You Never Know Whom Youâ€™ll Meet in the Morning
Dad was an early riser. Even on the road, he was up at 5 a.m. in search of a nicotine-and-caffeine breakfast, a 25-year daily habit too hard to break.
Milwaukee, July 1989. My dad, mom, and I were staying at Milwaukeeâ€™s nicest hotel, the Pfister, in search of Minnesota Twins. We were baseball nuts. Our yearly vacations took us to Major League Midwestern ballparks. We always stayed in the same hotel as the Twins, and Dad and I collected autographs. I rode in elevators with Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola. But they are not the celebrities of this story.
Dad was an early riser. Even on the road, he was up at 5 a.m. in search of a nicotine-and-caffeine breakfast, a 25-year daily habit too hard to break. In Milwaukee, it was no different.
One morning, he quietly slips out of the room while Mom and I sleep. He heads to the hotel coffee shop. He sits at the counter, taps a Kool out of his pack, and orders coffee, black. Few others are up at this hour. But a guy sits near him at the counter. Dad, always affable, strikes up a conversation with questions like, â€œWhat do you think of this weather?â€ and, â€œWhere are you from?â€
The conversation turns to work. The well-dressed man, a steaming cup of coffee in front of him, asks Dad what he does for a living.
â€œIâ€™m a gravedigger,â€ Dad says. The guyâ€™s eyes widen, and he laughs. â€œThey call me Digger.â€ Dad offers his hand, and they shake. They talk for a while more about gravedigging; the guyâ€™s interested.
After a few moments, Dad turns the conversation away from himself.
â€œSo, what do you do?â€ he asks the stranger.
â€œIâ€™m a singer,â€ the guy says.
Dad finds out the man is in town for a concert, then puts it all together: Expensive hotel, the guyâ€™s performing in townâ€”heâ€™s probably someone famous.
â€œAre you anyone I might have heard of?â€ Dad asks.
â€œIâ€™m Neil Diamond,â€ the man says quietly.
Dadâ€™s musical tastes did not stretch far. He tuned in only polka music on his truckâ€™s AM radio. At home, he watched Lawrence Welk and _Hee-Haw._ But Dad was well read and knew about the world around him. He did not recognize Neil Diamond, but he knew the name. He knew enough to get his autograph, which Neil penned on the back of a ten-percent Happy Chef coffee discount card. â€œDiggerâ€”Good Luck!â€”Neil Diamond.â€
Dad would be dead one year later. But whenever I see Neil Diamond, I think of that morning at the Pfister. I wonder if he thinks back to that day, an early morning when, for just a few minutes, he was a regular guy, a nameless singer, chatting about the world and the weather with another regular guy.