I was born in 1964. The last official year of the baby boom and three months after John Kennedy was assassinated. I’m too old to be a Gen X’er and certainly feel too young to be a ‘Boomer.’ However, I was 10 years old in 1974 when the character Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli first appeared on the sit-com Happy Days. Happy Days indeed! In that glorious year, Nixon relinquished the throne to Ford, Ali KO’d Foreman in a bout in Africa, OPEC ended the embargo, and “Blazing Saddles’, ‘Towering Inferno’ and ‘Godfather II’ were hits at the box office. A couple summers prior my Dad let me buy a three speed Honda ‘mini-trail,’ which I paid 53 cents per gallon to fill up all summer long. $100 was the price and I mowed a thousand lawns to get it. So was the beginning of my ‘biker life.’ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I was ready to explore the world (or at least my block) and America was tangled in political chaos and an economic recession. The stage was set for America to embrace a blue collar thumbs up tough guy with leather jacket and a cool Jimmy Dean demeanor. Enter ‘The Fonz.’ It was the year I learned to throw a proper strike, bait a hook, pitch a tent, swim (all the way across Manning’s Pond), and kick start a bike. These are foundational skills that last a lifetime and survive my existence only by the passage of these torches to my own young son, now five.
So there I was in the springtime of youth, hungry for pre-adolescent identity. Most ten year olds generally identify with baseball greats, dead presidents, action heroes and flashy big screen stars. I think I speak for several generations when I say Arthur Fonzarelli was my formidable year’s hero. Not to mention he appeared in the ’ 74 flick, ‘The Lords of Flatbush,’my Dad’s old neighborhood and an Italian/Irish ghetto famous for machismo toughness. I Love New York! The Fonz, epitomized COOL. He had the swagger, he had the leather, he had the bike (A TRIUMPH BONNY) and he had the signature “AAAHHHHYYYYYY! ! ! ” He always got the girl. We all felt as if we knew him or at least someone like him and at most wanted to be him. I had never met Henry Winkler, the actor who played The Fonz, so it was with great pleasure that I had the chance to meet him last month, in January.
January brought the World of Wheels Car and Motorcycle show to the World Congress Center in Atlanta and my Law Firm sponsored the bike show. When Henry Winkler appeared as a promotional guest, I and the crowd of thousands, could not have been more pleased. Henry and I spoke throughout the weekend, for a few minutes, here and there. To my utter surprise, I found out that Winkler is actually a very soft spoken, non imposing gentleman, much unlike the Fonz. A Yale graduate, with relaxed demeanor and engaging persona. I did not pepper him with “Fonzi” questions or comments about ‘Richie Cunningham’ or ‘Potsie’ as I knew everyone else would. I casually mentioned that my favorite roles were his ‘82 part as ‘Chuck’ in ‘Night Shift’ and his voice of ‘Norvell’ in the children’s cartoon, Clifford the Big Red Dog, a little known fact which amused him greatly. He lit up when I mentioned the Norvell voice and whispered in my ear “I won an Emmy for that.” I responded “Mazel Tov,” which pleased him further, as his roots are Jewish. He was clearly proud of Norvell and pleased I recognized his voice from my kids’ videos. It was a testament to his acting that this gentle quiet man once swooned women and inspired men with his tough coolness. He ultimately “jumped the shark” on his Triumph Bonneville. If you don’t remember that episode, then do yourself a favor and Google the phrase!
In a time when America was licking Viet Nam wounds, doubting its president, and cautiously watching the communists, Arthur Fonzarelli came along with good old fashion American macho! If you think hard, you will remember he was a mechanic, who for a time, lived above the Cunningham’s garage. Are the memories coming back? His influence was what most likely caused me to disassemble the lawn mower beyond repair. Easier apart than together I learned. No, I could not start the juke box with a quick jab of my elbow, I was dismayed to find out. But I, like all 10 year olds, could certainly dream. The leather jacket hanging in my closet right now was subconsciously bought to look exactly like his. Take a look at yours. Look familiar?
The Fonz is now a bit grey, and not as svelte as he was, but who is? None of us are what we used to be. So long as we are remembered for who we were, so long as we are preserved for posterity by those strong roles we all played in life, then we should be satisfied with that. That of Dad or Mom, that of coach or mentor, that of Grandpa or Scout Leader. You know what I mean. Not all of us were “The Fonz.” But, we need to ask ourselves now while we can: “when we’re long gone, who will remember us and what will that memory be?” That, in the end, is the greatest question. The legacy you leave behind to those you love and who loved you, is the only answer. AAAHHHYYYYYY! ! ! ! ! ! !
Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.