One of the many jobs I do as a free-lancer is to drive authors around the Tampa-St. Petersburg market when they go on media tours to promote their latest books. This is a great way to meet writers from other parts of the country. Sometimes we talk writing. Sometimes we talk publishing, marketing and promotion. Other times I just drive, and they watch the scenery.
No matter. I still get to meet writers I probably wouldn't cross paths with otherwise. And I've learned a lot, especially about patience and perseverance.
I also have learned about assumptions, not from another writer in this case but from Chester, the parrot.
Chester is the parrot-in-residence on the mezzanine level of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Tampa, the downtown one at Jackson and Tampa streets.
Most recently, I was idling through a few hours in the hotel between media stops while my author du jour was in his room napping. (Writers nap a lot.)
So I'm watching this parrot sit atop his brass perch that is situated so Chester, on long-term and probably permanent loan from Busch Gardens, can sit and watch people glide up and down the escalators.
Chester is large and stately in his plumage, and the sun's rays from the skylight above him _ the hotel management has put Chester in the fulcrum of an atrium and surrounded him with some plants and winding stairs _ bring out the gold in his chest.
I watch Chester, and he's not moving much. He's not talking at all. A half-dozen members of the hotel staff are busy polishing and cleaning in his general area, and not one of them is paying the least bit of attention to Chester. There's no banter, no conversation. And I am thinking that Chester probably has one of the most boring existences this side of De Funiak Springs.
Then, without any warning, Chester lets out with a loud "Hi!"
And to my genuine surprise and delight, he receives a chorus of "Hi's!" right back from the hotel crew.
This went on for the next few minutes.
"Hi!" Chester would say loudly, tilting his head slightly to one side.
"Hi!" would chorus back.
The replies were so spontaneous that I knew this was part of Chester's routine and that he was in charge. Whenever he wanted a "Hi!" he just gave one out.
As I watched, I realized there was more interaction between staff and Chester than I had first seen. As the employees went about their business, they would speak to Chester casually, conversationally, like a friend.
One man, looking every bit the tourist in shorts, T-shirt and a red porkpie hat, stopped and said several times, "Good morning, Chester. Good morning, Chester."
He got silence in return.
"So you're an old sourpuss today," the man said affectionately as he left.
I watched Chester chat with employees off and on for the next hour or so. Once he whistled at a woman coming up the stairs. "Thank you, Chester," she said with a smile.
I learned as I watched that Chester's life wasn't nearly as confined as I imagined. Sure, he wasn't going anywhere off that perch. That was to be home from now on.
But he certainly didn't lack for conversation and communication, whatever these sounds he had learned to mimic meant to him. He had friends everywhere. He had scores of tourists and business conference attendees to say "Hi!" to. And he had the best seat in the house.
I felt a different relationship to Chester as I left the mezzanine to go meet my author. I felt a kinship between the writer-observer and the bird-observer. We were brothers of a sort under the feathers.
"Bye, Chester," I said warmly as I left.
Fred. W. Wright Jr. is a free-lance writer. My View columnists, invited to contribute for a year on a regular basis, write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.