|The Marriott Marquis NYC "street lobby" is mostly vacant, guests check-in on the 7th floor.|
The next morning, Friday, May 3rd, we made our presentation in a conference room and I said goodbye to Pat, who had POPAI obligations all afternoon. I checked out of my room, left my bags with the concierge and grabbed a late lunch. My ride to LaGuardia was set for 3:30pm, so I had a couple of hours to kill. Plenty of time to stroll over to Nat Sherman's on fifth avenue.
Ninety minutes later I was back at the hotel with thirty more minutes to kill. As soon as I entered the cavernous lobby, I was struck by how empty and quiet it was. Odd. From the front revolving doors to the concierge room at the back is about half a city block. As I began walking in that direction, a tall man wearing a UNC ball-cap rounded the corner from the escalators and walked toward me. Half a step behind him was a short, stocky fella wearing a salmon-colored blazer. I knew instantly Billy Graham was beneath that UNC hat.
While still twenty feet away, I called out to him: "Doctor Graham, Wayne Zeitner with Word Records, my colleagues Joey Paul and Kip Jordan are your editors." Billy Graham looked up at me from under his cap, turned to his associate with a nod, then back to me and shook my hand. I thanked him for never straying from his message, even that very morning to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. I told Billy Graham I had grown up hearing my grandfather, Arthur Zeitner in Medicine Hat, Alberta, pray for him in German with every table grace. I told him about the tribute to his ministry I'd seen a week earlier at the 1996 Dove Awards.
Billy Graham was gracious and patient, he told me a little bit about his schedule on the network shows that evening, discussed a recent unauthorized biography of him and spoke highly of my colleagues at Word. I don't think I kept him longer than he wanted to chat, but when I checked my watch I realized almost five minutes had passed. And as I watched him head out with his bodyguard to take a walk, another thing struck me: during our whole conversation, not another soul came thru the lobby of the Marriott Marquis hotel at Times Square in New York, New York.