In some ways, day-to-day life is pretty much the same no matter where that place called home is situated. But I can say with certainty that my first Midwestern volunteering experience would never have happened while living in Silicon Valley.
After moving, I took it slowly when it came to getting involved with the various groups in the area. My first experience volunteering was for a local music festival. I naively thought, sure I could be the handler for a visiting artist. What could be so hard about that? Even I could be hospitable for just one night.
I went to a rather chaotic volunteer meeting–one of those where just about everyone other than me had done this before and knew what they were about–learning next to nothing about what I was supposed to do and when I was supposed to do it. Fortunately, someone called me days later with a few more details. I was to pick up and escort an artist tagged with a rather unfortunate name, one of those inappropriate names that makes a person cringe to speak aloud, a name like “Washington Redskins.” In spite of the abhorrence of many Republican candidates for political correctness, every fiber of my being recoiled against calling an African American male with a visual impairment by this name. But that is what he calls himself, and that is who I would be shepherding. I vowed to learn his given name as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, yet-to-be renamed artist was having difficulties with an international flight coming through New York and would I mind picking him up at midnight at the bus station on Friday night? Meeting a blues musician at midnight. I turned to the spouse after hanging up the phone and said, “I’m goin’ down to the crossroads.” I tried to get across that perhaps I was not the best person to be hanging around bus stations by myself at midnight; were something to happen the local paper would report me as “Elderly woman struck down in bus station.” Fortunately the delay was even longer, so rather than at midnight it was at noon the following day that I lurked around the bus station waiting for the artist.
I did not need help to pick him out of the crowd, he was the only one climbing off the bus carrying a banjo, a guitar, a cane, and dressed in overalls and floppy hat like a depression era dust bowl escapee. The first order of business was to take him to his hotel to check in and clean up. I brought things to do expecting to have to wait for him in the lobby while he freshened up. But no, he wanted to just drop his stuff, grab a bite, and get jammin’ with all the other musicians. He then surprised me with the question, “Where can I get Kosher food?” I had no idea but remembered a friend telling me that their Jewish family tradition on Christmas Day is to eat Chinese Food. I suggested a Chinese restaurant and this was acceptable. In thinking he would want to sit down and eat I was mistaken once again. No time for food, he wanted to get jammin’ with all the other musicians. Off we went with a couple of styrofoam containers filled with Chinese food tossed into a bag. He had flown across the Atlantic through New York, connected on a domestic flight, and boarded a bus to his final destination. An exhausting trip, yet he was still moving with purpose, not even a pause to change his shirt or stop to eat.
The festival had workshops, jamming sessions, and performances at several venues around the town. I guided him to the green room in the main venue so he could eat his food and relax with other musicians. Nope. He dropped his bag of styrofoam containers on a table and took off for the stage and was soon jammin’ with whoever would pick up an instrument. In a very short time I had to round him up to get him to another venue, untouched styrofoam containers left behind, for his next workshop.
We arrived at an intersection and just as I was about to guide him across the crosswalk he took off diagonally across the middle of the street–full speed ahead–with me chasing after him, all the while trying to signal the traffic to stop, hoping the drivers could see his white cane. Getting him from one place to the next was pretty much the same, always having too good a time to leave but in a big hurry to get to the next stop once I got him moving. His first performance venue was at a bar. The bar was packed when we entered, me carrying banjo and guitar cases and he holding his cane. Before I could finish checking in with the gatekeeper, he pushed through the crowd towards the stage, leaving me to weave my way through aften him while trying to avoid whacking people with the heavy cases. I caught up with him at the side of the stage, set his cases down, and just when I was hoping we could stay put a moment he says, “I need a whiskey to clear my throat.” I probably did too, but off I went to the bar to buy him a shot, hoping he would stay where I left him and wondering if whiskey was Kosher.
Apparently one whiskey was enough to wet his whistle, but clearly not enough to get him through the performance. Soon he had audience members handing him up shots of whiskey. With great optimism, I thought it might slow him down a bit. Wrong. We got back to the main venue and, after a brief pause to eat out of those styrofoam containers that had been sitting there for hours, he was just getting started.
His performances had concluded and I believed my job was done, then he found the dance floor. At this point I had been his keeper for over 10 hours and while I was completely and utterly exhausted he had only just begun. I must have looked spent because at this point one of the organizers took pity on me and offered to find someone to take him back to his hotel when he was ready. Later I heard he went back to his hotel sometime in the wee hours. Forget going down to the crossroads at midnight, he was jammin’ well past the midnight hour and into the dawn’s early light.
Not sure if it was the Kosher food, the music, or the whiskey shots, but he certainly had seemingly endless jet-lag impervious energy and joy that sprang from somewhere. Even spotting me a trans-Atlantic flight and cross continental journey before my job started, I could not begin to keep up. I think it is too late in life for me to dress in overalls and play the banjo–and I don’t have a taste for whiskey–but I could try Kosher food for stamina. Who knows, maybe there really is something to that chicken soup.
Went down to the crossroads and what did I find there? Nothing but energy, energy fueled by food, whiskey, and music, energy fueled by pure joy of life.