When Chris Hinchee was 4 years old, his family let him pick out a movie to buy. He chose a VHS tape with a white ghost breaking out of a red circle on the cover.
It was Ghostbusters, the first movie he ever loved.
He kept it close for two decades, even as VCRs became obsolete, carrying it with him from his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., to MacDill Air Force Base.
On Friday, nervously clutching that same videotape, the 28-year-old Air Force command post controller finally met the man he knew on film as ghostbuster Ray Stantz.
Actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd had come to MacDill to visit the troops.
"You can thank me," Aykroyd told a crowd of about 200. "But I got a far bigger thank-you to give you."
For 45 minutes, the 59-year-old Blues Brother and Saturday Night Live legend turned down no one.
He posed for photos, shook hands and made small talk with everyone crowded into the base's Surf's Edge club. He posed with an airman's baby, donned a cap someone gave him, signed a little girl's pink journal with a Mickey Mouse pen, autographed a DVD of The Great Outdoors and posed with two 46-year-old MacDill workers who had performed Sweet Home Chicago for Aykroyd in matching Blues Brothers outfits.
"The only reason these people exist are to protect the artists and creative people," Aykroyd said, "and that allows us to do what we do."
Hinchee had met several rock stars before, but this was a childhood hero. His younger friends had trouble understanding, since The Blues Brothers debuted in 1980, Ghostbusters in 1984 and Coneheads in 1993.
"You know, Ghostbusters?" Hinchee had said to vacant stares. "Forget it. I'm going to be out of the office for a few hours."
"He's still relevant," he muttered later.
But he, too, wondered just how bright Aykroyd's star still burned.
That question was answered by the spectrum of fans who came out Friday.
Fans such as bold Alyssa Baumgartner, who dressed like a Blues Brother in her father's black suit and carried a poster board asking Aykroyd to attend her 14th birthday party that night.
The crowd also included meek Mike Updike, the base's inspector general, who stood to the side quietly, military cap in hand.
He wished just to say hello to the star of one of his favorite comedies, Spies Like Us.
"I'd be glad to meet him," he said.
And then there was Hinchee and his precious videotape.
"I hope he can't resist signing it," he said. "Maybe I can get my picture with him? I don't know. I know his time is limited."
His chance came, and he walked up, told the star his story and handed him the videocassette.
The comedian looked it over, signed it with just a few words and handed it back.
Hinchee thanked the actor repeatedly and then stared at the tape.
To him, it had traveled across the country and two decades just for this moment.
Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.