Hoffman's Houston
remembering Ric Ocasek

Ken Hoffman recalls his chance meeting with Ric Ocasek of The Cars

Ken Hoffman recalls his chance meeting with Ric Ocasek of The Cars

The Cars
Ric Ocasek and The Cars in their '80s heyday.  The Cars/Facebook

Ric Ocasek, lead singer of the Rock Hall of Fame band The Cars, was found dead in his New York City apartment Sunday, September 15.

Because of my job as a hard-hitting columnist in a big city, I’ve met many celebrities and famous people over the years. Ric Ocasek was perhaps my strangest celebrity encounter.

True story. This was a couple of years after I got to Houston to take a job with the now-gone Houston Post. Houston historians and memory experts know that the Houston Post was the morning newspaper, while the Houston Chronicle was the bigger afternoon paper. Then the Chronicle bought the assets of the Post, shut it down, and eventually, after removing the asbestos and fixing the joint up, moved into the old Post building.

I was sitting at my desk at the Post, the phone rang, would I like to be part of a bachelor auction for charity? They’re not around much anymore, because we’ve progressed as a society, but bachelor auctions used to be a fundraising thing in Houston. The charity would round up good-looking or famous or popular Houston bachelors to go onstage, while women, many of them plied with complimentary booze, would bid on going on a date with them.

I know, this sounds awful and humiliating.

In a haze of poor judgment and no self-awareness, I thought, this sounds like a good idea, and I said yes to the bachelor auction. I was probably just flattered that they considered me bachelor auction-worthy. Plus, I’ve done a lot stupider and more humiliating things to meet women.

Soon as I got off the phone, flattery turned to panic. I called back the bachelor auction organizer. Who are the other bachelors in this event? They said, oh, a couple of pro football players, some Astros, a Rocket or two, successful doctors and lawyers, and hunky news anchors. These were the types that brought in the big bucks at bachelor auction.

Probably they just wanted me to write about the event, and I misunderstood the call and said I’ll be one of the bachelors. And they were too flustered to say, “Uh … no.”

I could hear my introduction now. “Next we have a guy who writes about dog biscuit recipes for the No. 2 newspaper in Houston on its last legs. He’s wearing a suit he bought off the rack this morning at Men’s Wearhouse."

The event usually put together date packages for the auction. They’d hit on restaurants and attractions to donate a dinner for two, or a pair of tickets to a show. That sort of thing. Most of the date packages were dinner at a downtown restaurant, or a tourist boat ride in Galveston Bay or tickets to an Astros game. Normal first date stuff like that.

My nightmare was, nobody would bid on me. I’d hear whispers of “Who is he?” And “I’m saving my money for the Channel 2 news guy.” I was told, don’t worry. If nobody bid on me, the charity would have plants in the audience who would bid on me, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. Pity bidders.

I didn’t need this. I could stay home by myself, and it wouldn’t cost me a new suit.

I developed a strategy. I told the organizers that I would come up with my own date — a night on the town that would be so dazzling, nobody would notice my flop sweat, fake limp for sympathy, and cheap suit.

How's this for a little ol' date? We would fly to New York City, courtesy of Continental Airlines, freebie dinner at the Carnegie Deli on Broadway, tickets and backstage passes to the David Letterman show, and spend the night at the world-famous Waldorf Astoria hotel. The cherry on top: We put “Separate rooms at the Waldorf" in capital letters. Except for me being involved, it was the greatest date in the history of bachelor auctions.

Would you rather have a fake date with a quarterback, or eat a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie deli and go backstage at David Letterman? I broke the record for highest bid ever at a Houston bachelor auction.

Up to New York we went. We ate lunch at the Carnegie. I ordered the Broadway Danny Rose Sandwich, half-pastrami, half-corned beef. The menu warned, “for dedicated fressers (big eaters) only.” It's very impressive to eat a 2-pound sandwich on a date.

We walked to the Letterman show and were escorted backstage to the green room. One of the guests that night was model and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl Paulina Porizkova. Her husband was there, too. We shook hands and said hello.

And that's how I met Ric Ocasek.