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Minnesota is as progressive as any of the fifty American states in the arena of social equality so if you insist on being an oppressed minority you might just as well do it here. My friends in Texas call us "drugstore liberals" because we haven't earned our bullshit when it comes to the cohabitation of the races but their criticism is weakened with each new census.

I look forward to the seamless social blending of Earthlings but will be pleasantly astonished if it occurs during my watch. I'm ashamed to say that I'm still burdened by some lingering racial stereotypes myself so I was taken aback the first time I encountered a black man in Minnesota with a British habit.

"Hullo, may I have a cuppa tea?"


The hotel bar was a non-scene so I did what I could to liven things up. Among my most powerful weapons in this pursuit was a gorgeous black lacquered medium grand piano. We didn't have a house musician so the thing was little more than an expensive piece of furniture but it was available to make a scene at a moment's notice.

The occasional hotel guest or bold employee would tap out a tune but even when it rested quietly the piano exuded an elegant ambience. I would ply talented visitors with free drinks to play for the assembled patrons, sometimes creating a glow equal to the finest salons in Paris. The gorgeous musical instrument may have been under utilized but it was not unappreciated.

The hotel was a large property and it contained three such pianos scattered throughout the building. All three were treated as decorative accessories and moved from room to room as necessary, to class things up and ruin their tuning. I would often arrive at the bar on Monday to discover that our piano had been "borrowed" over the weekend and moved to some remote corner of the facility. It required eight housemen and a good deal of effort to move one of the pianos up and down the stairs to the lounge so, once borrowed, it was never eagerly returned.

I'm sort of like the Rain Man when it comes to keeping things in their place so I would throw a well-scripted conniption fit every time the piano disappeared. Fortunately the night manager was a right thinking cat and would round up his minions to see to the piano's rightful return. The obvious logic that one of the instruments should live in the lounge at all times never sunk in with the cretins who ran the hotel so as many times as not it was absent without leave.

I eventually paid the ultimate price for their impertinence. They will never be forgiven.


I could tell there were rock stars in the hotel that day because the caravan of luxury busses was being corralled in the employee parking lot. When I checked out the bar keys the desk clerk told me that Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band were performing at the Minnesota State Fair and would be staying with us for three days. Two-thirty in the afternoon is pretty early in the morning for bartenders so my thrill over the arrival of the celebrities must have been subdued.

"Didn't you hear what I said?" The desk clerk was aghast at my apparent lack of enthusiasm. "You might have a Beatle in your bar!"

"Hey, don't get me wrong, it would be kickin' to pal around with Ringo but I seriously doubt that he'll make the scene."

"Don't be surprised if he does, they're eating in the restaurant right now."

This struck me as odd because the restaurant didn't usually open until five o'clock but I suppose being a Beatle has its privileges. When I got to the bar I could hear voices around the corner and sure enough one of them was Ringo's.

I'm certain that every level of fame has accompanying weirdness and that the depth of this weirdness is proportional to the individual's notoriety. Famous people have every reason to be a little spooky. I read a story once about two women coming to blows over possession of one of Bob Dylan's discarded cigarette butts. Ringo and his party were keeping a very low profile in the back corner of the empty restaurant.

I had three people at the bar by the time they had finished dinner and we were all punchy over our impending brush with greatness. The only egress from the restaurant was through the bar so we knew that we would at least catch a close up glimpse of the former mop-top. As I predicted, Ringo didn't linger and if any of the people at the bar blinked they would have missed his Greta Garbo impersonation entirely.

For years afterward I would do my impression of the former Beatle, which consisted of pulling a hat down over half of my face, covering the remainder with my hand and practically running through the bar.


If you want to get a rise out of an American bartender ask him for hot tea. Despite the growing popularity of herbal tea among the neo-hippie, Earth Mother set, the beverage is largely unappreciated in the former colonies. Hot tea is a huge pain in the ass to the average American bartender because the facilities for its preparation aren't kept handy and the revenue for your effort is scant.

If you ask me for hot tea in a busy bar I will generally turn my head like a confused puppy and move on to the low maintenance, bourbon swilling fellow next to you. When the black gent with the British twang put in his polite order I was standing in an empty bar so I was obliged to fetch it.

As I made my way back to the kitchen, cursing his impertinence just under my breath, I pondered the oddity of a black man in Minneapolis doing teatime with the Brits. His face seemed familiar so I wrestled to make the association while I prepared his tea. He thanked me graciously and when he gave me a broad smile I recognized him instantly.

"I'll be damned, you're Billy Preston. You're the fifth Beatle!"

"I've been called a half Beatle before and I think I'd rather be called the fifth."

I admit I was star struck for a moment but I'm proud to say that I regained my wits immediately. Instead of fawning over him I wanted to know what was in it for me.

"Hey, Billy, could you give me a little Jo-Jo?"

The song, "Get Back" was an enormous hit for the Beatles and Billy Preston held down a piano stool right smack in the middle of it. The man must have been exhausted to the brink of insanity over requests to play that tune and a free cup of tea was little incentive to a cat who plays in stadiums. I was shocked speechless, when he blithely agreed.

"Sure, man, I'd love to..."

I've replayed the scene in my mind a hundred times since then and the soundtrack is always the same. I make the turn to gesture toward the now absent piano stool in slow motion and the theme from the shower scene in Psycho screeches in my ears.

"...where's your piano?"

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