This week’s reader memory comes from a good friend of mine, Kim (aka “Kimberley”) whose writing I ‘ve always loved—as I’m sure you will too…
Favorite memory from Kim Cameron, New York, NY: My Year as a B-List Groupie
“This is cool, though, right Kim? Kimberley! It’s preppy.”
I’m sitting on the edge of a bed with no frame, absurdly near the ground considering what the hotel room must have cost. My friend Nikki is huddled close beside me, monopolizing the beer we’re sharing in our matching all-black outfits, and she shouts gleefully in response to something happening in the poker game taking place on the next bed. In one corner, a world-class guitarist strums idly, while in another, people partake in all manner of things New York is famous for.
“The preppy look is always in,” the boy sitting in front of me on the floor adds, still indicating his puffer vest and looking at me earnestly, and I start to laugh. My one-year-ago self would never believe where I am right now.
I was three days late for my move to New York following my college graduation in 2004 because Howie Day was doing a free mini-concert in Copley Square in Boston, and at the time I loved him more than any other musician or band (aside from maybe Jump, Little Children, and as it turned out, Jay Clifford, Jump’s lead singer, was touring with Howie and was going to be there too). So I left my college-turned-NYC roommate to maneuver our minimal furniture into our shoebox of an apartment herself so that I could attend what was, for all intents and purposes, a 20-minute radio station promotion.
It’s not like I’d never seen Howie in concert before; his rigorous touring of the New England collegiate circuit in the earliest aughts was the only reason I even knew who he was. My attendance record at his shows already hovered somewhere around 20. And it’s not like I needed to go to this more intimate, middle-of-a-weekday event so that I could get up-close-and-personal and actually speak to him like all of the other girls were doing (my story about listening to his album Australia pretty much exclusively during my semester abroad because it was dark and depressing and I was crazily romantic about things dark and depressing when I was 20 would have moved him more than theirs, though, of course). No, I was already a New Yorker, I had decided, and New Yorkers don’t care about celebrities, even their favorites. So I wasn’t going to try to talk to him or anything. In all, it was a ridiculous thing to delay moving plans for. But in a way, I was convinced this was it for me and Howie. Not that it would never be possible to see him again, but kind of the swan song for my college obsession, because he was probably about to have a hit song on a CW show and hook up with Britney Spears in rehab or something (spoiler alert!) so I had to be there, this one last time.
When I arrived in New York a few days later, my roommate had, in addition to unpacking our whole apartment, kindly secured me a job cocktail waitressing at an Irish bar with her. During my first shift, the manager gave me money to load up the jukebox until the crowd picked up and took over, and I of course instantly began bemoaning the lack of Howie Day songs (this was a typical woe of mine at most bars).
“Howie Day?” Joe the bartender repeated. “I know him. Like, personally.”
“Riiiiight,” I replied, and my roommate laughed.
“You can pick on her for being a Red Sox fan, but I wouldn’t joke about Howie Day,” she advised.
“But I do,” Joe said, unperturbed. “He comes in all the time. He’s the one with the hair, eh?” He mimed Howie’s mass of signature spiky hair and I fairly vaulted over the bar demanding details.
Over the next few months I saw to it that Howie’s entire discography was added to the jukebox and created a miniature army of cocktail waitress superfans in my co-workers. We’d beam with pride every time a customer would ask us if we knew who was singing “Morning After” or “Disco,” as if we had anything to do with it at all. One Monday night in November I showed up for my shift and my co-worker Kelly told me that the night before “people from Howie Day’s touring company” had been in the bar and tipping well. I confirmed that he was in town, doing some radio show with John Mayer (remember John Mayer?!), and laughingly announced that he’d obviously be in in a few hours to rescue us from the tedium of Monday nights.
“Right. He’ll probably bring John Mayer!” Kelly agreed, and we laughed and got on with our regularly scheduled $30 shift.
When he walked in six hours later, the first thing I saw was his hair. The first thing Kelly saw was the back of my head, as I turned heel and bolted into the kitchen, where I remained, whisper screaming into my phone to my roommate, until the bartender came back to fetch me because my section was now obviously completely full with the Howie Day entourage.
“Are you our waitress? Sorry, hi! Are you our waitress? You can use this card. What’s your name?” Within moments of stepping back on the floor, Howie Day’s Amex was in my pocket and the man himself was looking me in the eye and smiling.
“Yes-hi-yes-great-Kim,” I managed, or something to that effect.
“Like Kimberley?” He asked, and I nodded. “I’m going to go with Kimberley, then. It’s pretty.”
And we were off. He was delightful. His friends and band members and managers were delightful. He was drinking sea breezes (bright pink sea breezes!), his girlfriend was probably seven inches taller than I was, and his roadies were ecstatic to find all of his music on the jukebox. Kelly and I would meet up around corners to hastily trade “he said hi to me!” and “yeah, well he said he LOVED me!”s. I continued cocktailing for an hour after I could have cut and transferred their tab to the bar, demanded that the bartender send them shots, and got two drinks, multiple hugs and kisses and a $101 tip out of the whole affair. When they finally shut the bar down, Kelly, the bartenders, a few regulars and I headed to a diner across the street for 4 a.m. breakfast. I had chocolate cake and iced coffee and stared into space with the dreamiest grin on my face, and we all (including the jaded New Yorkers and even the native New Yorkers) talked about what a great town it is and how anything can happen, etc., etc., cliché, cliché, magic, perfect, New York City. And as ridiculous as it sounds, after my constant babbling about him for months, everyone was genuinely thrilled for me to have had such a great run-in. Kelly was particularly pleased, considering we pooled tips at the bar.
That Howie encounter alone would have been enough for me (and it still remains my favorite one) but it turned out Joe the bartender hadn’t been kidding – he was something of a regular whenever he was in town. Better than that, he was great at remembering people and names, and the next time he showed up (this time with various members of Jump, Little Children) some of us found ourselves a bit … adopted … and “waiting on Howie Day” quickly turned into “hanging out with Howie whenever he’s in town.” I loaded his touring manager’s number into my phone and made the guest list at any concert I requested (and did I ever make use of that, attending shows in New York, Boston, Connecticut, Philly and LA in 2005) and found myself at more after-hours parties with musicians I adored than I could have ever imagined. Best and still somewhat hilarious to me, I spent hours just sitting around, drinking and playing games and talking about dating and music and being 22/23, that weird age between kid and adult, and pondering the important questions, like if we should all quit life and move to Bar Harbor, with Howie Day, my most-adored “celebrity.” And all the while he tried to call me Kimberley instead of Kim.
“Yes, Howie, the preppy look is always in,” I agree, as Nikki nudges me conspiratorally.
“I was just thinking that!” I yell, not even bothering, and we both laugh as Howie starts demanding we take whiskey shots with him.