“I was standing right next to Michael Phelps and didn’t even know it.”

Maggie and I were traveling home from Paraguay recently, by way of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Little did we know that Michael Phelps was on our 9-hour 777 flight from Brazil to Washington-Dulles.

By 6:30am, I was standing in the customs line, next to 2 tall guys who sort of looked like athletes/celebrities. You know — they just had that look about them, especially the one right next to me — he had a very familiar face. Well, I kept glancing over, trying to satisfy my hunch, and he never glanced back. In fact, he seemed to be staring at the pillar and away from the people in line behind/next to him. After about 10 minutes, I thought, “Oh! That familiar face — could that be Michael Phelps?”

Now, you might be thinking, “Steve, if Michael Phelps were standing in line right next to me, I’d certainly know it. After all, the man is an icon and his world-famous face has been everywhere from Disneyworld to Wheatie’s boxes … not to mention, that little televised competition in China where he brought home an unprecedented 8 gold medals!” I know, I know … but … picture this: he had what I’d describe as a broken up half-beard, long(ish) hair, he’d reportedly put on 15 pounds since the Olympics and most of all he was not smiling. Additionally, I hadn’t slept so well in economy on this turbulent red-eye back from South America. (Okay, enough excuses) So, I convinced myself that it couldn’t be him. It only looked a little like him and that wasn’t enough for me to say anything to this stranger.

Michael Phelps

After 5 more minutes, he proceeded over to the glass booth to get his passport stamped and was on his way to the final checkpoint in the customs area of Dulles Airport. Next in line, I asked the clerk (afraid to sound silly by using any specific name (i.e., Michael Phelps)), “Was that a celebrity?” [Read more…]