This entry is the first in "On the Road," an occasional series that will be written by musicians about their encounters on tour. Click here to read more entries.
ROMULUS, MICHIGAN—I came down to the lobby of our hotel last Sunday morning to do some work and let Justin rest. An older man, a hotel employee, was moving around the room, gently wiping down tables and countertops from the continental breakfast which had ended about an hour before.
I’m an introvert and particularly so in the mornings; I like being alone with my thoughts and I had already considered shutting off the enormous TV that was shouting ESPN at me. The cleaning man seemed harmless enough until he came around by my table. He clasped his hands behind his back and leaned over a bit, reading my computer screen over my shoulder. This did not feel okay.
“What is this?” he asked.
I felt a bit annoyed, but I smiled. “Oh, just doing some work this morning.”
I noticed that this didn’t quite register. “You … student?”
Then I noticed his accent. Russian, lovely.
“No, just work.”
“What you do?”
My computer screen was on a yoga site, so I answered, “Well, mainly I'm a musician, but I also teach yoga.” He apparently spoke very little English, so we spent some time trying to talk about what I do. I realized I’m not so good at charades. After some work, I think we established that I perform music, but I don't teach it … and what I do teach is “yoga.”
He isn’t sure what yoga is. “You teach—small children?”
“No, it's more … people who want to lose weight (I hold my belly) or get strong (flex biceps)." I decided not to launch into stress relief.
“Ooooh. So you teach—kind of therapy?”
“Kind of. Kind of.” It was a good start.
We talked about children. “No, not yet,” I said when he asked if we have any.
“That's okay, you young … I have two children,” he said, after a pause.
He described his daughter and son, 28 and 26, both in university. “It’s hard. Very expensive. Very hard on wife and me. We work every day. Every day. But my wife, she’s um… optimistic? They're good, no smoking, no drinking, good brain.”
I noticed that he looked tired.
I thought about his son, in the very expensive dental school, and wondered if he was thinking about his dad, wiping down tables at the Quality Inn. Mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms. I noticed that if I were his son, I’d feel guilty. And then I noticed that this man wouldn’t want that. Appreciation doesn’t have to be followed by guilt. This is new and interesting to me.
“What about your parents?" he asked.
“My parents? Like what do they do?"
"No, what is their—ethnicity?"
"Oh. Mostly British, German, Native American."
“Ah," he said. “I love the Europeans. And I do like the people American. But here, just so many.” This was funny to me at the time, but funnier in retrospect. He’s surrounded. I feel for him.
We chatted for a while, a lovely, very real few minutes which he concluded by saying, “You a good girl. Maybe in three years, you birth baby.” A little prophecy, thrown out with love.
He went back to his work, but after a while he came back over again.
“You eat breakfast?”
“No, just having coffee.”
“You want doughnut? Cheerios?”
“No, it's okay, I have food in the room.” (The continental breakfast was long gone by now.)
“What you like? Cheerios? Apple?”
“Oh, thank you, but I'm alright.”
"No, I serious. I get you something. You like my daughter: she skinny, but I like a bit more. (He gestures around his middle.) For strong brain, need strong body. So—you are my daughter,” he continues. "Maybe you like that, maybe not? (shrugs) But I am your father. I take care of you. What you like?"
I conceded to dry Cheerios and an apple. Off he went. In a few minutes, there was a plate of bananas, apples, an orange, and a large bowl of cheerios on my table, all covered with a carefully folded napkin.
I came down here bristling against social interaction. In ten minutes, this man went from nobody to one of the most deeply meaningful random connections I’ve experienced while touring.
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