It's not unusual for breakfast to be a confusing affair.
It's early. You've just woken up. The restaurant has most likely been open for a few hours, and the servers have been up far longer than you have. The restaurant's busy. You have 45 minutes to kill. You're hungry. They're not. You need coffee. They don't. And unless you have the luxury to be in a restaurant you've frequented before, it's time to make a serious choice--one that has the opportunity to set the tone for the day.
But this morning when I sat down at the breakfast table and gave my voucher to the waiter he asked me what kind of bread I wanted.
"Well, I haven't even seen a menu," I said.
"The only choice is bread and drinks," he said.
"Okay, I'll have a coffee and a croissant."
"Very good, sir."
Well, that's strange. I had just spoken to Tom, the Young at Heart's sax player, and he was finishing up what looked like a three course meal--pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc.
Well, I thought to myself, I do like it when they don't give you too many options on a menu. Five menu pages makes me nervous--it's usually accompanied by sandwiches named after famous people or medical conditions. One side of one piece of paper has potential for upscale flair. But no options except for bread and drinks gave me pause.
I politely asked the maitre 'd , who had been talking to Diane, our production manager at the table next to me, if this was the proper course of events at breakfast for a member of the Young at Heart Chorus.
He shook his head and said no.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "Our waiter didn't know you were with the group. Those vouchers are usually used for continental breakfasts ... for family member of patients staying here ... er ... for family members of patients at the hospitals next door who are staying here with us."
And then he told me that, of course, I could have anything on the menu.
Over the course of the years between winter 2005 and fall 2008 I had driven by this hotel probably a hundred times. I never noticed it, however, because I was trying to follow the flow of traffic on Longwood Ave. My goal was always to get to the end of Longwood, take a left onto Huntington and follow route 9 until I saw signs for the Mass Pike. From there I would either go home to Northampton or to my family's house in Mattapoisett--it's about the same distance either way.
Up until December of 2005 I would have had no reason to be driving a car. I only was given one when my mom got her terminal diagnosis. From then on I would know this route all too well.
I would have been coming from either the Dana Farber Cancer Center or Brigham and Women's Hospital. They're both on this block. The Children's Hospital is, too. So is Beth Israel Deaconess.
It's a sea of white coats, green scrubs, and blue smocks.
Crutches, wheelchairs, stretchers, and ambulances.
Taxis, buses, shuttles, and bikes.
Patients and families smiling, grimacing, bracing, relieved, devastated, hoping, praying, walking, rolling and drifting.
Doctors, nurses, orderlies, receptionists, and janitors, smoking, eating, laughing, texting, calling, emailing and heading home or back to work.
And on occasions when I needed to be here there would be me in my car coming out of the parking garage driving down Longwood on my way to Huntington en route to the Mass Pike.
And now, today, on my two day stint in Boston, Massachusetts this is my view.
It's the same view I would see from the ground on my way home. It's the street I'd oftentimes look down and glimpse the famous Citgo sign, smiling for a second, knowing that the Red Sox held court there over 80 times a year. Sometimes I was so wrapped up in pain and covered in tears that I didn't really know where I was. Once or twice I'd take this left instead of the next and then try to fight my way back to the Pike. Boston drivers are mostly assholes, but at least they're from Boston.
There were plenty of times I'd pass by this street with hope in my heart from a good prognosis a doctor gave regarding my mom or aunt. I had plenty of good visits with each of them when they respectively had to stay here for extended periods of time. And, of course, there were the times I had to bring them to their appointments after they were too sick to drive themselves.
And over a hundred times I waited at the traffic light--below the room I'm writing from at this very moment--never once looking right at the hotel that would have me as a guest while on tour with one of the most amazing groups of people in the world.
My life has put me through some tough stuff over the past few years. I try not to brood about it too much because this is what life is made up of. But if we had no contrast to the great things that happen we would never know they even occurred.
I'm here to play two nights at the prestigious Berklee Performance Hall at the school of music by the same name. It's where some of the most famous musicians who have ever lived have performed.
In the picture below which I took from our bus window you can see a little brown box. This box contains my cables, strings, and other items I need to play with. It's about to be brought into the theater.
Where this brown box sits is the exact spot where Jodi and I met one of our heroes, guitarist extraordinaire Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. I took her here on one of our first big dates in April of 2009 (and wrote about it all right here on this very blog!). The vantage point where I took this picture is where his bus was parked that night.
Sometimes it's all too much for me to take.
I don't remember how I got here--to this point in my life where I'm able to do the things I have always wanted to for as far back as I can remember--but as long as I am able to continue I will attempt to treat this life with respect, reverence, and awe, realizing that it was not that long ago I was begging my mom to give me a guitar for my birthday.
I had a great breakfast today. My croissant was stellar. The coffee strong and hot. The pancakes retained a crispiness around the syrupy, soaked edges that defied logic. My eggs were the definition of "over easy." My bacon was perfect and the two demure sausage links gave my teeth just the right amount of fight before they surrendered to my incisors.
But when my waiter assumed I was here for the continental it brought me back down to earth.
I realized, yet again, where I was: the hospital hotel.
And the people who are staying here in this hotel with me are not all family members of patients. They didn't necessarily just book a room here to be close to their loved ones. I'm sure some people just read good reviews of the place and figured it seemed like the logical choice.
The odds are greater, but odds always have two sides.
So I'll close this story and lay back and watch the rain come down. It's supposed to drop two inches on us today.
It's been a long, dry summer into fall. The ground is thirsty. The trees are thirsty. The reservoirs are low and the rivers are shadows of their former selves.
And the contrasts continue to show us what it's like when it's not like it was.
Thanks for reading,
PS: for those who'd like to read the story of meeting John McLaughlin, you can check it out here.