Longtime fans have close encounter of Clooney kind

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
Janet Keys and Trisha Thomason were pulling out of the back entrance of Chick-fil-A’s parking lot late Wednesday morning when they saw a black stretch limousine and two black SUVs pulling into O’Charley’s parking lot.
“I bet you that’s George Clooney,” Keys said she told Thomason.
“I was kind of like ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Thomason recalled. “She said, ‘I feel it in my heart. It’s George Clooney.’ ”
Keys, who was on spring break from her job as a Title I reading tutor at Rockwell Elementary School, drove into the O’Charley’s parking lot, where the limo and SUVs had parked in a corner.
She parked several spaces away from the vehicles, from which about 20 people had emerged, and the two longtime friends got out and headed toward the group.
Keys said they stopped when they got about halfway to them and asked if they could come over and say hello. “I said, ‘We didn’t want to just rush up on you and be intrusive,’ ” she said. “We didn’t want to give Salisbury a bad name, but they were like, ‘No, you’re fine.’ ”
They spotted Clooney, who was wearing a gray Gatsby cap, right away. “He looked so nice,” Keys said of the actor twice named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine. “He’s handsome on TV, but so much more so in person.
“His charm and his charisma really showed through, and he had a twinkle in his eyes.”
Clooney ó in town to promote “Leatherheads,” the third film he has directed and starred in ó told them co-star Renee Zellweger was hiding around there somewhere, Keys said. “I said, ‘Just tell her hello for us.’ ”
Keys said she told Clooney, who won a “Best Supporting Actor” Academy Award in 2005 for his role in “Syriana,” how nice it was to meet him. “We feel like we know you,” she said she told him, “but of course, you don’t know us.”
When he reached to shake their hands, Keys said she told him that Thomason, a longtime fan, would really like a hug.
“She’s loved him since he was on ‘Facts of Life,’ ” Keys said. “He said, ‘Sure, come here.’ ”
“It was a cute little hug,” Thomason said.
One of the men in the entourage offered to take their picture with Clooney on Thomason’s phone.
“George loved her phone,” Keys said. “He said, ‘Oh, you have a pink phone. How cute is that?’ ”
When the picture didn’t take, the man offered to try again with Keys’ phone. She said another man was standing behind the man taking the photo taking a photo of all of them.
Afterward, she said Clooney said, “It was so good to meet you, but I’ve got to rush because I’ve got to be at a press conference.”
Right then, Keys said a third SUV pulled in the parking lot and they all got in the vehicles and left. “It was about a 7-minute encounter,” she said.
Thomason, who works in the Wal-Mart pharmacy, said they had barely gotten back in Keys’ vehicle when they started calling family and friends to tell them about meeting Clooney. When she called her husband, Tony, Thomason said, “he was like, ‘Just calm down, calm down.’
“I was like, ‘OK. OK, but I’ve got to tell you this.’ From then on, we were on the phone all day sending the picture to everybody we know.”
When she told her 15-year-old son, Blake, Thomason said he wasn’t as excited as she thought he would be. “He was like, ‘George Clooney, is that the guy that was on Batman?’ she said. “He had to think about it.”
Her sister in Chicago, Linda Jones, was as excited as Thomason. “She’s a huge George Clooney fan, too,” she said. “She was like ‘Hang up right now and e-mail me the picture.’ I hung up and sent it to her, and she called me right back.
“She said, ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.’ Everybody else just told me to calm down a little bit.”
Keys said the first call she made was to her husband, also named Tony, who has been a longtime Clooney fan. However, “the first thing he asked was, ‘Did you get a picture of Renee?’ ” she said. “He just loves Renee Zellweger.”
Her 24-year-old son, David Wagner, ended up getting Clooney’s autograph on a dollar bill after the press conference at the Salisbury Station.
“David said, ‘You just met my mom, Janet Keys,’ ” she said he told her, “and (Clooney) smiled and said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember her.’ That tickled my son … He thought that was pretty cool.”
Wednesday evening, Keys and Thomason, who both live on Agner Road, were still excited about their chance encounter with Clooney.
“He was genuinely glad to meet us,” Keys said on her cell phone while eating dinner with her husband at Applebee’s. “He was nothing but gracious, and it was real. It wasn’t fake.
“You always hear about everyone who loves him, all his friends in Hollywood. We could tell he would be a really fun person to hang around with.”
Thomason, who was at home, still hadn’t calmed down.
“I wish it could have lasted longer,” she said of their encounter. “I could have talked to him for a lot longer. He was just really sweet.
“It’s all kind of a blur, but he was wonderful … I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.