Back in 1991, I was living in northeastern Illinois, in a town called
Waukegan. I worked at the Zion Nuclear Generating Station in Zion, Illinois,
8 miles north of Waukegan. I had read in the local paper that there was
going to be a speedboat race which would take place in Winthrop Harbor,
Illinois, 3 miles north of Zion. Winthrop Harbor had just opened its new
marina there and it was to be used that day to launch all the speedboats.
The paper listed a few celebrities who were going to be there, one of whom
was none other than Stephen Stills himself, and he was going to be the
co-pilot of The Queen Of The Amazon, a huge, sleek looking affair. You can
see a picture of it on the cover of his 1984 solo record "Right By You".
Anyway, the race was on a Sunday, and as luck would have it, I was working
that day, a victim of our mandatory overtime policy at the Nuke Station.
Mandatory overtime wasn't a bad thing, it was double time after all, and
not much work was done as a rule. We were there just as coverage, "just in
case". In fact, our Supervisor thought it would be a cool thing to haul some
grills and coolers up on the roof of the place and have a barbeque party
while enjoying a bird's eye view of the race. It was sweet, alright. As high
up as we were, we could see all the way to Chicago, so it was no problem to
see down to Waukegan, which was where they would race to and then turn
around at and head back to Winthrop Harbor again, and just make loop after
loop, back and forth from Waukegan Harbor to Winthrop Harbor. We figured it
was a good 20 mile loop, and they did at least ten laps.
And this was all quite cool.
Except that I had a burning desire to meet Steve Stills, and here I was,
trapped at work. I needed a plan. I ended up telling some of my buddies of
my intentions to sneak out for an hour or so, and go meet Stephen, snap a
shot or two and then sneak back. All I wanted was somebody to cover for me.
If I got caught, it could have meant criminal charges, as this was a Nuclear
facility, and to walk off the job, even for a few minutes would have been
tantamount to abandoning my post.
So I did the only thing I could do. I snuck out.
I headed up to the Harbor and got there an hour before the races started. I
searched all around and saw the Amazon. I headed over there, figuring that
Stills could not be far away. I was right. He was doing some things over by
the boat, readying it for launch. Incredibly, almost no one was around him.
No crowds of fans, no autograph hounds, nothing like what you would think.
He appeared to be pretty busy, and I felt a little bad about bugging him,
but here I was with my job on the line to meet him and I figured I'm not
about to let this one pass me by. So I walked right up to him and said
"Hiya, Stephen!! He looked up and said "What's happening?", and then he saw
my camera and I saw a look come over his face, kinda like an "Oh no, another
picture taking autograph seeker" look. He must go through that till he's
sick of it, I guess I don't really blame him. I said "I'm not gonna bug ya,
Steve, I just came up here from work, I'm a huge fan and I just wanted to
meet ya", or words to that effect. He said "Yeah, well glad to meet you, but
I'm busy here and I gotta get this done so we can launch".
I felt like I was really imposing already, so I told him of how I snuck out
of work and how I could get canned from my job for doing so if I got caught,
and he softened up a bit. I think he said "Jeez", or "Damn!" or something
like that. He said he wished things weren't so hectic, cuz then he could
answer a few of my questions or sign some album covers or something, but he
really did need to get going. I said "That's cool Steve. Could I just take
one photo, and I'll be on my way?" He said "Yeah, sure", and then just stood
up straight and put on a smile and I snapped the picture. I wish I had had
the presence of mind to ask someone nearby to snap one of Stephen and I
together, but I really felt like I was bugging him, plus I was worried a bit
about getting back to work. I said "OK Stephen, thanks a lot. I work at the
Nuke Plant over there and me and my friends will be up on the roof watching
the race, good luck!" He said "That's great, we'll see ya there!" I shook
hands with him, and then I split. I kicked myself all the way back to work
for not having been more assertive in trying to get a picture of the two of
us together, but oh well.
I got back to the plant and no one knew that I had gone except for the few
close friends that I had told about it. I tell ya, I was just bursting to
tell somebody about my meeting Stills, but didn't dare to. At any rate, the
race soon started, the burgers and bratwurst were cookin' and a great time
was had by all. Still's boat performed well, but didn't win. It was exciting
all the same.
I remember one of my buddies saying "Hey, Bill, I guess your man Stills
ought to stick to playing that guitar, he sure ain't no speedboat driver!"
Well, Stephen was only the co-pilot, not the driver, but he was right. He
sure as hell is a great guitar player.
I sure hope I catch him again sometime when he's not so busy. I'd like to
remind him of that day. And next time, I WILL get a photo of the two of us
together. That's fer sure!!
Bill Haines Nashville, TN