When I saw the news that Michael Phelps had been arrested for driving under the influence for a second time, I have to admit that a smile broke out on my face. Now, I am not normally the type of person who takes great pleasure in the misfortune of others – unless of course, someone has done something particularly vile to me. Someone once told me that I hold a grudge like Khomeini. I never knew the late ayatollah, but we may indeed have that in common. Michael Phelps and I had an encounter years back, and he did not acquit himself very well. What was this encounter you ask? It’s the Michael Phelps story.
It was in 2006, and a great friend of mine was heavily involved in the Miss USA Pageant. He’d arranged for a bunch of us to go to Baltimore to see it, and then go to the a-list after party. This after party was being held at some mansion way outside of Baltimore, so far outside the city that I really had no idea where we were. When I walked into the place, I felt like I had wandered into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel – and this was indeed the party that everyone was coming to. Sugar Ray Leonard was there (and was incredibly nice), and a whole host of the Miss USA contestants were there as well. It was amazing. Everyone was having a blast – and at one point I noticed Michael Phelps walking around with some of his buddies. He wasn’t the Olympic God back then, but he was on the sports scene, and was being touted as the next big thing at the Olympics. We didn’t have any interaction at all early on … our time would come later.
As the night wore on, one thing became apparent to me: it was going to be tough to get out of this place if you missed the last shuttle (which stopped at 1:30). 2006 was a quaint time – before iPhones and Uber. (Yeah I know kids, how in God’s name did we survive those dark times?) Getting a cab out of there was going to be a difficult proposition, mainly because we didn’t know where we were. At around 12:30 I told my wingman Van B that we needed to start thinking about grabbing one of those shuttles. He smiled and said that it would all work out. He seemed to have a point, I mean nobody was leaving, and Miss Hawaii – who I’d had a great time with earlier – was still there as well.
1:30 rolled around, then 2, then 2:30. Some people had escaped by then, but there was still a large crew there – including a great deal of my friends. But the whole night had started to take on a Titanic feel … we’d missed the last lifeboat, the night was sinking and we were trapped at Gatsby’s house, which had to be closing down soon. Finally around 3:30 we all made our way outside, and to my amazement there was a huge stretch limo in the driveway. Turns out, Phelps had arranged for the ride, and for a brief moment I had nothing but admiration for him and this varsity move. Like a dutiful 1st officer of the RMS Titanic, I stood by the open door of the limo and helped make sure everyone got in. When the last person was inside the car (and there were probably about 15 to 20 people inside already) I looked around to make sure there were no stragglers, and seeing none I started to climb inside. Immediately I was met with a chorus from Phelps and two of his buddies sitting all the way in the back (right where I was trying to get in).
“Whoa whoa dude! What are you doing? There’s no room in here”
I replied “I’m the last person here man, we’re all going back to the same hotel and a bunch of my friends are already in here.”
“Sorry man, no room.”
“Look, I don’t need a seat, I’ll just sit on the floor, I don’t mind.”
“No way, you can’t come with us.”
“Hey C’mon, if I don’t get in now, I have no way of getting back.”
Phelps and his buddies looked at one another, then turned back to me and shouted an “F You” and shoved me out.
Now, in the movie version of this, I tell Phelps and his henchmen to go F themselves and I get in anyway. But in the real life version, the door slammed shut in my face, and I heard someone shout “Go, go go!”
I also heard my friends shout, “No! Sterne – where is Sterne?”
The limo sped off, and when the dust cleared I saw my wingman Van B. When He’d heard that I hadn’t been able to get in, he jumped out. In the history of wingmen, this is one of the greatest acts of all time: He never left a man behind!
Van B smiled and said “Well, maybe we should have grabbed that last shuttle after all”
The hosts had locked the front door by this time, so Van B and I were forced to pass time sitting on the front steps, smoking cigarettes and cursing Phelps until around 5 am when we were able to catch a ride back to the hotel in the back of a Jeep Cherokee driven by one of the caterers at the party.
So from that point on, let’s just say that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Mr. Phelps. He may be the greatest Olympian of all time, and an idol for a lot of Americans. But I know who he really is. When he had a chance to be a decent human being, he chose to be a total jackass – and I root against those people every time. So, to whatever karmic gods were responsible for Mr. Phelps misfortune this week, I say thank you. And that is the Michael Phelps story. Next time, remind me to tell you about the time I went to a nudist resort with a porn star, that’s a much more upbeat tale.