So we walked back in the baking sun through downtown Springfield to the hotel where we were staying to drop off our backpacks, then sat in the lobby before braving the harsh weather (yes, oppressively sunny, muggy weather can feel harsh).
We looked out the window and saw a tall man walking towards the hotel. "That looks like Jay Leno," I said, but it couldn't be. The tall, gray-haired man was wearing worn jeans and a loose denim shirt. He looked like he'd been toiling outside in the heat, and was lumbering towards the hotel entrance. But the chin and eyes...it was him.
"Hello Mr. Leno," my husband said.
"Hello, how are you?" Leno said.
"Welcome to Illinois," I added (because saying "Welcome to Springfield" would've been presumptuous since I don't live there and am not a native).
He nodded in our direction and walked towards the front desk. After that, I didn't know what he did because I didn't follow him, and I didn't even look towards the front desk. I also didn't take a picture of him, because 1) he didn't hang out with us or even bother to pause, and 2) he wasn't in official performance mode. Taking a candid picture would've been disrespectful and creepy.
But what was he doing in Springfield, a small city in central Illinois? We looked it up, and found out that he was doing a stand-up gig that night. Wait a minute...he is super-rich and famous...does he *need* to do that? And why is he playing smaller venues (his next stop was Peoria)?
I'm still thinking about it because usually famous people go to major, big cities and stay in fancy hotels, and record their shows to make even more money. Or they move on from their early work to do movies and the like, and don't do piddly stuff again.
But Jay Leno is working as if he's still trying to break into the big time, playing smaller cities in the heartland of the USA.
This is noteworthy because he doesn't have to do it, yet chooses to. He also doesn't seem stuck-up or pretentious, like we hear other celebrities are. I've heard of actors getting angry when people don't recognize them when being waited on in stores. I've even dealt with people who were upset that I said "Ms." instead of "Dr." because they had a PhD in education or another non-medical field.
I guess he's known for being nice, and in the brief encounter I had with him, he seemed that way. Plus we were in Springfield, Illinois, which is surrounded by lots of trees and probably has 10 people on the street during the day and not much traffic. And he decided to work there, just because. Now I'm wondering how he did in Peoria (and thinking of the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?") because if he didn't succeed there, will he be able to succeed anywhere? Haha...obviously, it doesn't matter because he's already succeeded to the point that if he were to stop now, he'd be able to live well and still get invited to cool parties and events all over.
Actually, his story can be instructive because he's doing what he loves, and he's not worried about status or only hanging out with the big people. He's willing to go anywhere in the USA and work on his craft and entertain audiences of "regular folks," not just those who live on the coasts who arrive to the theater in fancy cars.
On the other hand, there are people like me who'd love to achieve even a sliver of success doing something creative and/or fun and/or fulfilling, or getting a break from someone higher up the ladder. For a lot of us, that is impossible, so we can just look at Jay Leno and say, "If he can pursue his passion, then those of us toiling in obscurity can as well."