Being able to travel is one privilege I never take for granted. As a writer, everywhere I go, I try to keep my eyes open for something unique. What better place to find material than a crowded airport? You never know who you’ll bump into.
The day after we attended the 141st Kentucky Derby, my husband, Greg, and I were shuttled from our downtown Louisville hotel back to the city’s international airport. We arrived at our terminal to check our bags curb-side and saw a lone skycap finishing with a young lady.
While waiting for him to assist us, I noticed a small group of people gathered outside of an SUV just beyond the skycap station. They caught my attention because they didn’t look like family sending one of their beloved off on a trip. There weren’t hugs or tears as they said goodbye to one another. The interaction was professional as each of the individuals shook hands and smiled pleasantly. Most curiously, the collective was made of four armed and uniformed police officers, a plainclothesman sporting a weapon and a badge, a man dressed in business-casual attire, and another gentleman wearing a very expensive looking suit. I wondered what all the fuss was about.
I first speculated that the plainclothesman was a highly ranked police official, had come in for Derby, and was on his way home. Then, I thought that maybe someone famous was still in the SUV, but I couldn’t see anyone else. My husband offered an equally likely scenario: “Maybe they’re transporting a criminal.”
Hoping to uncover the real story, I whispered to the skycap, “Who are those people?”
The skycap, who looked to be middle-aged like me, replied quietly, “They’re with Neno, the Rapper.”
As if I now perfectly understood the magnitude of this musician’s reputation, I nodded my head in agreement but replied, “I’ve never heard of him.”
“Neither have I, dear,” he admitted as he shook his head side to side. “Neither have I.”
Greg generally has no interest in hobnobbing with the rich and famous, so we didn’t spend our time lingering and hoping to catch a glimpse of Neno. We kept to our normal airport routine—cleared security, browsed through a few stores, and eventually got in line at Starbucks. To our surprise, we ended up right behind the crowd of officers we had seen earlier.
The entourage now surrounded and closely guarded an attractive man I did not recognize but assumed was Neno. He was dressed casually in dark clothes and a jacket, wore a baseball cap, and was quiet when he spoke. He didn’t seem preoccupied with drawing attention to himself. I got the impression that if women would leave him alone, he’d likely get through the airport without being bothered by more than speculative whispers and stares.
A barista was smitten. She stepped from behind the counter and asked Neno if he would pose for a picture with her.
A moment later, a woman older than me took out her cell phone and snapped a picture of the rapper as he smiled for her. I’m guessing that she couldn’t have known, anymore than I did, exactly who he was.
The excited reactions of the other women made me question whether or not I was missing out on a brush with greatness. I conceded that a photo with the celebrity could be something to literally write home about. “Okay then,” I muttered out loud and thought, “Why not?”
I approached Neno and asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a selfie with me. He was gracious and cool as he leaned in close to me and flashed a peace sign towards the camera. I couldn’t pretend to be a big fan, shower him with accolades, or carry on much of a conversation, so I simply thanked him and wished him a safe flight.
A moment later, Neno and his protective huddle walked away and business at Starbucks tried to return to normal. I placed my order and received it—incorrectly filled.
“I’m sorry. I’m trying to calm down,” said Starbucks Girl.
“It’s OK,” I replied. “You’ve got googly eyes. I understand.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the starstruck young lady work to regain focus on her job. She successfully processed a correct order for me, and I strolled off to Google who this Neno could be.
I searched online sites through the convenient but tiny view afforded by my iPhone 5s. What I found was deplorable. Matthew Best, aka Neno the Rapper, had been arrested in 2013 in New York City’s biggest gun bust. His activities and his music lyrics reflected a parent’s nightmare—full of foul language, drug references, and disrespect.
Maybe I had misinterpreted Neno’s hand gesture in the selfie. What I thought was a peace sign could have been a defiant and crude way of flipping me off. His smooth smile masking truer intentions?
It seemed that my husband may have been right after all: the officers were transporting a criminal.
I was embarrassed that there were witnesses who had seen three generations of women make this guy out to be someone special. I couldn’t understand why Starbucks Girl was so enamoured with Neno that, after our paparazzi moments, she was still frazzled and had gotten my order wrong. At the time, her behavior was endearing. But now, knowing Neno’s background, I couldn’t accept that the girl was blushing over this gangster-type. What did she admire about him? Had he been falsely accused? Acquitted and on his way to testify against others? In my own brief encounter with him, Neno was polite and charismatic, not at all characteristic of the man splattered on nymag.com and other websites. He must have reformed from his sinister ways. I had to go back to Starbucks Girl for answers.
The line was now longer, and it appeared that the girl had regained her composure. She was too busy to confront, so I talked with one of her co-workers.
Going with a direct approach (who was I kidding, anyway?), I asked the young man: “Can you tell me what you know about the celebrity who came through here a little while ago?”
I learned that I had made a big, big mistake. The man that we ladies had posed with wasn’t the notorious thug, Neno the Rapper. He was Ne-Yo, the award-winning Rhythm and Blues singer.
Ne-Yo is associated with other huge personalities: Rihanna, Cèline Dion, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson and more, lots more. He starred in Red Tails with Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. and appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He sang on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Kelly and Michael.” He’s a popular artist who shares stories through his music lyrics.
I had come face to face with Who’s Who in Hollywood but had no idea who he was.
I looked up Ne-Yo’s latest album, Non-Fiction, on iTunes, and didn’t listen for long. Frankly, his sexually explicit subject matter and lyrics are far too liberal for my conservative nature. This celebrity sighting, however, reminded me of the critical need to verify facts when telling a true story. I decided to leave the heartthrob to the younger or more impressionable ladies and nearly admitted to my husband that he was right—some things are better left at the curb.