The man's voice was loud and commanding. His words dominated not only his table, but they also rolled unchallenged throughout the room.

I looked up from my breakfast of oatmeal and coffee to find the boisterous source. Because of a column supporting the inside balcony around the lobby area of the hotel, I couldn't see him directly. His tablemates were all men — obviously all employees of the same company. Natty white polo shirts with some sort of logo emblazoned on the sleeve.

The man was in mid-story — something about the "tough" cars he had owned or worked on with 4-on-the-floor, glass packs, stabilizer bars, and overhead cams. His words pounded endlessly on all of us — except when he paused to laugh at his own wit. A few laughed with him, but a young man sat stone-faced across the table from him. He stared blankly through the barrage of language. He never smiled. He rarely blinked. The man's stories never connected.

That was the second morning I ate breakfast in the hotel lobby. The breakfast was an excellent variety of cereals, waffles, pastries, fruit, eggs, sausage and the southern staple of biscuits and gravy. And with each morning, I noticed a different gathering of travelers.

The first morning the room was almost empty. The only other diners at the hour I chose to breakfast was a family with young children. From what I overheard, Dad had been transferred to this new and different city. This hotel was home for the family until the moving van arrived. Mom was obviously tired of the living arrangements already. She complained loudly to her husband about the drudgery of living in a rented room with little space and nothing to occupy the time of the little ones. The entire family felt the weight of her words, except for a little boy, the oldest son. He had someplace to go. His backpack was jammed full of whatever a first-grader takes to school. And the backpack was strapped on tight. I watched him negotiate around empty tables and chairs with his cereal bowl, bending oddly to balance the burden on his back. Mom frowned and picked at him. He only smiled and ignored her politely. She connected, but not with her words.

Morning four was a festive breakfast. Late the afternoon before, a bus pulled in front of the hotel and unloaded forty high-schoolers. Well-mannered and full of energy, these young travelers were here for a conference. As they crowded in to eat their morning meal, they split into groups of three and four. A few had their heads cocked to their shoulders. There would have been a time that an observer would have assumed some sort of spinal defect. But in today's world, the key to the deformity is the cell phone nestled between shoulder and ear. I watched with wonder as one young woman entered the room talking incessantly and with great animation to whomever she was connected by the wonders of modern telecommunications. As she made her way to her seat, chaperones stood and announced the bus was leaving for the day. All the students stirred — except for the phone talker. She kept talking and eating until a female chaperone approached. Taking the phone from the girl's shoulder, she sweetly said good-bye to the unseen conversant on the line, folded the phone and handed it to the open-mouthed diner. "Get on the bus, hon!" she said. In one short instant, a connection was interrupted and another established.

Morning three was mostly uneventful. The breakfast tables were orderly, the diners mostly silent. CNN Headline News played on the big screen TV that dominated one wall. We were all business travelers. Except for occasional comments or short cell phone calls, we were quiet. Our connection seemed to be our disconnection.

The last morning of my stay, I saw her again. She was an elderly woman who had been at breakfast almost every morning. Well-dressed with a large bag next to her, she ate alone. I had seen her in the lobby other times. In fact, most nights she spent her time in a large chair in a sitting area close to the front door. A smaller television set the mood of that corner. She apparently controlled the channel. As I checked out this morning, she had already made her way to the TV.

The front desk was slow when I laid my keycards before the clerk.

"I'm just curious. What's the story on that lady over there?"

"Oh, she's Maurine's grandmother. Maurine takes care of her. When Maurine's working, Granny is here."

"Is there a problem?"
About that time, another clerk emerged. Maurine asked quietly, glancing nervously at me, "Is there a problem?"

The other clerk shrugged in my direction. "Oh, no," I started, "there's no problem. I had just seen a lot of her this week and wondered."

"She just hates to be alone and I don't have anyplace to take her. So whenever I come to work, she dresses up and comes with me. She loves to see all the people."

I finished my paperwork. As I headed out, I detoured slightly. "Ma'am," I called. Granny looked up, startled. "Ma'am, I just wanted to wish you a good day."

Granny's face softened and she smiled. A little nod and another smile.

Five free breakfasts and I finally connected.