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Playing Table Tennis with a Musical Superstar

By Hermann Luechinger | Oct. 04, 2012, 9 a.m. (ET)

Webmaster Note: Recently USATT member and hardbat enthuiast Hermann Luechinger had the chance of a lifetime to play table tennis with a musical superstar.  Hermann was kind enough to share his experience with our readers and fans, enjoy!

In another post inquiring minds wanted to know whether The Herminator was still around. Yes he is - I mean: yes I am still around. Here is a long, rambling story of what I’ve been up to lately. It’s kind of like a school report of what I did on my vacation. If you think that’s boring, skip it and see whether there will be comments later that say it’s worth reading. It does have to do with Ping-Pong, but with a twist:

Two weeks ago I flew to New York City for a week’s vacation and to see Marty [Reisman] and Steve [Berger]. Things didn’t start out well. Delayed arrival because of a tornado warning in NYC (tornado warning in NYC?) Checked into the hotel at midnight (actually not a hotel but the YMCA). No running water in the room (that’s not what the website said.) No way to upgrade because the “hotel” was full. Worry about it tomorrow, I told myself.

Next day I had lunch with Marty at a great Indian buffet (hardbat players always go to a buffet, right?) I couldn’t wear the same clothing afterwards for days because the food smell lingered. In the evening we went to Spin and I played with some guys I didn’t know. Had a good time. The place was jammed with Ernst and Young employees having a party. Marty was popular as he moved around the room, the people recognizing him from all the life-size pictures of him on the walls.

The next afternoon I took a tour of the tenement museum. There I saw in what crammed and unsanitary conditions the immigrants lived a good hundred years ago. It changed my attitude for the rest of the trip. Suddenly my room at the Y was perfectly adequate. And things started to get interesting.

So this guy staying at the Y went to the Opening Gala of the Metropolitan Opera. I had to go buy a new shirt (see reason above) but I think I fit in reasonably well up there in the nose-bleed section, looking down on the extravagantly dressed. Also went to the War Horse play. It’s amazing the emotional impact a play with puppets can have. Highly recommended. More museum visits, The Met. Art, Ellis Island. But back to table tennis.

Steve and I arranged to meet Spin. We played on Table 1, the only one with (barely) enough space for choppers. A family had a good time playing on the table behind us so I had be careful not to run into them. When we stopped and I started to put my paddle away, the husband came up to me. He said (no snickering now, I’m just writing what he said) that his whole family was watching me and it was beautiful to watch me play and that they all really liked my backhand. Then he asked me if I used to be an international player. (Remember, no snickering.) I told him no no, that I just played in a few tournaments some years go.

I’m not telling this story to show off (maybe a little) but this little conversation started a sequence of events I still can’t believe happened. We started talking. The family was from England. I told them I lived in California. The husband said they were coming to California the following week. I asked whether they planned to visit San Francisco. No, he said, they had to go to San Jose, as he had to do some business there. That’s where I live I told him. He asked whether there was a place to play table tennis. I mentioned ICC and we agreed he would call me if he had time and we would play at ICC. We exchanged names and checked that he could reach me with his British phone. Everything worked and we were set. All the while Steve was nursing his beer at the bar. When I got back to him he asked me who I was talking with. Oh, Just a family on vacation from England.

So last Monday morning he called me and asked if I had time to play that day, as it was the only day that he had time since he would have to “work” on Tuesday. We set to meet at ICC in the afternoon. We had the place all for ourselves except for two seniors playing all the way in the back. So we played on tables 1 and 2.

He came with his wife and son, about 11 years old. The first thing he said is that they had googled my name and that I was not a no-name player as I claimed at Spin but was an “accomplished player” with the world’s best drop shot. (See Scott what you got me into. You started this drop shot story twelve years ago with a post on the TT forum and here it is alive and kicking.) They also found out that I was twice a winner at the US Open. So they thought I was a big shot. I had to explain how ridiculous this drop shot story was and that my US Open titles were minor accomplishment [U1500 hardbat]. I don’t think I got my story across. But I did say that I was going to get even and google his name. That did not provoke a response.

I played with all three and gave some basic advice. We hit it off really well and had a great time. They gave me a bottle of wine for my “coaching”. So what’s the big deal, you’re thinking?

Oh yes, BIG DEAL, because finally, here comes the interesting part after I bored you with this long, slow introduction.

When we stopped playing, the husband asked me whether I’d be up for a beer and a sandwich somewhere. I said yes. Then he suddenly remembered he had a 4-year old son at the hotel (no, not alone) and they had to get back. He asked me whether I’d like to join them at the hotel for a bite and I accepted. He wanted to call a taxi but I offered to give them a ride to the hotel. They accepted and off we went on the way to the Fairmont, best hotel in town. As we passed the San Jose airport I asked him whether they had flown into San Jose or San Francisco. He said he did not remember the name of the airport. I must have looked puzzled and he explained that he travels a lot, and travels in a private jet.

We had hit it off amazingly well but I was occasionally a little puzzled. Slowly some things were starting to make sense. I knew his name, Peter, but not much else about him. I had asked him what his profession was and he said musician. What kind? He looked strangely at me before he answered “rock”. He asked me what I liked and I said classical music and jazz. We talked just a little about jazz and I mentioned that my playing partner at the Spin was a jazz musician. Peter asked me for Steve’s name, did not recognize it off-hand but said that the music business was a small world and he would ask a friend about Steve. I think I mentioned that Steve played the guitar; I never asked Peter what he was playing. Then we passed by the sports and performance arena (I forgot what it was called) and I pointed out to him that that’s the place for the big pop and rock concerts. He calmly said “oh, that’s the HP Pavilion”. Uh-Oh.

Well, we had our food and drink and conversations at the pool at the hotel and it was time for me to leave. Peter asked me, as had once before, if I would like to attend the performance he was going to give the next day. It would be at the HP Pavilion (oh, that was the “work” he referred to earlier.) He would arrange for me and a guest to get VIP passes to the concert and if we wanted we could come in the afternoon already when they were setting up and testing the stage at the HP Pavilion. Of course I accepted. But I still did not know who Peter was.

So I drove home and googled him. Did I ever find out who he was! I woke up Mitch, my guitar playing step-son and rock aficionado and said: You won’t believe with whom I played Ping-Pong today? (You wake me up to asked me that? He must have thought.) I’m going to a rock concert tomorrow at the HP Pavilion and you are invited too. We’ll have VIP passes. Do you know Peter Gabriel, the rock musician? That’s who I played Ping-Pong with. We will be his personal guests. It complete blew Mitch away; he grew up listing to Peter.

And so we did attend the concert, hanging out behind the stage before the performance with Peter’s family and other guests, drinking wine and beer, talking gardening with Meab, Peter’s wife, and the nanny, and playing Ping-Pong on a Kettler table. The performance got the audience on its feet and the sound volume almost brought the house down. Well, Peter had warned me and had advised to bring ear plugs. Glad I did.

Hermann Luechinger, Peter Gabriel, and Mitch
Hermann Luechinger, Peter Gabriel, and Mitch

…Ah, the luck of a naïve hardbat player…

(If you are like me, or how I was until two days ago, and don’t know who Peter Gabriel is, google him and you’ll understand. Or just ask any middle-aged guy or gal about him.)


PS: Peter and Meabh were a delight to be with. I cannot believe how considerate they were towards this naïve guy who did not even know who they were. They must have been amused at times. I had a good time playing with their son Isaac, age ten I found out, a very polite boy with a thousand questions, and Luc, 4, who wanted me to race him around the swimming pool. Had a great conversation with the nanny talking about gardening and other topics. It was like being at a family get-to-gether. Peter signed my Hock paddle. I gave Isaac my Tee shirt from the 2008 Las Vegas Open; he loved it. We took a couple of pictures and they asked me to call them next year when I’m visiting England.

Hermann L.
October 4, 2012