Over At The Herald: The Day I Met Michael J. Fox

It was supposed to be just a regular, relaxing Sunday.

I was just getting ready for bed the Saturday night prior when I received an alert on my phone. It was a text message from my boss; he had a news tip for me. The message said ‘meet Michael J. Fox at the top of White Butte tomorrow.’

Cole Benz | Editor
Cole Benz | Editor

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

It was supposed to be just a regular, relaxing Sunday.

I was just getting ready for bed the Saturday night prior when I received an alert on my phone. It was a text message from my boss; he had a news tip for me. The message said ‘meet Michael J. Fox at the top of White Butte tomorrow.’

Naturally, this puzzled me. I mean what could he possibly be talking about? Why would Michael J. Fox be in North Dakota, let alone set a meeting point at the top of White Butte?

But color me intrigued, I opened the browser on my phone and began to investigate. I searched ‘Michael J. Fox White Butte, ND.’

I stumbled upon a website, TourDeFox.org. After browsing around the home page I read about Sam Fox’s journey. Sam Fox, of no relation to Michael J. Fox, was biking to the different high points of each of the 48 contiguous states and one Canadian province, then hiking up those points with supporters and volunteers to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. But curiously nowhere on the site did it state Michael J. Fox would be making an appearance himself, so I didn’t think my boss’ sources were accurate. I went to bed unsure if I would drive the 30 plus miles to White Butte and cover the story.

The next morning I was anguishing with the decision to go, or not to go. It got to the point of no return, if I didn’t leave in the next five minutes I would miss the group, so my intuition pushed me to get ready and go. I threw on a shirt and slipped on my sandals and headed out the door.

I got to the site and realized it was a bigger production than I had thought. There were people gathered at the base of the butte, congregating under a large tent, hiding from the sunshine.

I found my way through the crowd of about 30 people and found Sam Fox. I was able to pull him away from a conversation to interview him about his journey. I asked him my questions and we exchanged some friendly banter about our Alma Mater’s hockey teams. He attended Yale and I went to the University of North Dakota. Yale famously upset North Dakota in tournament play a few years back and I was getting some grief.

But as our conversation and interview came to a close, he leaned in and quietly informed me that Michael J. Fox was indeed making an appearance at White Butte.

Thank God for my intuition.

As we all waited for his arrival the heat was growing, and in the open field there were few slices of shade that could shield my pale skin from the damages of UV rays. But I stuck around and waited to see if I could get the opportunity to speak with the famous actor.

As he arrived I kept a safe distance. My plan was to allow him to do what was scheduled without interruption, I didn’t want to get in his face and make an absolute fool of myself. So as he greeted the crowd I stood back and snapped some photos.

I briefly took the camera away from my face so I could inspect some of my pictures, making sure my settings were adjusted correctly for the lighting the sun was giving me. Just as I was about to take some more shots a member of his support team tugged at my shirt. He asked if I had a few minutes to give him and I obliged. He then informed me that I had to get approval to print the photos I was taking, and that any type of filming was not allowed. I figured this was par for the course, but what baffled me was that I was hanging around the gathering for nearly an hour before Fox’s arrival, with my camera dangling from my neck and my press badge out for the world to see. Yet they waited until I was in the middle of taking pictures to give me these guidelines.

The timing was odd, but again I obliged.

After the greetings were finished the group moved up a few hundred yards to a picnic area.

As I was coming up behind everyone I got the attention of the same support team member and asked if there would be a time I could ask Fox some questions. He said he wasn’t sure and that everything was running late already. I did not get a positive vibe from his answer. But I stuck it out.

As I was not prepared for the hike (I was wearing sandals), I stayed back as the group ventured up the butte.

So now I had a decision to make.

Should I stick it out and wait for the group to finish, in hopes of getting a few moments with the famous actor? Or should I just take what I had and go home for the day?

In the blistering heat wearing dirty sandals I decided to stay. I browsed my phone and drank my coffee, just waiting, not knowing if I would even get the chance to talk to him.

Journalism at its finest.

But when members of the hike began to come down from the Butte I kept a watchful eye on what was going on.

The support member who I had been in contact with began to approach me, I was hopeful, yet realistic.

He came and asked how many questions I was going to ask, and the subject matter.

I told him I had two: What were his thoughts on Sam Fox’s journey, and what he thought of North Dakota.

The support member then went to Fox and talked to him and his assistant. His assistant then approached me to double check what I was going to ask him. I told her what I was going to ask.

At this point I was more positive than ever that I was going to get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to talk to Michael J. Fox. The nerves kicked in.

I looked over and she was waving me over. I thought for sure I would be so nervous that the words I wanted to say were going to come out jumbled, as if my tongue had gone numb.

But on my short walk over to him my nerves disappeared, and suddenly I was on the job.

I began to ask him my first question, and the one thing that amazed me most was that out of the three people I interviewed that day, Michael J. Fox was the only one to tip his sunglasses lower on his nose so he could look me in the eye.

What a class act.

Before I knew it the interview was over. I asked him my questions and moved on. I was so appreciative of the time I was allotted that I didn’t want to take up too much time, nor did I want to deviate from the questions I had told his team I would ask.

It’s funny how a few short moments can create a lifetime memory. I only talked with him for one minute and 22 seconds, but I won’t forget the time I shook hands with Michael J. Fox.

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