THEY WERE TALL and short, fat and thin, old and young. They wore army fatigues and crisp suits and rhinestone-encrusted t-shirts that read “Queen Bitch” tight against prepubescent chests. They came from Russia and the Dominican Republic and the Main Line, by train, by car, on foot; by wheelchair, by walker, escorted by interpreters from the School for the Deaf. On a Sunday afternoon, they braved the record rainfall and 45-mile-an-hour winds of a nor’easter to stand under the sallow fluorescent lights in the faintly chemical-smelling air of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, just for a few moments with him.
“Who is this?” At the head of the receiving line, a petite mother with light-brown hair jiggled a toddler, who shyly inserted his fist in his mouth. “Do you know who this is?” she prodded. The boy nodded. He seemed dazed. A small stream of drool dripped languorously onto the collar of his tiny polo shirt. “It’s the Hurricane,” she said.
The man they had come to see, NBC 10 weatherman Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, who was clad in a similar shirt — although his was drool-free and embroidered with a bow tie in red and blue, the bow tie being his signature look — leaned over the booth and posed for a picture with mother and son. Then, his arm still aching from recent surgery on his rotator cuff, he scrawled a cheerful signature on a black-and-white head shot and turned to the line of mostly adults awaiting their turn with the man who was clearly the most popular NBC personality at the station’s annual Fit Fest. One by one, they paid homage, and made offerings and requests.
“HurriCANE! My man. How about this weather?” asked a Glaxo employee whose name tag read “Jamaal.”
“I’m a costume designer. I’m going to send you some bow ties, okay?”
“She wants to know, what happened to your arm?”
A Middle European accent, sultry: “You are my fahvoreet star. I luf you.”
When the queue got held up, as it often did when someone spent more than a passing moment with fellow NBC 10’er Doug Kammerer, who sat to his left, Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz pre-autographed more head shots, so the people at the far end of the line wouldn’t have to go home empty-handed when he ducked out to have lunch with his nieces.
“Just a couple more snow days next year for the teachers, okay, Hurricane?” a middle-aged blonde pleaded. “My mother is a teacher, and they have a shrine to you in her classroom. They have a Snow Club, and they worship Hurricane Schwartz.”
IT SOUNDS ABSURD, but "worship" is actually an apt description of what was in the air surrounding the NBC 10 booth at Fit Fest. The culture as a whole is enamored with fame; we’re so lousy with celebrities that practically anyone can stand in a booth and a line of autograph-seekers will form in front of him like lemmings ready to go off the cliff. But at Fit Fest, the lemmings were there for a reason. The people sitting in the NBC 10 booth weren’t flash-in-the-pan reality stars or pop stars — they were our people.