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Feelin' Grumpy

Forrest Gump
Mama Always Said: Steve Weber never dreamed he would be a tourist attraction.

For Steve Weber, an almost-former sales rep with an uncanny resemblance to Forrest Gump, making people smile just comes natural

By Traci Hukill

It's a curmudgeon's worst nightmare: perching on a bench outside a popular restaurant for hours on end, bantering with tourists and posing for pictures with helmet-haired women from Iowa. Always smiling, always friendly, always happy.

Luckily for Santa Clara resident Steve Weber, an affable Forrest Gump lookalike with an entrepreneurial flair, schmoozing comes easy."I love people," confides Weber, who stations himself on a bench in front of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Monterey each weekend and spouts Gumpisms. "You get to sit outside and goof off with people all day long."

Presently he spies an older couple walking past. "You're not leavin' 'cause you're mad, are you?" he bawls in a molasses-thick drawl eerily akin to Forrest Gump's. Startled, the two look up, a little defensive. Then they see the crew cut, the white suit, the suitcase and chocolates, and their expressions soften. It's as if they've just seen their grandchild. "Oh, no, we're not mad," they assure him, beaming.

"Good, 'cause I wouldn't want you leavin' 'cause you're mad."

"Oh, no ..."

"Okay. Good-bye."

"Bye, Forrest."

Long accused of resembling Tom Hanks, Weber realized after Forrest Gump's release that the likeness was just too good to keep ignoring. On Halloween two years ago, visited by inspiration, he picked up a Gump suit and shirt at Goodwill and astounded his friends all evening long with his slow speech and stunning resemblance to the Hanks character.

In March 1996, when Rusty Pelican Restaurants and Paramount Pictures teamed up to hatch their golden egg in the form of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Weber buzz-cut his hair, dug out his old Halloween costume and phoned the fledgling chain. "You'll never guess who I look like," he flirted into the receiver. Rusty Pelican jumped at the chance: Weber worked the restaurant's grand opening, and a beautiful friendship was born.

So beautiful a friendship, in fact, that Weber anticipates soon tearing himself away from his Santa Clara sales-rep job and going Gump full time. "They've taken very good care of me," he avers demurely, leaving details to the imagination. When Bubba Gump opens its second location at Pier 39 in San Francisco this month, Weber will divide his time between the two locations, filling in whatever gaps remain in his schedule with birthday parties, corporate presentations and whatever else comes along.

A family from Visalia in town for the Pebble Beach Golf Tournament wanders out of the restaurant in a gaggle. Within moments Forrest Gump has wooed a woman to his side, where, convulsed in giggles, she sticks her feet into a pair of cement Nikes bolted to the ground and poses for a picture. The shoes match Forrest's, as do the suitcase and chocolates nailed to the bench. As for the bolts through the shoes and suitcase, well, one can't be too careful these days.

"I'm sitting here with my friend Pat, and she's sitting here with Forrest Gump, and she ran all the way from Fresno," announces Weber in his foghorn voice. "You say your daughter's name is Danielle?"

Pat's bouncy blond hairdo bobs up and down.

"Danielle!" bellows Weber. "Get your byoo-tocks over here!"

The crowd bursts into gales of laughter. "He looks so much like Forrest Gump!" exclaims Visalian Sandy Vance, shaking her head in delighted disbelief. When someone confesses she's forgotten her camera, Weber shakes his head sadly. "Stupid is as stupid does, ma'am." Which gentle reproach, of course, causes her to fall into peals of helpless laughter.

Weber may as well exude nitrous oxide for all the giddy good will his presence incites. "The character is so beloved that everyone has a smile on their face as soon as they see Forrest," he explains with a shrug. Furthermore, he says, people feel safe confiding in Forrest Gump. "I should be preparing to write a book."

Sure, the gig has its downside. Sometimes people don't know when to leave Forrest Gump's side and let other folks slip into the concrete Nikes. Once in a while drunken revelers pester him unduly. And back when he used to actually offer people the morsels from his box of chocolates, he'd have to stock up with boxes and boxes before each shift.

All in all, though, Steve Weber is a nice guy whose job it is to make people smile and maybe consider stepping into Bubba Gump's for a bite to eat. And as many of us know, a body could do a whole lot worse.

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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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