UPON LEARNING WHERE someone is from, I try to build a bridge to that person by identifying a mutual acquaintance.

You’re from Marshfield. Hmmm. Do you know Steve and Denise Barg? You attended the University of Oklahoma. Are you familiar with Zach Messitte? You winter in Florida. Ever met a guy named Jeb?

I almost always strike out in my attempt to find common ground.

But I don’t give up.

And I’m glad for that.

Two weeks ago, I hit pay dirt.

We were in Elgin, Ill., for a family reunion. My second cousin, Sharon Cross, offered to take my brother, sister and niece on a driving tour to see where our grandpa, his sisters and their parents lived, worked, drank beer and fished. ...

Sharon narrated the route; her husband, Ken, was our chauffeur.

Upon learning that Ken grew up in Wheaton, Ill., I casually began my did-you-know game.

“Did you know Bob Woodward of Watergate fame?”

Ken failed to bite on my hook.

Did you know the Belushi family?

“Well, my younger sister and brother knew Jim Belushi.”

Cool, I had a fish on the line.

“But I was best friends with John Belushi during our school-age years.”

I’d landed a marlin.

Before we saw where Aunt Elsie was born and Grandpa Carl went to school and Great-Grandma Alvina baked cookies, Ken regaled us with tales of growing up palling around with “Joliet” Jake Blues and John “Bluto” Blutarsky.


... Ken’s stories reminded us of scenes from Belushi’s greatest roles. ...

Ken would sit across the table from Belushi in the school cafeteria. One lunchtime, Belushi stuck a jello square on the end of his fork and flicked it over his shoulder at the poor saps sitting behind him.

A food fight ensued.

Belushi calmly got up and walked out of the cafeteria, opening the door to exit just as the principal arrived.

The student’s eyes met the principal’s. Belushi shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes in mock disgust.

He then walked out of that cafeteria scot-free while other students, including Ken, had to serve detention.

Next weekend, Green Lake will celebrate July 4th with a “Saturday Night Live” themed boat parade. I suspect there may be Coneheads driving Chris-Crafts and perhaps Roseanne Roseannadanna bringing up the rear in a kayak bearing a sign that reads, “Never mind.”

But I’d ride in any boat powered by Ken Cross just to hear more stories about his boyhood buddy...

I, for one, won’t stop playing the do-you-know game, in my attempts to turn strangers.

You never know when you’ll meet someone who might just have started a food fight with a legend.

To read the entire column, see the June 25, 2014 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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