first NRAAM?
“I guess one of these,” I turned the notebook where she could read. “Because I suppose ‘Will you marry me’ is out of the question since his wife is here.”
Kristin laughed heartily, her cheeks turning red with amusement. “You could always try.”
Kristin and I passed the time talking about all things Chuck. Our favorite movies, what he must be like on set and whether he would sign the Glock 19 nestled in my holster. (The verdict on that was no.) We took the time to brainstorm future articles, fleshing out ideas and topics for Guns.com. Kristin was easy to talk to, her good-natured demeanor making her the perfect partner to pass the time with.
I looked down at my watch as we wrapped up a conversation on different techniques we used to film b-roll for video reviews. 2:45 p.m. A Glock rep walked through the aisles announcing that Chuck would only sign until 3 p.m. At that point, he’d be whisked away for a break until his next signing at 4 p.m. If we didn’t make it to him in the next 15 minutes, we’d be waiting another hour. The fans behind us audibly groaned. I looked nervously at Kristin. She suggested edging closer to the Glock rep and flashing the press pass. See if it could move us through to Chuck before the 3 p.m. cutoff.
We moseyed closer. Chuck was in full sight now, seated beside his beautiful blonde wife. Kristin and I both nervously giggled like school girls but the ringing sound of an iPhone alarm snapped us out of our flights of girlish fancy.
“I have to shut this down. It’s 3,” the Glock rep said apologetically.
I touched my press pass. “We’ve got deadlines. Our editor really wants this for a celeb gallery we’re doing.” I said, which didn’t deviate too far from the truth. I knew we’d sit for another hour for Chuck Norris but that would be one more hour away from the assigned work I was at NRAAM to do. My heart pounded as I watched the Glock rep, the man who held our fate in his hands, contemplate whether to let us slip by. Was this it?
He nodded us forward. “I’m sorry, folks,” I could hear the rep say behind us.
I said a hearty thank you as we sidled up to Gena, Chuck’s wife. “Hi Jacki, where are you from?” She asked glancing at my press pass.
Without thinking I blurted, “Guns.com” but then backtracked and shakily said, “Tennessee. I’m from Tennessee.”
She commented on the beauty of Tennessee, then asked how the show was going as she wrote my name on a post-it note and passed it to Chuck. “Great now!” I responded with too much enthusiasm.
“What do you think of Glock’s decision to hire Chuck?” Gena asked as Chuck moved the post-it to his line of sight and began signing my name on the picture Glock commissioned for the event. He looked up briefly, waiting for my answer.
“I think it’s the smartest decision Glock could have made. Gunny left some big shoes and I think you’re the only one to fill them,” I said, staring at the legend in front of me.
He smiled warmly. “Well thank you for that, Jacki. I appreciate your support. How are you today?”
“Great!” I practically shouted. “Can I get a picture? It’s for Guns.com. We love you,” I asked as he handed the signed photo to me.
“Sure you can.” He walked around the table as I handed my phone to the Glock employee designated as the photographer. He draped his arm around my shoulders and hugged me tightly. He smelled of roundhouse kicks and awesomeness. I smiled — the biggest, goofiest grin as the camera’s shutter snapped. He let go and I grabbed my phone. “Does your friend want a picture to?” He asked, noticing Kristin with her phone out and at the ready. She said yes before I could respond — the sign of a truly loyal friend. Grabbing me again, Chuck and I faced Kristin who fired off a few photos.
As I stood next to the legendary actor, I was fully immersed in the experience. So much so that the reporter’s notebook in the pocket of my red blazer was completely unnoticed by me. My moment to ask him one of those questions I had mulled over for two hours passed as I thanked him for his time.
“I hope to see you again, Jacki.” He said with a wave.
“Oh, you will,” I said before mentally kicking myself for how creepy and stalker-like that sounded. Kristin was up next. I pulled my Canon Mark II to eye level, snapping photos as she chatted with Chuck. She took a picture with him then, before we knew it, our time was up. Chuck was whisked out of the signing area as we made our way through the crowd, spilling onto the main thoroughfare.
My shaky hands clutched the picture of Chuck as I tried to calm my racing heart. “Did that just happen?” I asked Kristin, my voice coming out as a high-pitched squeal.
“I’m not going to get anything else done today! I’m going to be thinking about this all day,” she responded back enthusiastically.
It was there amongst the crowd teeming in the aisles that I remembered my purpose. I was a journalist with the responsibility to ask questions. In the presence of greatness, I had failed. I had not asked a simple question of Chuck Norris. I hung my head slightly. In all my years as a working journalist, I had never failed an assignment. Never failed to get my story. This was a first.
I sighed deeply at the missed opportunity. “I totally blanked. I didn’t ask him anything,” I told Kristin.
“You met Chuck Norris and he hugged you!” She emphasized with a look that told me I was crazy for being sad. Ultimately, she was right. I had met one of my idols and he lived up to the hype.
Though I failed to complete my task of interviewing Chuck, the autograph tucked into the protected laptop sleeve of my backpack was a subtle reminder that all was not lost. I can’t say what his favorite Chuck Norris meme is or what model Glock he carries but I, at the very least, came away with a story.