By Ralph Hood
Writer’s note: This was first published in The Brunswick (Georgia) newspaper many moons ago.
Some people collect coins, stamps, guns, seashells, or baseball cards. I collect handshakes.
Most collections require a certain amount of organization. You have to keep the collection someplace. You have to catalog it. You have to find it when you want to brag about it or add it up. A handshake collection has none of these drawbacks.
A handshake collection requires no storage space, no maintenance, and no classification system. After you have a given handshake, you don’t need to show it in order to brag about it. You only have to remember it. Stamps, coins, and baseball cards deteriorate, but handshakes improve.
Also, you may occasionally shake a hand that is not then famous but later becomes famous. I shook hands with Kim Basinger when she was in high school. Since then she has become semi-famous in movies requiring little talent and less clothing. The more I think about it, the more I realize it wasn’t just a handshake we shared; it was more like we were sort of holding hands.
I collected Muhammad Ali’s handshake. Ali didn’t want to shake hands with me, didn’t plan to, and wasn’t happy about it afterward. If you think that ruins the story, you just don’t understand handshake collecting.
I was hanging around the airport when Ali flew in for a big charity event. A dozen big shots met his private jet, and I just mingled in, shook Ali’s hand, and said, “I’m not anybody important, I just wanted to shake your hand.”
Ali did not feel honored. He spoke not a word, but his glare made me very much aware that the baddest man in the world was unhappy with me. I departed the premises.
At least that’s the way it seemed at the time. After a few years to cogitate on it, however, I now realize that’s not really the way it went. Actually, Ali was extremely irritated and wanted to do me bodily harm. As he looked into my steely eyes (through my steely glasses) however, he realized my superior strength and wisely held his temper.
See how it works?
I shook hands with Jeanna Yeager and Dick Rutan. They flew the Voyager around the world without refueling, and they’re my heroes. It was a brief handshake in both cases, and the more I think about it, any fool could tell they wanted me to stick around and share my vast knowledge of aviation. Maybe next time.
I could have collected Walter Cronkite’s handshake once, but didn’t.
I was utilizing—shall we say—the airport men’s room when I suddenly realized I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Walter Cronkite: The Walter Cronkite.
My first thought was of collecting his handshake, but even I knew that this was a somewhat awkward time to shake hands. “I will,” I thought, “collect his handshake after we have both washed our hands.”
I washed my hands, but he didn’t. I decided I didn’t want his old handshake after all.