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A couple days ago, we dropped episode 124 of our podcast when we talked about late night talk shows with guest Christian Nielsen of The Atomic Geeks. On the show, I mentioned the time I had a letter read on Late Night with David Letterman. I’ve talked about my love for late night talk shows before, but surprisingly, in the years I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve never told this story here.

It was early Fall of 1992 and I was 15 and a junior in high school. I was taking driver’s ed and one time a week during study hall, I could get some extra driving training in with the driver’s ed instructor. His name isn’t coming to me right now although I can picture his face. For some reason though, the teacher didn’t want to go on these driving excursions with only one student. We needed a driving partner in order to get this extra time in. However, there were no other current driver’s ed students who had a study hall or PE class at the same time I had study hall. So my chance to get these extra hours in during school time was in peril.

Being a huge fan of David Letterman and especially Viewer Mail, I had the idea to write to Dave to see if he could come down to central Illinois and be my driving partner. What a great solution, right?

Well, I sent the letter off to Dave and was told by a few (Jason, Bart and I’m sure others), “Dave will never read that on the show.”

Of course he wouldn’t. I figured he got thousands of letters and that was assuming what was read was even real in the first place. I never expected he would read my letter. But it was fun to send it anyway.

A couple months go by and the driving situation resolved itself. I logged all the hours I needed. My mid-November birthday approached and it was now November 6. I was in drama when I was in high school and our Fall play was Friday, November 6. We had done a version of the musical “Working” but stripped out all the music and done it as more of a spoken-form poetry. There were several parts each of us had to play and it was a bit on the exhausting side.

I got home that night after the play and sat down to watch some television looking forward to my usual routine of Viewer Mail on Friday night. But I was beat. I was so tired. I just wanted to go to bed. Still, I loved Viewer Mail, so I stuck a tape in the VCR and set it to tape that night’s Letterman.

Next day, I wake up. My parents were still upstairs. My sister must have still been in her room. I head out to the living room and there’s no one out there. Not much was on the Saturday morning cartoon schedule of interest to me, so I rewind the tape to watch the Letterman I taped.

I must reiterate to you at this point…I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!

Really, it’s mostly a blur up until Dave got to “letter #2.” Presumably, he comes out and does his monologue, heads over to his desk, makes some jokes with Paul and then starts Viewer Mail. The first letter resulted in him playing some footage of barn owls eating mice or something. Then he says, “Ah…letter number five, no letter number two…woooooo.”

There’s my life before that sentence was uttered and there’s my life after that sentence was uttered. Immediately after that, Dave begins to say words that seemed very familiar to me. And the image on the screen was…my letter? MY LETTER?! IS THAT MY LETTER?! IS DAVID LETTERMAN READING MY LETTER?!?!?!

Then he ends it by saying, “This comes to us from Carlin Trammel, Philo, Illinois.”

It was surreal.

He proceeds to then say, “You know Carlin, I get so many requests like this…” HE SAID MY NAME! HE SAID MY NAME TWICE!

Dave pulls out a cardboard cutout of himself, “Dave the scared passenger” that is his replacement since he is unable to go around the country and help teenagers learn how to drive. There were lots of laughs and then he proceeds on to the next letter.

I was, and 21+ years later I still am, dumbfounded. But it was shortly after the letter was read and my bit was over that I realized something even more amazing…


Who was going to believe this happened? How was I ever to see it again? Those are questions I never had to ask. If I had seen it live, I presume I would have contacted the local affiliate immediately and tried to get a copy somehow, but I didn’t have to. I had no warning this was going to happen. No heads up from anyone at Late Night or NBC. It was a series of events that just worked out perfectly. And it’s been a memory that I’ve been able to treasure ever since.

People ask ALWAYS ask me, “Did they send you the cardboard cutout?!” The answer is no. Dave gave it to Tony Randall on the show. I don’t know what happened to it after that. I assume Tony Randall is buried with it. To which those same people usually reply, “Ah man, they should have sent it to you!”

I disagree. Of course I would gladly have accepted that cardboard cut out of “Dave the Scared Passenger,” but I don’t need it. Having the letter read was more than enough. To be a part of Late Night with David Letterman, no matter how small, to have heard Dave say my name on national television, and to have been a punk 15-year-old kid that had a chance to set Dave up for a joke…asking for anything more would just be selfish.

This VHS tape belongs in a museum!