Meeting Mr. Cub
“i DOn’T LikE THE LOOkS OF THiS,” i said to the person sitting
across from me as we waited for the flight from Laguardia to Asheville—the last flight out that Wednesday evening.
It was 20 minutes past boarding time,
and the gate agent had just announced
that the aircraft had a mechanical
problem. After she announced that the
problem was serious—and, finally, that
the flight was canceled—I was forced to
rebook on an early-morning flight the
Seasoned travelers (I’m not one)
might argue that this happens all the
time and tell me to just roll with the
The problem was, I previously had
booked a flight from Asheville to Chicago on Thursday afternoon. I was meeting
my wife in Chicago for her daughter’s
wedding shower on Saturday, and I badly
needed a haircut before we met the new
in-laws. I already had packed a separate
bag for that trip, and it was waiting in my
car at the airport. But a planned morning
haircut was no longer possible. As it happened, I had just enough time to get the
second bag out of my car before dashing
back into the airport to catch my Chicago
Nancy and I found each other at
O’Hare baggage claim and went to a
downtown hotel where the concierge
made a Friday-morning appointment
for me with a nearby barber. When I entered the barber shop at the appointed
time I noticed autographed pictures of
Chicago celebrities and sports legends
everywhere. Directly across from me as
I sat in the barber’s chair was a picture of
Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, who had written
some kind words to the barber about his
haircut. I was sitting in the same chair in
which my boyhood hero had sat! As the
barber cut my hair, I talked incessantly
about watching Banks play in Wrigley
Field when I was young. When the barber asked me if I’d like to meet “Mr.
Banks,” who was scheduled to come in
for a haircut later in the day, I jumped at
When the barber introduced me to
Banks, I was stunned to discover that
while he had recently celebrated his 80th
birthday, his eyes twinkled, his handshake was firm, and his voice was clear
“Let’s play three,” I said—riffing on
Banks’ signature phrase from his playing days.
“Let’s play two,” Banks corrected
As Banks settled into the same chair
I had occupied earlier, we talked briefly
about baseball and the Cubs before he
changed the topic and described how
the shaky economy was affecting people.
Banks said that prosperity and poverty
couldn’t exist alone—that they were two
sides of the same coin.
Abruptly, he asked me what I was do-
ing. I said I was retired and did what I
wanted when I wanted—things like golf-
ing and hiking. Banks was insistent: “But
what do you do?”
Suddenly, I understood his question.
I mumbled something about volunteer
work for my profession and for the development where we live. Banks jumped
on my response like it was a 3-0 fastball
with the bases loaded and the Cubs down
“But what are you doing?” he insisted.
I mentioned supporting the United Way,
the Actuarial Foundation, and other selected charities. Banks was having none
“Do you have a foundation?” he asked.
I assured him that I was not wealthy
enough to have a foundation. He repeated his question: “So what are you doing?”
Banks always wanted the bat in his
hands when the game was on the line. He
apparently hasn’t changed since he retired from baseball. Only now, he wants
to be a game changer in a larger context.
I’ve thought about our discussion
several times in the ensuing months, particularly the circumstances surrounding
■ ■ The rescheduling of my New York
meeting to the day before I was to fly
to Chicago and the subsequent flight
cancellation that forced me to fly
home on Friday, missing my haircut
■ ■ Our staying in the one Chicago hotel (of several hundred in the city) in
which the concierge could set me up
with the same barber as Ernie Banks;
■ ■ Ernie Banks being slotted for a haircut on the same day as me, only two
In the absence of any one of these elements, Banks wouldn’t have been asking
me what I was doing. Was it synchron-icity, as Deepak Chopra might suggest?
What was Banks—or the universe—
trying to tell me?
By the way—what are you doing?
ROBERT J. RIETZ, a member of the
Academy, is retired from Deloitte
Consulting LLp. He lives near Asheville,