On Feb. 7, 1996, I caught this ad in the events section of The Daily Cougar, the school newspaper at the University of Houston.
Wheel — KHOU-TV (Channel 11) is looking for 120 college students to try out for a chance to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. Students must be between 18 and 24 years old and able to test in Houston Saturday at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m.
At this point in my life, things were starting to turn around from the academic implosion I was going through at the time. I had met a girl, and I had finally gotten around to asking her out on a first date. That date? Yep, the same Saturday as the “Wheel of Fortune” audition. That’s more of an aside, though.
I called the number, and before the end of the day, I got a call back from KHOU. She said I had been one of the 120 students selected to audition for the show, and I needed to show up to a local hotel Saturday morning for the 11 a.m. audition.
I remember being super nervous about the audition. I had watched a couple episodes of the show between getting the call and heading to the audition, and thankfully, the rules had not changed much in the two decades the show had been on the air. I familiarized myself with some of the new puzzle types such as “Fill in the Blank,” and felt pretty confident. Still nervous, yet confident.
When I got to the hotel, I checked in at a table and was led to a room where the audition would take place. I’m not lying to you when I say I nearly passed out. There were about 200 people in the room. I was part of a cattle call. Moooo.
When I was in high school, I got a job at the local movie theater during my junior year. It was a pretty sweet deal. They would pay me $4.25 an hour, and I would come home smelling like popcorn… ALL THE TIME!
It was a Cinemark theater, and I had to wear green fluorescent suspenders over a white dress shirt, matching green bow tie (a fake, of course), and black pants. When I worked concession, which everybody does at first, I had to wear a heavy plastic apron that felt like linoleum. Covering the apron was a bunch of Cinemark artwork featuring Front Row Joe. Follow the link… you’ll be sad you did.
I had my first girlfriend in my junior year. Our first date was to go see “Wayne’s World” (Excellent). That petered out somewhere around “the day after prom.” I was pretty down about it, but at least I was making massive bank at the Cinemark. You know, $4.25 in 1992 is about $35 in 2012 currency.
Summer is the busy season at the movies, and 1992 was no different. College folks were coming back home, and some of them would come to work at the theater. That’s when I met Julie Byars. We both worked in the concession, and, like me, she was lured to the Cinemark with the prospect of $4.25 an hour and free movie passes.
There was something about this college girl, who had just finished her first year, that struck me as awesome. To this day, I can’t tell you what it was, but I was clearly smitten. I had never blown off curfew for any reason whatsoever. That’s mostly due to how hum-drum things were back then for me. For her, though, I willingly blew off curfew three times. Sorry, mom. Read more…