My Thanks to Neal McCoy…and to the Guys in the Band (Becky too)

Sometimes, for the sake of delivering on a promise made, you might have to risk looking like a groupie, an awkward fan, and yes…even a stalker.

It’s a hot day. It’s my third year volunteering at William Shatner’s Hollywood Charity Horse Show in Burbank, California. I show up really early because I’m excited to be reunited with my fellow volunteers from the previous two years, and I know that Neal McCoy is performing tonight. I want to say hello before my shift begins, parking cars. Neal McCoy is an American country music singer who has released 10 studio albums, 34 singles, numerous platinum and gold albums, he’s been on USO tours, and currently tours the U.S. with the best band ever. He’s everywhere. And he’s a friend of mine.

I check in and get my t-shirt, walk into the restroom for a pit stop and to change clothes. In the stall next to me I can hear someone on the phone. I try to be quiet, and then without thinking…I flush. Oh no! I jump out of my stall and stand ready to apologize to my bathroom buddy while tucking in my shirt as she opens her stall door, still talking on the phone. I mouth to her, “I’m so sorry I flushed!” She laughs, quickly says goodbye to her son and tells me not to worry about it at all. She then tells me about another time she was in the restroom when her phone rang and it was an important celebrity she had been trying to reach for a charity request, so she had to answer. We laugh, hug (after washing our hands) and introduce ourselves.

My new friend’s name is Sue. Sue Quick. And she is about as big as a minute so her name fits. She stands just under 5 feet tall (I’m guessing) and I can tell she’s a horse lover, she just has that heart, ya know? She also has beautiful silver hair that appears to be in the same stage of growing back as my mother’s. My observation is confirmed when she tells me that like my mom, she too has undergone recent chemo treatments and will soon be traveling back to her home state for another round. She wants to “stick around” to have more time with her sons, so the chemo is worth it to her. She tells me with tears in her eyes and a childlike grin that tonight is important to her because it might be her last time to volunteer with this event. She is filled with joy and her inner light radiates like the sun.

Now back to that important restroom “stall call.”

Sue tells me she was talking to her son because he loves Neal McCoy and when she told him Neal was performing he said, “Awww! How cool, Mom! Wish I could get an autograph!” Hmmm…my wheels start turning. I tell Sue that Neal is one of the friendliest, most personable guys in the business, and if I can find a way to get her son an autograph I’d be happy to do that. Sue lights UP. She says that would mean the world to her son and she thanks me in advance, saying not to worry if it is too much trouble. Psssshhhh…trouble? I’ll just ask him! Now I’m on a mission…

Before heading out to the hot and dirty parking lot (my favorite assignment) and to check in with my friends who are on the same shift, I send a text to Neal. He answers right away and says to come by the stage to say hello at 6pm, he’ll be there for sound check. I tell him I’ll do that and I also mention the autograph I’d like to get for Sue’s son if he doesn’t mind signing something. He doesn’t hesitate, responds immediately with a text to say he’d be happy to sign an autograph. I knew it! Best guy EVER. I can hardly wait to see Sue’s face when I hand over this gift for her son, whose name is Ben.

Here’s where it gets screwy and my heart jumps way ahead of my brain having any thoughts of what others might think of me or how foolish and creepy I might appear. For the first time in my many years of volunteering, I feel the need to leave as soon as my shift ends because I’m hoping to get home as soon as possible. I’ve been staying with a dear friend and things haven’t been going well between us. I’m not sure why and it is very important to me to do whatever I can to mend our friendship before I leave California and drive to Texas in a couple of days.

At one point during my shift in the parking lot, I am asked to report to the volunteer tent to help with another assignment. While I’m there, I run into Neal and he mentions that Les might have a headshot in the bus that we can give to Sue with an autograph for her son. This is turning out to be so easy! Thank ya, Lord! So…where is Les? How do I get the photo without being too pushy? Neal asks if I’m staying for the dinner, I say no, he generously insists I sit at one of his tables with his son Swayde and other family members, Kirbie and Colleen. I start to sweat. I don’t want to say no, but I need to get home and more than that I need that photo for Sue because I know she’s got her hopes up. Dang. I’m honored and so happy to be invited, so I agree to stay. I can do this. Then my mind starts to wander…oh no, did he politely ask me to sit at their table because I am lurking around like a stalker, hoping Les will see me and get the autograph so I can make Sue Quick’s dream come true? Am I creeping him out like a stalker? I’m standing by the stage, totally out of place and it is so awkward, that Neal very kindly introduces me to the person he is talking to. Do I take the hint? Nope! Determined not to ask about the autograph, choosing instead to be awkwardly in the way. Great plan, Terri. Great plan.

Thinking fast, I grab a program from my seat at the table and run to the volunteer tent to grab a sharpie so I can just get Neal to sign it quickly instead of imposing on Les for the official photo from the bus. I go back to the dinner as everyone is being seated and the bar is hopping. I still have on my badge and must look very important with my program and sharpie in hand (from experience, I know to look for someone with a badge and a sharpie when you want something done at an event) because two gentlemen stop me to say it appears the table to which they’ve been assigned has no empty seats. Could I help them please? Yikes. My first rule of running a charity event: make sure the guests are happy and taken care of while you also mind the charity’s reputation with gratitude and appreciation. “Of course, I’d be happy to help, which table is yours?” They point to the one that is within earshot and the people sitting there look familiar but I can’t quite place them. Still, being between the old “rock and a hard place,” I now must figure out the situation in order to help these gentlemen. I walk up to the table and ask, “Excuse me, are all of you assigned to this table?” One of the guys looks up at me and says, “We’re the band and this plate of food is saved for Neal McCoy so he can eat before we go on.” Of course you are and of course it is and of course I want to crawl under the table, and I thank you for the information. Enjoy.

Holy crap. What’s a girl to do now? She goes into full force event mode, that’s what.

I see someone with a radio and ask him to call the person in charge and ask her to come to table 27. I go back over to the gentlemen who are still standing there and about to finish their drinks. I smile my biggest smile. I tell them it’s all being taken care of and as a matter of fact, they are sharing a table with Neal McCoy, and while we wait for him to arrive…”might I go and get you gentlemen another drink? On the house?” They accept and I dash off to the bar and politely break in line (remember I have a sharpie and paperwork in my hand so I look important) asking for “…two celebrity comp drinks, please. A Corona with lime and a gin and tonic.” When I get back to the gentlemen with their drinks, the person in charge is at the table asking what is going on. I tell her, she walks over to the gentlemen and all is well. The band is finished eating by that time and the wonderfully patient gentlemen are able to take their seats and enjoy the show. Whew!

It’s getting later and I am really thinking about my friend and how I can make things better when I get back to her house. I’m also realizing I haven’t seen Les. No photo. No Neal. No autograph for Sue Quick’s son…that can’t happen. Time to be a stalker again. I’m sitting at the table having a delightful conversation with Colleen and a gentleman I’ve just met who is sitting to my left. He introduces me to his partner of more than 20 years and their god-daughter who is just about to go to college. I am so enjoying their stories!

For a glorious half hour I forget to be in a hurry. I get right back into my comfort zone and remember that everything is always working out for the highest good of all involved. It’s all good.

The show is delayed for the best reason, as William Shatner graciously insists on working the room every year and consciously stopping at every table to intentionally meet and thank every guest for being there. Neal is walking around with him tonight and as they stop at our table, I look up and see Les standing behind them holding the autographed photo for Sue’s son, and Neal has personalized it “to Ben.” I whisper “Thank you” to Neal and give Les a big hug as they move on to the next table with sincere thanks to the fans sitting there. I rush to the volunteer tent to find Sue, but no one knows where she is. I search everywhere, finally find her sitting in a special chair, just for her, right next to the stage. She is giddy with excitement to be front and center for Neal’s show. By now guests are up and moving around, turning their seats away from the dinner table so they can watch the show. I scoot sideways, turning this way and that, taking the long way around the room and finally getting to Sue. I hand her the photo for Ben and give her a big, long, loving hug. I tell her what a pleasure it has been to volunteer with her and we exchange info so we can keep in touch.

I realize I’ve been so wound up the past few hours, parking cars, impersonating someone important, breaking into line at the bar, lying for free alcohol, stealing a sharpie out of someone’s backpack (I returned it), and stalking the band, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day. As hard as I’ve been trying to get back to my friend’s house all evening, something tells me to sit down and rest a minute or two, drink some water, take a few bites of dinner before leaving. I always listen when God whispers to me like that. It’s that intuition we are all born with, and it’s never wrong.

It’s 9:30pm and I feel my phone vibrate. I look at it to see who is calling me that late, and it’s my mom calling from Texas, which means it’s 11:30pm for her. I know what this call means. I don’t catch it in time, so I get up from the table, tell Swayde I have to leave, there’s been a death in my family, it’s my step father. I step outside into the cool, breezy California air to return my mom’s call. I sit down on the steps outside, take a few deep breaths and look up at the stars. I call her back. “David died,” she says. I say, “OK. I can leave tonight.” She says there is no need to rush back, so I say I’ll leave the day after tomorrow as planned. I’m thinking that way I can get some sleep before hitting the road, and more importantly I can spend the next day with my friend, hoping we can get to a good place and I can let her know how much I care about our friendship. As life sometimes unfolds, that is another story for another time.

Sue friended me on Facebook the next morning.

Sue’s son, Ben, was very happy to get his autograph.

Most of the time, volunteering isn’t only about the assignment you are given for the event. It’s usually about being authentic and present while seeing, hearing, and appreciating the other people who are standing beside you in the dirt, sitting at your table, or talking on the phone in the bathroom stall next to you. It’s about listening to the “whisper” and doing what it tells you to do even if it doesn’t make sense. It’s about releasing all judgment and comparison, going for it, taking the risk, looking silly, being in the way, feeling awkward. It’s worth it.

There is a gift in every moment. Love always, T.

One thought on “My Thanks to Neal McCoy…and to the Guys in the Band (Becky too)

  1. lorrie says:

    Fantastic! Love the story, love that you shared it, love that you did everything in your power to get Sue her autograph and love that you listened to your gut, got some water and some food! You are an incredibly special person, my friend! You inspire me, and I often think to myself, “What would Terri do?”. I admittedly don’t always follow your ‘silent’ advice, but you are present with me on a regular basis in my heart and head!

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