• John McDaniel, Midway Correspondent

Sam Shepard in Midway

This week began on a sad note when it was announced Monday that Sam Shepard had passed away the on Thursday, leaving Midway without its noted Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, author and Oscar-nominated actor. Shepard, who reportedly died from complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or what's more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, could often be seen around Midway as he often used the far corners of the local restaurants and patios to isolate himself as he ate his lunch or dinner away from the more active areas while he made notes in his notebook or read from whatever he happened to be reading at the time. I met Sam as I have met so many other people who have made their way through Midway. Several years ago, I was sitting at the bar at The Black Tulip, now the Grey Goose, and watching the women's college fast-pitch playoffs on the overhead TV screen above the bar. This guy came in wearing boots, blue jeans, the wind had blown his hair in every direction, and he took a seat beside me and ordered a shot of Patron Tequila said "hi" and looked up at the TV screen and began to question me why I liked watching women play fast-pitch softball. When I told him that was what was playing when I came in, he laughed. I said if he would rather watch something else we could get the bartender to change the channel. He gulped down his shot of tequila and ordered another, I drank my Miller Lite, asked the bartender if she would change the channel and we watched the horse races and talked about horses. He said that he had some horses that he had racing but it was more like a hobby. He was friendly enough but a bit reserved in his conversation as I drank another Miller and he did another shot of tequila. I had to leave and said goodbye and he replied that he would probably see me around again. Like I said, he wasn't much on conversation, at least not that particular day. However, he was right - he did see me around again and I later discovered that he was one of the most interesting conversationalists that I have ever had the pleasure to talk to. In fact, he turned out to be one of the most interesting people that I have ever known. I soon learned that this windswept cowboy-looking fellow was actually a movie star and that he was once nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie, "The Right Stuff." I was also informed that he had bought a farm and would be living just outside of Midway. That was pretty neat but I didn't really know that much about his work. To me, he was just somebody who had been in a movie - no big deal - after all, Star Trek's William Shatner came around town a few times a year. To me, people in movies and on TV were pretty much like everyone else except most of them had more money than they knew what to do with. I later found out that Sam wasn't like a lot of other movie people. After seeing him around town almost every day after our first meeting, I quickly discovered that he was without a doubt a curiosity and it was comical to sit back and watch people's reaction once they recognized who he was as he sat in one of the corner booths in one of Midway's restaurants. Women would spot him and would have to walk by his booth. It is interesting how far out of the way women would walk to get a closer look as they made their way to go to the ladies' room, not looking where they were going, bumping into chairs as they stared at him. One night when he was eating at the Heirloom Restaurant with Phil Gerrow, a Midway resident and a contractor who did most of the work on Shepard's Kentucky home, there was a group of ladies at the front of the restaurant who recognized who Sam was and of course they began giggling like a bunch of high school teenagers. Their next course of action was a trip to the bathroom. Each one of the six ladies made their way, one at a time, each coming back to the table verifying the fact that the guy sitting in the booth was definitely the Sam Shepard. Henry Wombles, who was co-owner of the Heirloom at that time, and I sat at the bar, wondering what it would be like to garner that much attention. After a while, there were others in the restaurant who recognized Sam and the normal table chatter that filled the room began to drop to a steady murmur, fingers began to point as heads shook in agreement and people at the tables would wave their waitresses over to have them confirm that the person sitting in the booth was indeed Sam Shepard. That's when people started getting up from their tables to head for the bathrooms, slowing down as they passed Sam's booth. The scene became even funnier as some of the women would make several trips to the powder room, but there was this one lady, all dressed up in a very nice-looking yellow dress, who must have been on some serious diuretic pills or the Heirloom food was seriously disagreeing with her, as Henry and I set at the bar and counted nine round-trips from her table to the bathroom and back again, using the longest route possible so that she could walk close to Sam's booth. That's the way people acted when they visited Midway and recognized Sam Shepard at one of the restaurants in town. It was very seldom they would actually stop to ask him for an autograph, as most of them would just stare at him. Midway residents would smile and speak, but I only knew a few that ever bothered him for a picture or autograph. Town's people made it a point to respect his privacy and I believe that is why he liked Midway so much. Every once in a while, someone would gather up enough nerve to ask for an autograph or ask if he would have their picture taken with him. Sometimes he would accommodate them with a great big smile, other times he would be very reluctant but relenting, and other times he would refuse and totally embarrass the person who dared to make such a request. Such refusals were mild indeed compared to the verbal tongue lashing that he gave the people that would walk up a few feet away and begin setting off flashes from their cameras, and he would remind them that he wasn't some animal in the zoo. Knowing that he couldn't very well take their camera's away, he would warned them that he better not see or hear about the picture appearing on Facebook or anywhere else. This was just the beginning of me getting to know Sam Shepard. Little did I know that we would later have many interesting talks, discussing politics, religion, horses, dogs, and probably a few subjects that Wikipedia has yet to research. The more I learned about him, I discovered that he was more than just a face on a screen, as he was very intelligent, he could be rude, he could be funny, he could be compassionate, and he had days that he didn't give a damn. I like him because he once told me that he really did like Midway and that it had a quality that even he had a hard time finding the words to describe the area around here. Maybe that's why he chose to spend his last days here.

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