An Evening with Garrison Keillor
Alfond Sports Center, Rollins College Winter Park FL • September 13, 2016
by Carl F Gauze
Well, it’s been a soggy week in Orlando, my home town. A tropical wave is trying to make itself into something newsworthy, and on this damp Tuesday 2000 people tried to find parking on the Rollins campus. I ended up at the Winter Park Public Library lot; the sign said “Parking for patrons only” but did not require you to enter the building. I do have a card. Inside the cavernous Alfond Center they drafted every folding chair on campus to fill the floor. A preshow blue grass trio squeaked out “Orange Blossom Special” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” next to a plain stage fitted with two bottles of water, a low table and line of plastic palms. Giant video screens dominated the stage and a pair of sign language interpreters warmed up. There was an energy; the crowd was mainly older white couples who had undoubtedly moved here during one the periodic Florida land booms and stuck around for the hurricanes.
Right at 7:30 Keillor shuffled out of the wings. His industrial grade eyebrows caught the light; his rumpled suit indicated a man of letters not dollars. He walked out in the middle of crowd and began singing “God Bless America” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The crowd joined in and we were off the proverbial dock and onto his personal pontoon boat. In the next hour he presented a stream of conscience monologue about his life (pretty darn good), his early literary aspirations and a stint in radio, and most importantly how his conservative upbringing made every small escape a triumph. There’s even his secret of happiness: have an idea a day you can do something useful with. There were jokes, a few off color, but every one repeated from his Prairie Home Companion show: Ole and the toilet brush, a limerick about feeding condoms to a poodle so it poops in plastic bags, the guy who arrived at the pearly gates in a refrigerator. All brought laughs, and the songs often as not brought tears.
Keillor played to the cheap seats; he never once walked past the front row seats filled with Rollins directors and contributors. The expensive seats were backless bleachers with good sight lines; these are the seats only students can tolerate. The medium priced seats were up high, but mostly we all just watched the TV. This is a truly odd way to enjoy a live performances but the sign interpreters were fun. After an hour Keillor declared abruptly “I had more things I wanted to say but I’ve forgotten them” and then led us all in “The Star Spangled Banner.” As it ended someone muttered “play ball” and Keillor shuffled off stage. Then it was time to return to the 21st century, to the damp Florida night, and to my overdue parking slot at the public library.