Saturday, March 26, 2011

She guarded my donuts for me: Like Hale for Water Music, Part I

The lobby at Powell Hall was mobbed Friday morning. I remember talking to Fred Bronstein at dinner when he was the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra president-elect, and Fred saying what remains a theme: Powell should be a destination.

On this cold, wet morning, it was more like a way station. I mean, it was bad out there. Snow, sleet, hale. The ticket handed me by the box office person identified the concert as Water Music. I took that around as a witticism to my fellow concert-goers mobbed in the lobby. "Hale for Water Music," I would say. Wasn't getting the laughs. Tried adding, "Hale is a form of water." Realized people understood that part; the problem was, I was not funny.

I like these Friday morning shows, because I am more awake at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday morning than I am when the band strikes up at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. I kept saying to the other people, "Weather like this would have kept us home on a Saturday night," and there was consensus on that point. Matter of fact, had I started a petition drive -- right then and there in the Powell lobby -- to move the Symphony's subscription series to Friday morning concerts with free coffee and donuts, then I think Fred would have been met with a major new programming challenge.

Krispy Kreme was the donut vendor. God bless those good people. I picked up as many glazed as I could carry on my thumbs and moved in for the java.

I'm going to go ahead and say the Symphony could use a feng shei consultant, or a traffic engineer, for how it dispenses free coffee and donuts in the same, fairly narrow space, cut in half by a bar, that connects the front door and the concert seats.

It was rush hour, Highway 40 in there, but with no pavement markings, no traffic cops, and (let me come right out and say it) almost only elderly drivers. I am not young and I drive like a little old man, so I include myself in the indicted group. We were not moving fast, not responding to traffic puzzles with speed or dexterity. We were clogging up the arteries of Powell like three glazed donuts.

Yes, three. I know I have only accounted for two, having carried one on each thumb, having only two thumbs. But I was hankering for a third glazed.

By now, I had navigated the badly snarled coffee pot gridlock and found the one single place remaining to stand with a place to perch your coffee cup. It was, of course, the corner of a bar. There was a nice-looking old lady (age, maybe, seventy) beside me at the bar. She seemed to be at the concert alone. She was all dolled up, looking sharp. There was straight away a neighborly vibe, the place being so packed, us smashed against the bar. We were kind of in this thing together.

I thought my wheels and reflexes for incoming traffic might be in better shape than hers, so I offered to spring for another donut.

"You mean you can do that?" she asked, in a really cool European accent. She'd been keeping to just one donut, observing some limit.

I walked over like I owned the place, dodging through the tangles of concert-goers and donut-eaters, and came back with two more glazed on my thumbs, one for her and one for me. This was when I realized I had picked the right ally. When I say she had the path blocked to my spot at the bar, I mean physically. This was like a seventy-year-old lady, but she had flung herself around my notebook and coffee cup and thrown out arms. If you were moving in on my space, you were going to have to break one of her arms to get there.

I reflected on something I think a lot, as a married parent. How much easier life is with somebody to hold up half of it, whatever it is.

My little old lady's coffee looked like it needed freshening. I came back with one Styrofoam cup of coffee that I split between us, to freshen up both. Again, she made a physical barricade of herself, in protection of my turf, until I got back. I loved this lady.

We got to talking over coffee and Krispy Kremes. Turns out she had driven over from the Illinois side, Bunker Hill. I grew up on the East Side and had a boyhood girlfriend whose folks had a place in Bunker Hill, kind of a country home for steel mill townies. I was taken back almost thirty years to an anguished boyhood crush (the girl with the country home in Bunker Hill was the kind of girl who really sticks to the ribs of the mind) when my new ally took her own flight into the past: to Vienna, where she grew up.

Holy shit. All I know about classical music is what I read in those slick, smart little program Symphony magazines. They always have a little box that says where the composer was born and died. I have noticed many of the great composers seem to croak in Vienna. People die where they live, where they work, where they want to be remembered. Vienna, clearly, was the top-shelf hang for this symphony orchestra thing.

When I gushed to my new buddy that I had never seen a better orchestra than the one in St. Louis, she said, with no boast to herself, nor insult to the house, that she had seen many better. That, in fact, was when she let drop with the Vienna name magic.

They started to ding those bells that send people to their seats. I have a lot of friends who work for the Symphony, and they don't get shook up like the rest of us do when the bells ding to start the show. From Symphony staffers, I have learned you have plenty of time to finish your wine, or donut. But the older folks move slower and don't want to hold anybody up, so my friend from Vienna was off as at the pop of a gun.

There was a moment there. I think we both felt like we had something new we wanted to hold onto. Maybe it was a form of ageism in not just asking for her number. I am going to go ahead and say it was. A man is just a lot more likely to collect a phone number from a pretty woman who is near him in age, at least within two decades, give or take.

But we did define that corner of the bar at Powells as ours, and agree to meet again. "Next coffee concert," the little old lady said, as we parted ways -- and she pointed to the turf she had so fearlessly defended.

To be continued ....


Donut shot from the Flickr site of Scott Ableman; it belongs to him, not me.

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