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My Life: Certainly not looking for a fight with these guys

By David Rogers. BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — In the early 1980s, I went to a friend’s wedding in San Diego, where I was living and working at the time. It was a California-casual event in the early summer at a country club, so I was dressed in an all-white outfit: a short-sleeve golf shirt and long Canterbury trousers, with white tennis shoes.

I had some champagne at the reception but not that much, really, because I usually worked on Sunday, doing some pretty intense stock market research. So I wasn’t looking for any kind of distraction, even if it was the weekend.

On the way home from the wedding reception, I decided I was hungry for some Mexican food from my favorite drive-up eatery a little south and west of downtown. Operated by a family from south of the border, it was pretty authentic fare and really good.

Next door to the restaurant was a non-descript bar, a dark gray building with no windows and little in the way of lights or signage to beckon a visitor. I had never been interested in setting foot in the place but as I was waiting for my food, up walked a young woman I had met before while waiting for my tacos and burritos. It turns out, she worked as a waitress at the bar and after some banter back and forth she invited me to drop into where she worked.

After I finished my meal, I ventured over to the bar. Now I knew nothing about this place, but when I walked in it was very dark, with the only real light coming from floodlights pointed at a dance floor in the back of the room. It may have been very dark but it didn’t take me long to realize that I, in my all-white outfit, was the only Caucasian in the place. The waitress was Hispanic and this was San Diego, after all, so it never occurred to me that I would be stumbling into any kind of special nightclub.

It didn’t bother me that I was in what was obviously an African-American establishment, although I did get a few curious stares. It would be an understatement to say I stood out in my all-white garb. A young Black woman approached and chatted for awhile before asking me to dance.

I was having a good time, movin’ and groovin’ to the music and talking with my new friend when the waitress came up, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Those gentlemen over there at the first table would like to speak with you.”

Suddenly, I became more aware of my surroundings and grew nervous. Thoughts raced through my mind: Had I offended someone? Was I dancing with someone’s girlfriend?

My anxiety grew as I approached the table and the three men stood up to seemingly tower before me. While I was not tiny in stature, these guys struck me as huge, broad-shouldered and very muscular, looking to be in their 30s or 40s.

The guy closest to me extended his hand in greeting and said with a big smile, “We just had to meet you. You have some cojones and you look like you are having fun.”

When I responded that I was having a good time but hoped I was not offending anyone he said, “Oh no. My name is Ken Norton. This is Ernie Shavers and Joe Frazier.”

I am pretty sure I got the names right. In turn, I was shaking hands with three of the world’s greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.

They invited me to sit with them and I did but don’t remember much about the conversation. I had to admit to them that I wasn’t much of a boxing fan, but certainly was a sports junkie already by that time in my life and knew who they were. What I didn’t know, of course, was how terrific they were as individuals. Gone were the menacing snarls in the boxing ring. They were just everyday people, out having a good time.

I grew up in a very bigoted culture, in Oildale, California, just north of Bakersfield. But beginning with my freshman year in college when my best friend was a nationally ranked quarter miler and through experiences like this one in San Diego, I grew to realize that we all have more similarities than differences. We are all people with joys, problems, accomplishments, goals and passions coursing through the highs and lows of life.

And life is good… if we just allow it to be.

 

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