The Piano Man

Older Boy announced he wanted to go to Europe with the language class during spring break, a plan that I fully support. But there was only one major question: how to pay for this little adventure.
I love travel. I believe in travel. I wish someone would pay me to travel. But I also know that if you don’t work for something, you don’t have the same level of appreciation for it. So we decided that Older Boy had to earn half the money to take the trip.
When trying to figure out what to do for fundraising, I asked a friend who’d been through the drill years ago for some advice. “What are his talents?” she asked. “He’s pretty good at the piano,” I told her. “So have him play,” she said. So we did.
While he did the requisite lawn mowing, pet sitting and flower watering this summer, the bulk of his fundraising time was spent twice a week on Main Street. Armed with my electronic keyboard, a homemade sign and a donation jar, he played everything from Maple Leaf Rag to Misty. And he rocked.
Not only did he make some cash, he ended up with some great stories too. Like the day he met the French tourists, young cute women, who stood and watched him, put money in his jar and before leaving, kissed his cheek. Or the jazz society patrons stopped at a red light who jumped out of the car with a fist full of ones for him. Or the day he found a fifty dollar bill in the jar. People wished him luck, took his picture and video taped him.
He also ended up with some fans. One afternoon at a burger joint a young guy came up to him and said, “You’re the kid that plays piano on Main Street – you’re awesome, dude.” Another day, I was sitting on the park bench across the street when two young men were going into the bookstore. “Did you hear that kid playing the piano across the street?” one guy said to his friend. “Yeah, he really rocks,” was the reply.
I think he learned a lot – about people and about himself. And in the process, he earned almost $1200 this summer. No small feat for a kid. And I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of his efforts.
But he’ll take to Europe more than the cash that he earned himself. He’ll take with him the knowledge of the effort it takes to earn a buck. And if you know how much work it takes to earn it, you are certainly more careful about how you spend it.
I think it’s pretty cool that he wants to continue playing on Saturdays in the fall. And I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s going to make half his money as we agreed.
I also know that if I ever need a quick buck, I’m going to dust off my piano skills and hit the street. But I’ll never make as much as he did. I’m just not as cute. Or as talented.


Back to the Real World


For some, thinking about Europe this month brings to mind the Tour de France. But for me this month in Europe represented the Tour de Biergartens.Because I was going to Germany and Austria.
Now admittedly, I was even more nervous flying this time since the Air France Airbus vanished midflight in June. I knew this flight would involve white knuckles, hyperventilation and most assuredly the use of prescription pharmaceuticals. Of course, I never contemplated cancelling the trip, even I am logical enough to realize the stupidity of that thought. But I did contemplate horse tranquillizers.
But on my arrival in Munich, I knew I’d found the land of my people. A place where beer for breakfast is not entirely out of the question. A place where you can find a biergarten on almost every corner. And I did my very best to hit every one in Munich and Salzburg not to mention all points in between. Not to pat myself on the back but I must say, job well done.
But now sadly it is back home to the real world, real life and real big loads of laundry. For now anyway. But I will return to the land of my grandfathers to refill my giant beer mug and sit in the shade of the chestnut trees. I am smitten. And how can you not love a country that sells beer, right alongside the Snickers, in the vending machine at the airport hotel?



4 months post-surgery

Four months post-surgery and I am back on the bike – in France! After meeting our friends in Paris, we walked miles all over the city doing the usual tourist stuff. We are staying in an apartment in Montmarte – I feel like we are having a real neighborhood experience buying fresh bread, cheese and wine each day. We then travelled by TGV down to Annecy where we are now cycling the Piste around the lake. These folks take their cycling seriously here. This is my first time back on the bike since surgery in February and I am one slow poke in comparison (probably because I am nervous about falling off or doing something really stupid). But the scenery is breathtaking and the path is paved so it is a good introduciton back to the saddle. I could never have done this trip without having surgery.

The Plane Truth

After a great visit, it’s finally time to go home. While it feels like we’ve been gone forever, I am thrilled that I made the choice to travel here. The midwest kindness and friendliness has been more than I could have hoped for.

Of course, our trip through the airport was completely eventful. It was the stuff my columns are made of, does the universe just know that I need material and freely send it my way? People ask me where I get the stuff for my columns and it’s quite simple: I wake up every day.

When we got to the airport, Gus got me inside and in a seat, wheeled the luggage in and returned the car. I told him that I was pretty hungry and kind of dizzy. So we decided to go through security first. Since this was my first post surgical trip through the metal detectors, which I knew I would set off, beyond that, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. We went to the handicapped line which was fine by me because my head was really spinning by then. Poor Gus was trying to deal with the luggage, the laptop and getting shoes off both of us. I’m sure we looked like a three ring circus. I told the woman that I was going to set it off since I’d just had hip surgery and that I was really dizzy and needed to sit down. By that time, Gus, whose driver’s license had expired had been whisked off for additional searching and I was left in a chair, feeling like I was on a listing boat. The women were quite nice and got me a wheelchair, let me eat something and offered to call for medical assistance, which would have been the ultimate in embarrassment. They did the official pat down as I stood with my crutches, sent my crutches through the x-ray and sent me on my way – probably much to their relief.

Gus got me to my plane waiting area in my wheelchair then went to catch his plane. (Strange, perhaps, but we’ve always flown separately since we had kids) When it was time to board, they let me, along with another wheelchair user, hobble on first. We were on time and ready to go, which I found particularly important since I had a 55 minute connection in Minneapolis. We sit and sit and sit some more before the captain comes on to announce that we need to refuel. Shouldn’t that have been on the checklist before we all boarded the plane???? So we wait and wait, my connection time diminishing with every tick of the clock. Finally the fuel truck arrives ane gasses up the plane. We depart Madison a full 55 minutes late. The captain says we should be able to make up some of the time, but I’m not sure it will be enough to get me to my next gate.

We landed at precisely 4:48 at gate C28 and I was due to depart at 5:06 no doubt from another concourse entirely. I’d requested a wheelchair and it was supposed to be waiting, which of course, it wasn’t. The woman at the desk said to catch the electric cart, which I saw was plugged in recharging. Meanwhile, they are paging me to board my flight which I now find is at gate F3. About that time, another woman from my flight walks up waiting for a cart to the F3 gate. She is grandmotherly age with a gruff German accent. I later find out she is an anthesiologist and has known my doctor since he was a resident in 1971. About that time both a cart and my wheelchair arrive. Hoping that they are holding the plane, I strap myself into the the only seat my leg will allow me to, the back right facing backwards. The German woman sits next to me, puts her arm around me and holds my bag. The driver, not quite comprehending that we have about 2 minutes now to traverse the entire Minneapolis airport, is dilly dallying around. We are shouting that our flight is at 5:06 and apparently he thinks we are advising him that it is flight number 506. When he finally realizes the miscommunication, I swear he peeled off his airport driver vest, put on a NASCARWinston jacket and goggles and took off across the airport in a high speed, KeanuReeves “Speed” driving display. People were jumping out of the way as he laid on the horn like a New York Cabbie. The German woman held onto me, probably fearing I’d go flying off the back and she’d miss her flight. Somehow, the driver got us to the plane seconds before the were going to close the door. As I hobbled onto the plane, 85 people glared at me for being late despite my pitiful crutches. Thankfully, the flight home was uneventful except for no luggage.

It’s good to be home! The boys met me at the airport with roses and hugs. The hugs were what I needed most.

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