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Hooper: "No more next times'' in 2017

Chaka Khan performed at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival on Oct. 25. Columnist Ernest Hooper fulfilled a bucket list wish by watching from the VIP section.. ERNEST HOOPER | Times

Chaka Khan performed at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival on Oct. 25. Columnist Ernest Hooper fulfilled a bucket list wish by watching from the VIP section.. ERNEST HOOPER | Times

Chaka Khan.

Those two words fill my mind with melodic harmonies and songful comfort. In the '70s, I grooved to her lyrics as she starred as the lead singer of the funk troubadours known as Rufus.

In the '80s, the ballads spawned from her solo work often stirred my youthful yearnings for love and romance. I still remember playing her cover of Michael Jackson's Got To Be There on the jukebox in the old Broward Hall cafeteria at the University of Florida.

Despite all this admiration, I never saw her in concert. It grew into a bucket list desire before bucket lists even existed.

Years later, when I invited people to gather for birthday celebrations, I jokingly listed Chaka as one of the performers — thinking one of my wealthier friends might drop the considerable thousands it would take to bring her in for a surprise private concert.

It became apparent I don't have friends that wealthy.

In 2015, she appeared at the Mahaffey Theatre and at the EPCOT Food and Wine festival. Surely, I thought, I wouldn't let this chance pass me by. But I skipped the Mahaffey performance, put all my chips on seeing her at EPCOT and then let life's little demands pull me in a different direction.

Next time.

This year, Khan returned to EPCOT for two weekday appearances at the Food and Wine Festival. I boldly proclaimed to anyone who pretended to care that nothing would stop me from seeing her. In a year in which so many celebrities have passed, I decided such opportunities could no longer be taken for granted.

As fate would have it, I jumped in front of the computer determined to clear away a week's worth of work on that October Monday and make the drive to Disney.

But somebody called, I spent an hour responding to an angry reader — the criticisms always get more attention than the compliments — and allowed the time vacuum known as Facebook to suck up even more precious minutes.

I looked at the clock and the minutes had turned to hours and I still had more to do.

Next time. No, the next day. I swore, it would be the next day.

But the next day, I had to put speaking to an African-American history class at Bloomingdale High on top of my other daily duties. The possibility of hearing her croon Sweet Thing or bring the crowd to its feet with Ain't Nobody or the iconic I'm Every Woman began to fade.

I thought, next time. For sure.

But then my friend Ken Lawson posted a meme on his Facebook feed: "Don't measure your life by years, measure your life by experiences."

The words provided the needed impetus. Don't tell my editors, but with much work to be done and deadline looming, I chucked all of those responsibilities and drove to Lake Buena Vista. No time to call a friend or invite a family member, I just headed out.

I caught the end of the first of three mini-concerts on the schedule for that evening. For the second, I sat to the right of the stage maybe 10 rows back. Good seats for a great performance.

They emptied the pavilion after the second show and as I stood behind the rope waiting to see Chaka again, a Disney worker asked, "How many in your party?"

I guess I looked pretty pathetic. I meekly said, "It's just me."

She said, "So when we open up, come find me near the stage and I'll put you in the VIP section."

Heaven.

I sat in the second row, close enough to see those cute freckles on Chaka's nose. We made eye contact a couple of times — me thrilled, her probably wondering, "Who comes to a concert by himself?"

No matter. I reveled in her classic riffs, marveled at her backup singers and danced with the crowd like I was the only person in the theme park.

I rode a wave of joy to the parking lot that night. And then I crossed one feat off my bucket list and added a few more.

As I look towards 2017, I'm telling myself, "no more next times."

That's all I'm saying.

Follow Ernest Hooper @hoop4you.

Hooper: "No more next times'' in 2017 12/29/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2016 5:16pm]
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