Episode 199- Not Just Another Day in The Neighborhood

So it was a Sunday night and I was sitting on a subway train in Pittsburgh, they call it a trolley, but I was exhausted both physically and mentally. It was a little over two years ago, and I was headed home. My camera gear in tow from photographing a devastating Steeler loss to the New England Patriots. It was a game where if the Steelers won, not only would they win the division, but they probably would have locked up the number one seed in the AFC over the hated Patriots. And the game was heartbreaking because the Steelers had the game won at the end. Jesse James caught a touchdown pass, I got the picture of it and he crossed the goal line diving and then the ball came loose afterwards and it was called a touchdown, but by replay they called it back. So instead of taking the lead, they’re still behind a couple of yards from the end zone.

As luck would have it. A couple of plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone and the game was over crushing the Steelers hopes for top seed and again unfortunately propelling the Patriots to another Superbowl. But on that train surrounded by a bunch of drunk, tired and angry football fans was a well dressed gentlemen that didn’t quite look the part. He was well-dressed and was in deep contrast to all the fans are all bundled up with their football jerseys on. And he looked at me and asked a specific detailed question about something that happened in the game. I told him what had happened. They looked at me and he said, did you get the picture? And I nodded my head and I said, yeah. And it turned out that he was a writer for ESPN and he introduced himself as Tom. And I told him my name and he got off the train at Station Square.

And I went to my phone and I went the social media and I looked him up and I connected with him on Facebook and LinkedIn. So the next day I posted my picture on social media of Jesse James and the touchdown that didn’t happen. And one of the people that commented was this guy Tom. And he made a joke about this being the Zapruder film for this game, comparing it to that famous film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And then about two minutes later, I get a message from my friend Jacob Bennett and he said, how the heck do you know Tom Junod? And I said, I met him on the train last night coming back from the Steeler game. Really nice guy. I said, why? And he said, do you know who he is? And I said, he was a reporter for ESPN. And he said, no, he is one of the greatest writers alive.

And I said, really? And then he starts linking to all the different articles. And I saw that he’s the one that for Esquire magazine wrote the infamous Falling Man story, if you’ve heard of it from 9/11 about that one iconic picture from Richard Drew of the man falling from the Wall Trade Center upside down was, you know, wrote that incredible story. So of course now I look into his bio and his background and I’m amazed by everything I’m reading. But then it all paled in comparison to what I saw next. All of a sudden I’m reading this article about Tom Junod and there’s a movie being produced as about his life. It’s not just about his life, it’s about his life and his friendship with Fred Rogers who we know as Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers neighborhood and this movie that had just cast Tom Hanks was going to be called a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of big time stuff that other people have done, you know, working in the media and working in journalism. But this encounter just seemed completely bizarre and random. I mean, how often do you just run into somebody, strike up a conversation with somebody on a bus or a trolley, which is even more ironic because if you watch Mr. Rogers neighborhood because Rogers was from Pittsburgh, filmed the show in Pittsburgh and the trolley was a part of his message. So here I am on this trolley in Pittsburgh exhausted meeting the guy who Fred Rogers befriended and now that friendship is being made in a major motion picture and the star is going to be one of the biggest actors in the world. But as I dove into the story, it was quite amazing. She, you know, was hired as a young journalist to do a piece about Mr. Rogers about heroes.

And from that one interview they struck up a friendship and they continued to talk. They continued to get to know each other, but you know, turns out had a hard time believing that this was really him because he says like the nicest guy he’s ever met. And you noticed that later on that Rogers turned out to be exactly off camera as he was on camera. This piece was about heroes titled, can you say hero by Esquire magazine? But Rogers pushed off the talk about him being a hero and instead was more concerned was going on inside Juno’s life. And I won’t go deep into the part of the movie. I want you to go see it. It’s been critically acclaimed, but Fred Rogers had a positive effect on so many people during his career. Me being one of them, I still remember vividly watching his TV show and I remember how kind and nice he seemed.

And to me as well, it almost seemed like it couldn’t be real. It seemed the same as you know, thought that he can’t be the same off camera as he is on. And it turned out that that’s exactly who he was and that’s what made him so remarkable. And that’s why this movie in this message is so important now because there’s so much divisiveness in this country that this type of a message is what we need, what our kids need. I wish there were Mr. Rogers on TV now as opposed to some of the garbage, a lot of the garbage that’s on there for them to watch. But what’s so interesting about this story is that, you know, came into this to write a story. He didn’t want to do a puff piece about some quote unquote hero. So he went in skeptical, you know, he’s already a writer for Esquire is already very successful.

And Fred Rogers brought something out of him, something beyond the friendship that was built in this movie. And Juno said something while being interviewed for this after the movie was done. That to me was very impactful. She knows, said that Roger saw something in him that even he didn’t see in himself and what that done for his life, his family, his career, the people that he’s affected has a lot to do with what Rogers did for him. And this message is for me, as much as it is for you or for anybody else. So often we’re so driven by success or influence or money or the status that comes with it. That’s not what influenced or drove Roger’s making other people feel special was what drove him. Kindness, listening, caring, and concern. And these are things so many of us can lose sight of in the name of success and this story and this movie goes to show that we need more Fred Rogers in this world, that we need more. Tom Junos in this world. And I never had the pleasure to meet Mr. Rogers, but I was fortunate to have that encounter with Tom’s, you know, on that trolley on a cold Pittsburgh night. It gave me the incentive to dive deeper into a story and a message that I’ve long forgotten about. I hope that you take the time and do the same. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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