Here Back East

By Lenny Ackerman

Conversations III

Last Friday after exercise class, I headed over to Aioli’s, my favorite sandwich shop. I was looking forward to more than just my usual lunch of chicken salad on a Greek salad. I planned to interview Melanie, the owner, the behind-the-counter master of the universe, as she has an interesting life story and I wanted to learn more about it. I was hoping to write something about her in these pages.

But, by the time I got to the restaurant at noon, the first-come-first-served line was out the door and Melanie was “in the weeds” as they say. I finally made my way over to her and she cheerfully advised me to be patient and have my lunch. She would try to come over to my table during a lull.

So, I found myself a seat next to a group of ladies. I noticed they were all in tennis gear. They assembled more tables together as their number increased in a steady flow, each carrying their lunch over from the counter. I was focused mostly on my salad and was almost done when one of the women near me asked me if they could use my table. I glanced over at Melanie. She had customers three deep at the counter. I turned back to the ladies, tipped my hat, and said, “of course!”

However, as is my custom being a lawyer, I made it a negotiation. “I will happily give up my table if you agree to let me interview you for a column I am writing.” The women looked at me quizzically and whispered to each other. The one closest to me said, “Sure, but don’t get too personal.” “Certainly not,” I responded. I was now looking for an interesting hook for a column about the tennis ladies who lunch at Aioli’s in West Palm Beach, Florida. It might be a challenge, or it might be journalistic gold. You never know until you scratch the surface.

The first thing I learned is that they had all just finished a grueling three hours of tennis in 80 degree heat and humidity. I was impressed. I asked each one where they were from. They were forthcoming and enthusiastic, considering they were probably eager to enjoy their lunch and had little interest in my entreaties. The states represented included Michigan, Georgia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, plus an international contingent from Ireland and Canada. A geographically diverse group of women all brought together by their shared passion for tennis. And they had history—their group had been playing together for 20 years. In fact, two of the women were mother-daughter doubles teams.

As I started to inquire further, one of women offered up that she was originally from Long Island. “Where?” I asked. “East Hampton,” she responded. I was taken aback. I decided to have a little fun. “Do you know Lenny Ackerman?” I asked. She looked at her friends before responding, not sure where this line of questioning was headed. “He is a lawyer in town,” I added. “Yes, I do know who he is. He is my parents’ attorney,” she said carefully. I debated how long I should carry on with the charade. I concluded the longer it went on the more embarrassing it might be for all parties.

“I am Lenny Ackerman,” I confessed, grinning. The table erupted in laughter. “Oh my gosh,” she said, “what a small world!” She was incredulous that she would meet her parents’ attorney at a tiny restaurant with her tennis group, so far from her hometown. She and I had an animated discussion about the people we knew in common, and I am certain that after I left she called her parents to let them know who she just happened to bump into at Aioli’s. Conversations with strangers can yield unexpected results. No matter how far we may roam there are connections everywhere, if we take the time to find them.

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