Our Buddy Greg
I intentionally didn’t label this as “MY Buddy Greg” because that would be selfish.
Greg had many, many friends. He was a fixture in the neighborhood, and he “belonged,” if you will, to all of us.
I never knew Greg’s last name, but I considered him a friend. He passed-away very unexpectedly last Monday morning after working his shift at the Sherman Oaks Newsstand (at the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura boulevards). You’ve probably seen him a million times as you passed the intersection: he was in his late fifties… always wore a ballcap… and, of course, sported his trademark ZZ Top beard.
I first met Greg about five years ago when I moved into the area. Looks can be deceiving; I took him to be a tough guy (probably because of his beard). I shoulda remembered what my Mom taught me as a kid about people: Don’t judge a book by its cover. That was Greg. From the start, I discovered he was a softy. He always had a joke to share, or an interesting observation. To be certain, he always had a smile or a 'hello' for you. Greg was the same with others; his modest up-bringing in Riverside didn't allow him to pass judgment on the people he met. It didn't matter if you were a panhandler or a producer... in Greg's eyes, we were all equals.
Did I mention that Greg always had a small crowd gathered around him— no matter the time or the condition of the weather (we used to joke about the temperature on the big electronic sign across the street that was always off by about 10 degrees)? Getting a magazine was secondary to the laugh you could share with the guy. He worked 3 to 11... and was a great way to wind-down your day. You could always count on him being there, Sunday thru Thursday.
Until this past Monday.
My wife and I have a toddler-aged son; in his two years on this planet, he’s already considered Greg to be one of his best buddies. Taking a walk to visit his ‘Uncle Greg’ every afternoon was the high-point of each day.
On my way home at night -- and on days I couldn't stop at the stand -- I used to give Greg a beep on the car horn. It was our daily ritual. I never got a wave-- but I always DID get a super-cool finger point back in return.
Still another thing to miss.
Did I mention that Greg was a hot rod enthusiast? He used to get our little guy miniature models of souped-up jalopies... and don’t think we didn’t appreciate his generous gestures to our son (especially knowing what Greg probably took home each week working at the stand).
What’s it all mean?
Well, damnit, it means that whoever said, ‘cherish each moment’ got it right. You never know when it'll all end. It also goes to show that extending a simple gesture – such as a smile or a kind word -- can have a huge, positive, impact on the lives of those you touch.
Our son is going to miss his daily afternoon walks to go see ‘Uncle Greg.’
I think we all will.
THIS POSTING WAS PICKED-UP BY THE LA OBSERVED BLOG, AND THEN NOTICED BY THE EDITORS AT THE LA DAILY NEWS. AS A RESULT, GREG'S PASSING WAS NOTED IN A WONDERFUL FEATURE OBIT THAT APPEARED IN SATURDAY'S (4/1) EDITION. HOLLYWOOD THOUGHTS IS GRATEFUL TO KEVIN RODERICK, DANA BARTHOLOMEW AND THE DAILY NEWS FOR GIVING GREG A PROPER SEND-OFF...
Jewel of the Neighborhood'
Burgess, newsstand clerk, dies
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
SHERMAN OAKS - He brought smiles to the faces of passing motorists. Heard the cares of customers. Handed out toys to children. And for decades was a fixture at the landmark Sherman Oaks Newsstand. Gregory Mark Burgess, the artist clerk whose smile had cheered passers-by at Van Nuys and Ventura boulevards since the early 1980s, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 59.
News of his death raced this week across the blogosphere... drew calls of condolences from Jay Leno's office... and shocked a Sherman Oaks community longing for the ZZ Top-like hot-rodder perched each evening with a copy of your favorite news mag or paper.
"He was the jewel of the neighborhood," said Jon Crowley, a TV producer, writer and director who lives near the 57-year-old stand. "He knew everybody. He cared for everybody. He belonged to everybody. "He was the outdoor bartender... but instead of pouring a drink, he'd pour out words of wisdom."
Burgess, a native of Columbus, Ohio, was raised in Covina and the inland town of Perris, where he developed a life-long love of hot rods, Harleys and high-heeled curves.
A hell-raiser, he raced drag bikes, wrenched on top-fuel dragsters-- and spent at least one night in jail for joy-riding the fire chief's car.
In the early 1980s, Burgess got his curbside job at the Sherman Oaks Newsstand. For awhile he sold magazines on Melrose Avenue and became a distributor. Then he returned to become the sage of Sherman Oaks.
And if he didn't know your name, he would always greet you as simply as "Bud," or "Pardner." Sunday through Thursday, rain or shine-- Burgess always had a joke. A smile. Some advice. Or a copy of your favorite "Forbes" or "Easy Rider" tucked beneath the register. Leno of "Tonight Show" and Max Baer of "The Beverly Hillbillies" were regulars.
Toddlers walking by with moms got hot-rod toys that Burgess made at home. Teens who spilled their troubles referred to him as "Dad." And the crush of motorists, if they weren't pulling over for the latest edition, saw Burgess twinkle and point in their direction.
When he wasn't peddling news, the man whose favorite artists are Jackson Pollack and Von Dutch loved to tour art galleries, cars shows or create "rockabilly" art with homemade frames. His company, Scavenger Enterprises, fashioned model cars.
On Sunday, Burgess complained of being tired. Early Monday, he complained of chest pains to his longtime girlfriend, Adriana Guidi, then collapsed in their apartment a mile from the stand. He died soon afterward at Sherman Oaks Hospital.
Burgess is survived by a son, Timothy Burgess, 24, of Upland; a daughter, Kimberly Burgess, 33, of Covina; and a granddaughter. No service is planned. Guidi said she hopes to arrange a hot-rod show in his honor.
Once, when eyeballing art in Orange County, Guidi said Burgess noticed a statue of a famous Laguna Beach greeter.
"He said, 'When I take the dirt nap, they'll put a statue like that for me at the newsstand."'