This past Christmas Eve, we had just returned from a candlelight church service back to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis to have dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Cappacio’s.
From my view, I watched the staff scurrying with meaningful steps between the kitchen and the tables. Carl, the food and beverage manager, was among them, rushing around, too. It soon became entertainment to me. The pace was steady. There were 10 or 12 dashing about. No one stopped to speak or, for that matter, look at a fellow server. They were intent on serving tables quickly. When my pasta arrived, it was gloriously hot.
It was all so impressive that I flagged down Carl — he was almost breathless from the rush — to compliment the food and service.
This reminded me of something else I had seen once in the same restaurant.
From the beginning of my book publishing career, Memphis was always on my media tours. It has always been a good city to me. Its radio and television folks invited me on their shows and the booksellers put on terrific events. As a result, my books usually made the best-seller list in Memphis. Another standard of those stops was that I always stayed at the Peabody and was attended by a media escort named Pat Speltz, who had the wonderful job of driving authors who came to town for book signings.
Pat, tiny and always perfectly attired from hair to toes, is a typical Southern woman. Everything matches. She is talkative, smart and hospitable. Memphis was quite possibly my favorite stop for many reasons, Pat not being the least of them. Her stories were engaging, and she was full of tidbits about the authors who had toured in front of me. It is a tribute to the love I feel for Pat — I even stayed in her beautiful Georgian home on another occasion when I was passing through — that I have a photo of us sitting on the famous Peabody fountain with the ducks swimming behind us. For a decade, that photo has set on the table in the foyer.
One morning during a tour stop in Memphis, Pat had picked me up early in order to appear on the television show “Good Morning, Memphis.” We had stopped at a radio station to do an interview, then headed back to the Peabody to have breakfast at Cappacio’s. Despite its name, it served a delicious hot Southern breakfast with steaming cream gravy, biscuits, grits, bacon, eggs and just about anything else you could name.
On a previous stay at the Peabody, board members from St. Jude were staying there, in town for a meeting. Sadly, I did not get to glimpse my childhood hero, Marlo Thomas. On this visit I mention now, the hotel was again covered up with business.
“Something with St. Jude,” Pat reported. “I think it may be a golf tournament. Look there.” She gestured a few feet away. It was comedian Bill Murray. It was late spring, and he was dressed in long shorts and an untucked golf shirt. He sat down, alone, to have breakfast but talked happily with anyone who approached.
We were seated in sight of the buffet bar and the kitchen. After Mr. Murray finished eating, he went behind the counter and shook the hand of every server and cook.
“Delicious breakfast!” he said, grinning and putting his hand on one server’s shoulder. “Thank you for your hard work.”
Wordlessly, we watched the scene. He took time and interest in each one. “That’s one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever seen,” I remarked. “A big celebrity paying attention to the working folks.”
And still I remember it. Whenever Bill Murray’s name comes up, I tell that story.
Sometimes, like now, I tell it just because it’s kind.