I vividly remember seeing Huell Howser in person for the first time. I was in my last semester of college, interning at KCET and constantly wondering about the series of events that would or wouldn't take place after I was handed that coveted diploma.
I heard him before I saw him, instantly recognizing that unforgettably intriguing Tennessee accent as he came up the hall and darted into his office, just a few feet away from the cubicle I was in.
A strange mix of excitement and anxiety came over me. I peered above my gray wall and there he was: his orderly tuft of white hair, that toothy smile and his signature light blue shirt. The image of Huell happily shopping at a Tommy Bahama-style place for dozens of those impeccable shirts immediately came into my mind.
Over the course of my internship, I would see him several more times, though I never mustered up the strength to go over and introduce myself.
Perhaps I was too scared, or perhaps I wanted to keep Huell how I knew him, as that unintentionally hilarious, overly enthusiastic host who introduced me to so many eccentric places, people and culinary delights all over California with such curiosity and infectious joy.
He was not afraid to stick a microphone in the face of ordinary people of all backgrounds and ask them what they thought of the food they just ate or the mountains they just hiked with no pretense, no fear, not even a flinch that he was doing something out of the ordinary. He was the type of person who did an entire show on pita bread, which as you might have guessed, brought him to Glendale.
He was the guy who could not believe that a dog could eat an avocado, the one who introduced me to Polish food in Glassell Park, taught me that Zambonis were invented in California, celebrated Armenian Christmas and showed us a rare glimpse into Havana. He was the guy who could charm his way into any community, regardless of boundaries, ethnic or otherwise.
He made me appreciate California, and the diverse population that makes this state what it is. It did not matter if you were a transplant, a born and bred Californian, or a new immigrant, you knew Huell, and you loved him.
As I got older, finding an episode of “California's Gold” while I flipped through the channels felt like a relic from my childhood, like that warm feeling from a really good film, a cup of hot chocolate and a comfy blanket all wrapped into one, topped with a Southern drawl.
When friends who shared a mutual adoration for Huell informed me that he had died, I immediately watched dozens of videos uploaded by fans on YouTube of his travels.
“Though I never met him, I feel I've lost a dear friend,” wrote one viewer.
I remembered his voice in the halls of KCET and felt a pang of regret for missing my chance to just say “hi.”
Huell was special, a real California treasure, a man who not only introduced the quirks of this state to others, but also to the people who lived in it. After all, it took a larger than life man from Tennessee to teach Californians how to seek out and appreciate the gold in their own communities.
Now that's amazing.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at email@example.com.