Riding in an elevator with O.J. Simpson

We laughed so hard. Who wouldn’t?

O.J. was hilarious.

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My brothers David and Joey joined me in NYC. Pretty sure Dad took the picture.

It was Labor Day Weekend 1989. My two brothers, my Dad and I planned a guys’ weekend in New York City. At the time, I was working for WMC-TV in Memphis, TN, one of the strongest NBC affiliates in the country. I promised the guys I’d make sure we scored tickets to see David Letterman while we were in the Big Apple. Next to Saturday Night Live, Dave was the cool show to see in NYC. And back then he was on NBC.

late night

The show taped in the late afternoon. Dad was at a conference and planned to meet us at our seats. So the three Travis brothers walked into 30 Rockefeller Plaza, presented our tickets to the NBC staff and were directed to a waiting VIP elevator. As the doors started to close we heard someone yell “hold it!” I grabbed the door and the Juice jumped on board.

Me, my two brothers, the elevator operator and a panting O.J. all taking a ride together.

“You run here all the way from the airport?” I offered, remembering his iconic Hertz rental car commercials. He laughed. We laughed. Heck, even the elevator operator probably laughed.

What a great guy.

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Just nine months earlier, O.J. had beat the crap out of his wife. According to the police report, a badly bruised Nicole Brown Simpson ran up to police yelling “He’s going to kill me! He’s going to kill me!” Four months later, and just five months before I would find myself yukking it up with him on a New York elevator, O.J. would plead no contest to a charge of spousal abuse. He got 120 hours community service. This was news I did not know until 1994. If I had known it in 1989, my question on the elevator might have taken a different tone. Or maybe I wouldn’t have said a word. Probably that second option.

This was before selfies. Before Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and TMZ. But didn’t our hero David Letterman have to know the ugly baggage his guest was carrying?

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David, Dad and Joey in the Letterman studio after O.J. appeared as a guest.

On that Brush With Greatness Day in 1989, the elevator door opened and O.J. rushed off. “See you soon,” I said. And we did. Thanks to the NBC affiliate connection, our seats were great. We clapped hard when O.J. came out. “I can’t believe you talked to him,” one brother whispered. “I can’t believe we rode in the elevator with him,” said the other.

Man was O.J. funny. Of course he was. This was Nordberg from the Naked Gun films. It was his new image. Funny ex-athlete. Self-deprecating. Approachable. Harmless.

Dave asked him if he’d ever gotten any speeding tickets, a question no doubt suggested by O.J. in advance. O.J. spent a few minutes describing how he was taking his Ferrari Testarossa for a drive in Southern California and got it up to 170 before blowing by a cop.

“Even before he turned on his lights I stopped and about 10 minutes later he pulled up.”

We laughed so hard. Dave did, too. He demanded O.J. surrender his license to him that very moment. You can watch it all here:

 

Five years later, O.J. would lead police on the opposite kind of chase, his friend Al Cowlings driving the two slowly through the L.A. suburbs. This chase lasted two hours and one minute before Cowlings finally pulled into O.J.’s estate and surrendered. On that day, it didn’t take the cops 10 minutes to catch up.

We left the Letterman 061214-OTHER-20-years-after-oj-car-chase-ahn-PI.vadapt.980.high.12show that night still pumped about our great luck. All of us are sports fanatics. We had spent time with one of the greats.

You’d think that might be a favorite story at Travis family reunions. Until 1994 it was. But even with the ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America” and the popular FX movie “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” we really don’t talk about that day much anymore.

I know this feeling from hundreds of investigations. Scam victims rarely like to revisit the moment a conman played them like a fool.

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