Friday, 9 October 2009

A semi-random memory

My dad sent me an email this evening which triggered a memory I hadn't thought about for a while. In the summer of 1992, I was coming to the end of an unhappy year as a student in the urban planning graduate program at MSU. I had always been interested in urban planning, and still am (living in London, I am highly sensitive to the lasting effects of bad planning), and had entered the program with noble ideas of "making a difference." These were cured over the course of a year by interacting with people who actually were planners in Memphis, and seemed to be resigned to a life of despair, as well as one guy who had left a job as a telecom engineer with BellSouth, was about to get his Masters in planning, and faced the prospect of getting a job at half the level of his salary at BellSouth, if he could get a job at all. Clearly I was initially naive about the scope for planning to make any progress in America, and in Memphis in particular.

Anyway, this rather discouraging experience did give me one great anecdote. The professor I was assigned to as a research assistant was returning from an out of town trip, and had emailed me (my first use of email) to ask if I could collect her from the airport. One could say that this was an abuse of power, but I nevertheless agreed. She gave me her arrival time and said there was no need to park and come into the terminal. I should just wait in the car outside the arrivals hall. The problem being, of course, that you're not allowed (or at least you weren't back then) to just sit and wait, and as her flight seemed to be a little bit late, I could only keep circling around and back up the ramp to the arrivals exit. On my second lap, I slowed down to look inside the exit doors for any sign of her, but there was none. Just as I was about to drive off, I noticed a man standing by the exit with an unusual amount of luggage. No, I thought to myself, it couldn't be.

I drove around again, and returned to arrivals to still find no professor, but the man, a rather large black man in an avocado quasi-Elvis jumpsuit with cape, was still there, and I seemed to have caught his eye this time. I must have looked really stunned, and I remember smiling broadly at him. He smiled back, gave me the thumbs-up, and waved as I drove on. It was Barry White, waiting for his driver. I guess his career must have been at a very low ebb at that point. I hadn't thought about him in years, and it was long before the resurgence he would later properly enjoy. God knows what sort of ghastly gig he was in town for (and Barry had a lot of tough gigs), but it felt to me like he was really happy to see that someone recognized and remembered him. When I made my fourth and final lap, my professor was there, but Barry was gone.

1 comment:

Donna Upton said...

Great story!