We were returning from a meeting in Albuquerque. I was sharing the story with Rob, an employee that worked with me at our mental health center about the 18-wheeler event a few weeks prior As we drove through Santa Rosa, I told Rob I needed to stop and call home because Dawn and Johnny would be worried if I got home late. They had been waiting up for me ever since their Dad died. I pulled over at the filling station, where I usually filled up with gas. Rob said that he wanted to remain in the car, so I went in to use their telephone.
As I entered, I saw a man using the only phone this service station had. I waited for him to get off. No one else was in the office, so it was easy to hear every word he said. I listened to the man sitting at the desk say, “I like staying in your hotel, but do not do what you did the last time I was there. I got no sleep. If this happens again, I will never return. I had people knocking on my door all night. List me under the name Sam Smith, not Billy Joel. Do you understand? I told you to do this when I previously stayed with you, and you ignored my request. Do not list me as Billy Joel. Sam Smith is my name tonight, have you got that?”
Not being able to resist this fun opportunity, I walked closer, smiled down at him sitting at the desk with the phone to his ear, tapped him on the shoulder several times, and said, “Mr. Joel, Mr. Joel, may I have your autograph?”
He ignored me and kept talking. With no one else in the office, I just stood there and listened to Billy Joel as he continued, “Now I have forgotten how to get to the Hilton Hotel. Can you give me directions?” He stopped to write them down and got confused. “I don’t understand.”
I quietly shared with him as she was giving confusing directions, and he kept trying to write them down right. “I just came from the Hilton in Albuquerque. I can give you easy directions.”
Billy Joel spoke into the phone: “Never mind, I will be there in a few hours. Have all of the suites on the top floor ready. Thank you.”
After completing the transaction with a credit card, he ended the call. I gave him the directions that would take him right to the Hilton and picked up the phone to call home. Billy Joel walked out the door. Johnny answered, and I began telling him where I was and shared I had stopped to call but would be home soon. (Billy Joel re-entered the station’s office and interrupted me.)
Billy Joel: “I did not mean to say that I do not like my fans. I want to give you my autograph.”
Me: “I don’t want your autograph. I could not resist teasing you a little bit, because you looked so tense.”
Billy Joel: ” But I really would like to give you my autograph.”
Me: “No, I do not need it.” I kept returning to my phone call home.
Johnny: “Mom, who is talking to you?”
Me: “Billy Joel”
Johnny: (excitedly) “You don’t want his autograph? I want his autograph!”
Me: “My son would like your autograph.”
Billy Joel: “O.K., Give me a piece of paper.”
I struggled to hold the phone and find a piece of paper. Unable to find one, I pulled out my planner and opened it to a page that had writing on it. I passed the planner to Billy Joel open to the pages written on and pointed to where he could write. He turned the pages to find a future blank one. I reacted, “No, do not write on that page. I will need that page later.”
Billy Joel: “You want me to write my autograph on a page where you have already written? Are you kidding?”
Me: “No, I am not kidding. That is my planner. I need those other pages.”
Billy Joel: “Please find me a page I can write on.” I did so, and after writing his autograph, he returned my planner and again headed out the door.
Then I was able to focus on my phone call to Johnny. Dawn asked to tell me something. Johnny relinquished the phone to her. About that time, Billy Joel re-entered the office again. He now had another man with him. They stood across the room opposite me, watched, smiled, and listened as I finished with Dawn and hung up the phone. I started to leave. I thought they might be waiting for the phone.
Billy Joel hesitantly said, “Wait, we want to ask you something if you don’t mind.” (I paused, and they slowly continued.) “Would you consider going with us to Albuquerque? You would have a suite all to yourself. We would love to have someone like you show us Albuquerque, places to eat, sites, whatever you like.” I said, “No, I need to go home.” Billy Joel continued, “You had better get this man’s autograph. You are going to want it, but first I have a question for you.”
Me: “What is it?”
Billy Joel: “Do you know who I am and what I do?” I was thinking for a minute before responding. He said, “She doesn’t know who I am. She doesn’t!” Then I said, “I think you sing? I have heard your name.” Billy Joel came back with, “I don’t believe it. You do not know. What do I sing? I tried to explain that I had lots going on in my life. I love music, but only half-listen to it. “I do not know the titles of your songs; I am sorry.”
“The other man was quiet and smiled a gentle smile while Billy Joel questioned me. Then Billy Joel turned towards the man and said, “You truly do want this man’s autograph now because he is going to be famous soon.” I asked, “And why will you be famous?” Billy Joel answered for him, “This is Richard Gere, and his movie will be coming out soon. Remember this title. It is “American Gigolo.”
I said, “Congratulations! I will watch it, but it might be a long time before I get to see it. I live in a small town, Portales, NM, and we have only one theatre. It takes us a while to have a new release. I will watch it, though. Right now, I need to get home. I hope you two have fun in Albuquerque. I have two children waiting for me. Their Dad died earlier this year, and they worry if I am late. I also have a friend in the car with me that needs to get home.”
Billy Joel: “Are you sure you cannot call them and go with us for just one day in Albuquerque?” I decided they wanted someone that looked at them as usual, not famous. I said, “No, have a good time.”
I returned to the car, and we headed home. Rob asked, “What took you so long? I shared that Billy Joel and Richard Gere were in there asking questions. Rob was stunned and sorry he did not go in with me.
When I got home, Dawn and Johnny wanted the details. I said, “They wanted me to turn around and go back to Albuquerque. They responded, with something like this: “You mean you left us several weeks ago and got into an 18-wheeler, but you would not go to Albuquerque with Billy Joel? ” They were quite put out with me. It has been a fun story for all three of us to share over the years.