I count myself among the very fortunate few who were able to have dinner with Rush Limbaugh. Not just one dinner, but two actually.

Mr. Limbaugh opened for business on his nationally syndicated radio show in August 1988. Later that year, as his popularity was just beginning to rocket, local station KUHL was his broadcast home here in Santa Maria. In my former life as owner-operator of restaurants I was offered one of several sponsorships in support of Rush's promotional tour. This included a taped ad for my restaurant by Rush himself. I thought about it for about one second and agreed. This was either September or October 1988.

The day came, so did Mr. Limbaugh. The live show ( it was his second in the years-long series) was great, funny and personal. The concept of his live performing was just being invented as we locals enjoyed his rapport. After the show, the owners of KUHL invited me and a guest to join them and Rush for dinner at the Hitching Post, another of the sponsors of the visit. I accepted and took my mother, Gloria.

My recollection is eight of us, sitting in the front dining room of the Hitching Post having a very relaxing, intelligent conversation about politics, his goals and the steps that he would take to achieve them. My most vivid takeaway was Rush's humble and grateful attitude. Every little action by a server was met with a sincere thank you. His manners and mannerisms were of one who was very well raised to be a gentleman.

The sales manager, a technician, Rush and I met at the KUHL studio the next morning; a Sunday. I had a tray of freshly BBQ'd beef ribs, loaded with sauce for Rush to taste so he'd have some motivation for the ad. We chatted for a while, everyone ate some of the ribs and sandwiches. Rush decided that he'd do a take whilst gnawing on a rib.

So, they start the tape, he proceeds to gnaw and then the rib flies out of his hands onto the brand new carpet in the studio. He was mortified! Apologizing constantly; "I am buying new carpet, I swear" ... he was red faced, and totally embarrassed but that just went to impress me more ... a totally real guy, sweet, nice, humble. We went on to get the ad taped, the whole time, Rush apologizing for the carpet. We were there for over two hours. Just talking.

Some five months later, Rush paid another visit to Santa Maria, the show was at what is now the Radisson Hotel. As I recall being told, Santa Maria was the perfect spot for rehearsing and tuning the expanding show. I had gladly sponsored his second visit and dinner ensued once again at the Hitching Post.

This time, there were a few more than eight people probably 12. By now, Rush had become a full fledged phenomenon. My recollection is that he was being hounded by people wanting his attention and he was so gracious in attempting to acknowledge everyone, making them feel important. 

So, turn the page. Another time in my life I was invited to a dinner with another very well established radio personality. This person was a completely different guest. This person was arrogant. For whatever reason I had a 15 minute alone chat with him and he vividly described how he beat a guy to a pulp. This guy never said thank you to anyone as I recall. 

Why do I call this guy out here? I do so because on his show, he came across as a folksy, neighbor next door, just chatting along with people, you know, just for the heck of it to help them.

The contrast could not have been more stark .... here we had Rush Limbaugh, the bombastic, brash, seemingly arrogant blowhard ( he was none of these things ) on the air - but in person, a quiet, kind, sort of awkward human man.

In the other case, we had a "gentle spirit", a guy-next-door, just "aw gosh kinda dude" on that national show - who, in person was, in my experience, conceited, revolting, a truly arrogant you-know-what (you do).

But do you know what? I'll wager that he had plenty of personal moments with his friends where they saw a very nice man, possibly even gentle. And I will also bet that some of the most vitriolic talking heads in the media that I totally disagree with right now can be the most agreeable folks, just like Rush was, in my experience.

In those events, I learned a lot about two people. There are plenty of Rush detractors out there and when you select some of the bits, well, some of it was kinda shocking. It was meant to be. But, what do we get as a regular diet from the lousy option known as social media,"news" and whatnot? Shock. He didn't start the fire, he exposed it. By his example.

So, many of us will miss him. And no matter what one may think of us, we are human, we have value, we also value other's opinions. We listen and have heard far more than those who would divide us will tell you. The one thing I humbly offer here is that Rush Limbaugh was a very talented and good man. He was man of ideas and words. He did not cancel anyone. He would exchange ideas, and OK, he would perform. You would like him if you met him.

All of this is in context and I request that it be taken as such. I do not entertain any illusions that I mattered one whit to him but he mattered to me.

I will miss him very much.

Mark Evans is a resident of Santa Maria.

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