Almost Famous: Tracy Morgan
“What’s happening chief? You know my sales slogan; you want it? I got it! If I don’t got it? I’ll get it! So get it while the getting’s…good!” – Hustleman
I make no secret of my fandom, and worship of the show Martin; it truly shaped my early life. Every Friday in elementary & Jr. High School, my friends, and I would recite the entire episode for the previous night. We’d even perform the show in the middle of class because we couldn’t wait for recess; that’s how dedicated we were to Martin as a show, person, and a motherfucking crew. My favorite “other” character was Tracy Morgan as Hustleman because he didn’t need more than 5 minutes of screen time to steal the scene, and sometimes the entire fucking episode.
The year was 2005, and by now I established myself as one of the go-to photographers in NYC. I’m 22, and doing pretty “decent” for myself at the time, so paying for $200 meals every night wasn’t that big of a deal. I’m being sarcastic if you can’t tell; I would go to a few different places after partying/working all night. There are an endless number of spots to eat late night in Manhattan but none I’d frequent more than Cafeteria (I might be still banned cuz I pissed on the window after they didn’t let me in), Tour, and of course the legendary Chelsea Diner. It was nothing to see celebrities in Chelsea Diner on the late night, but this particular night in 2005, Tracy Morgan was sitting at the front table by the window, and I turned into a kid again.
I try not to approach celebrities when their in a space of comfort, because how fucking annoying must that be? All day, every day to have people running up on you like lunatics asking for a piece of you, as if you owe them your personal time; it makes me cringe. However, this was Hustleman, so fuck everything I just said, I was going over to his table and introducing myself. I tried to be cool about it, but it’s Hustleman from motherfucking Martin, so boom, I’m standing in front of his table, stick my hand out and say, “I’m one of your biggest fans on the planet, I don’t think you understand what this means to me.” The thing is, he didn’t stick his hand out, and I was there just hanging; my hand felt heavy as all fuck, and I thought this was that, “never meet your idols” moment, BUT…He stood up, and gave me the real nigga, pound/hug combo. His first words were, “have a seat, tell me what it means to you then.” Listen, I fully understand sarcasm, so I didn’t know if he was fucking with me, or was actually interested in what I had to say, but I wasn’t passing up a chance to speak to one of my heroes.
Turns out it was the latter because he was, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met in this, “industry” (I don’t consider myself a part of it at all). As I’m sitting there, someone I knew saw me, and shouted, “Yo what’s good Whatspoppin? I see you my nigga!” Nobody called me by name back in those days, and Hustleman asked me why did someone just call me, “Whatspoppin” and I told him what I do, and he was like, “Don’t ever let anyone call you what you don’t want to be called!” It was almost the original, “put some respeck on my name.” So he made it a point to call me Al, and I appreciated that but now I feel like a fucking asshole because I’m calling him Hustleman, and I told him that; he said, “If Hustleman is your hero, then you call me Hustleman.”
As the conversation progressed, it’s like 4am at this point, and he tells one of his boys to go grab a bottle out the limo; his mans came back with a magnum bottle of Goose, and we sat there at that front table in Chelsea until damn near 7am drinking, and talking shit, cracking jokes, talking about women, and dreams/projects. Hustleman spoke about this show he was getting ready to do with Tina Fey, and that show turned out to be 30 Rock. I told him about wanting to write, and create my own version of Martin; he told me, “You’re supposed to make the better version, make the Al, and they’re gonna love you for it.” I’ve never forgotten that conversation.
The real ill shit was he would ask me what parties, and shit to go to while he was in town, and he’d pop up at every spot I mention; he’d even roll in the parties with me sometimes. Hustleman would have me follow him around all night in the parties, taking pictures with fans, women, the DJ, and he always did it with his shirt off. We lost contact, but I absolutely didn’t take that personally at all because the experience of hanging out with an idol was more than I ever dreamed of, and I am a big dreamer. Every time I ran into Hustleman after that, he’d remember my name and say it in such a way that made me feel like I mattered; he’d even ask me about my writing which made me feel like a fucking king. When I heard about the accident, that shit broke my heart, and when he pulled thru I was relieved. Seeing Hustleman on the comeback trail, and making people smile, laugh, and just feel great again, all while dealing with his own pain, reminds me why the ones who show the most love, always need more in return. I love Hustleman, as a character but love the character of the man even more.