Elmer Dills Changed My Life

I was sad to learn that famed local restaurant critic Elmer Dills died yesterday. A foodie fixture on KABC’s Eyewitness News and before that KABC radio for decades I well recall the time in the late 1970s when I called him up on his radio program one afternoon to tell him about a hole in the wall hoagie shop on Pico at Crenshaw called Paupers that my mom discovered and took me to occasionally.

I was all set to gush right to the moment Elmer welcomed meĀ  on the air and then I froze up in a bundle of pre-pubescent stagefright and couldn’t speak in anything more than mono syllables and so my mom had to take the phone from me and save the day. I sat there really bummed at my freeze-up as she spoke into the phone and I heard her voice coming out of the radio, but instead of hanging up afterward he asked that my mom stay on hold until he hit a commercial break and then he came back on the line and asked to speak with me.

“OK young man, it’s just you and me, now” he said. “So tell me what it is you like about Paupers.”

And all the fear melted away and I told him about how much I loved the sammiches and that my favorite one was the meatball and cheese and that the sauce was awesome and the owner was really cool and I looked forward to those times when my mom had some extra money and could take us there because they were my favorite in the whole world next to Tommy’s hamburgers.

“See? That wasn’t so tough was it,” and after thanking me for calling we hung up. I felt relieved but still frustrated that I couldn’t have said that live when I had the chance.

Wouldn’t you know right after the commercial finished he came back on the air with “I had a chance to talk to the young man who just called me during the break and here’s what he had to say…” Then the next thing I hear is Dills saying “OK young man, it’s just you and me, now. So tell me what it is you like about Paupers,” and then my voice answered him. I was ecstatic at its sound, and later deeply appreciative of the shot at redemption he took the time to give me.

Since then, I can’t say Elmer Dills quite cured me of stagefright, but whenever those rare opportunities arrive now where I have to speak to a group of people I always remember it’s little different than speaking to just one person.

Thank you for that Mr. Dills. And rest in peace.

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