*update: I have since discovered that the man I met was Peter “Rocky” Morley. He appears in this interview on YouTube, and as someone suggested in the comments years ago, is indeed included in this post “Tales from the Road” about Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. So fun to find out more about him online!
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Last Tuesday afternoon as I boarded my shuttle home from the Houston airport, I was surprised to find three other passengers along for the ride. Little did I know the service I booked was more Greyhound bus than direct route home, but I quickly realized I would be cruising with these three until all their stops had been reached.
I sat on the back bench of the shuttle van with a woman deeply engrossed in her novel. On the middle bench were two men – one older and gray-haired, one closer to middle age. No one spoke, not even the driver. I can be comfortable with silence, but it’s also nice to meet new people and welcome them to your city if they’re visiting. But even my brief, general attempts to start pleasant conversation were met with resistance by the passengers – all except the older, gray-haired gentleman. I discovered he had a British accent as he responded to some of my comments.
The middle-aged man in front of me was the first to leave; then it was the woman’s turn. When she left, I scooched up to the middle row and ask the older man if he minded me sitting with him. “No sense riding in the caboose if I don’t have to,” I said to him.
With the others gone, he seemed much more open to talking. He told me that this was not his first trip to the Houston area, and that he liked it so much better than London. He said in London, everyone is on top of each other, the pace is just too quick, and that he found the people of Houston “more civil.” I mentioned that I’m still new to Houston after having lived in the Portland, Oregon area for many years. “I’ve been to Portland,” he told me. “I used to be in the rock n’ roll business and traveled all over.” Our conversation continued with other basic topics like weather and traffic until I brought him back to his mention of the “rock n’ roll business.”
For the next 30 minutes or so, in the way only an older gentleman with a fabulous British accent and a head full of memories can, he told me the most amazing stories of his young life. He used to be a sound engineer on tour with shows like Wings and Eric Clapton. He hung out with the guys from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and The Who. He was at Woodstock as a roadie with Jimi Hendrix.
He told me about glueing the furniture to the ceiling of a hotel in Denver. And how four bands on tour happened to all be in New Orleans at the same time, and what havoc they wreaked. He told me about all the countries he’s been to, how he flew on the Concorde (before “one little accident, just one little accident shut the whole thing down!” he complained). Once on a flight with Wings, the flight attendant asked Paul McCartney if he’d ever been in the cockpit of an airplane. He said, “Yeah, but old Rocky hasn’t.” Rocky the Roadie, they used to call this gentleman. And so the flight attendant brought Rocky into the cockpit and let him fly the plane.
Eric Clapton was Rocky’s best man at his wedding. All the “old guys” get Rocky tickets to their shows if he happens to be where they are playing. Rocky is older now, and has cleaned up his act, and takes a little time to get where he needs to go, but in telling his stories, he just seemed to come alive, to be young again.
After his stop, I was left alone in the shuttle to ponder over the amazing discussion I’d just had with a truly interesting person. Just imagine if I had kept to myself and not engaged in conversation with him. It just goes to show that sometimes, it’s best to be friendly and alright (even recommended!) to talk to strangers.
*By the way, today – April 1st – is Rocky’s birthday. He came to the Houston area to celebrate with family. I never learned his real name, and I tried in vain to search for information about him online. Wherever you are out there, Rocky, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!