Thursday, December 18, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

Haven’t we all had a shoe or two thrown at us this year? That was my thought this afternoon. I had spent two days preparing a proposal for an Italian-styled restaurant. They needed to replace a whole slew of wines that a distributor had lost. And we got the call. I’m not sure they really needed me. I think they might have been looking for less expertise and a deeper pocket. With a blank check.

So along with two of my colleagues, we headed for a late afternoon appointment. And waited. And waited.

The person with which we had the appointment never showed. Two days I worked on this presentation. For a no show. It happens. You show up and someone throws a shoe at you. Or worse, they just blow you off. After 25+ years, who likes it? But what can you really do about it?

Last week, I did a wine dinner for 30 people. I realized very early in the evening that these folks really didn’t come to hear me talk about Italian wines. They were there for a good meal on a cold night. So I spoke for about 7 minutes and then sat down and talked for the rest of the evening to a couple of people who I really liked talking to. I wasn’t supposed to sit next to them. In fact every time I chose a seat, someone came and took my seat. At first I felt offended. Wasn’t I the person who was here to explain the evening to them? But in reality, that wasn’t the case. The shoe didn’t fit. I was just there along with them. Hey, the owner of the restaurant, who lived on the grounds and whom I have known for 25 years, didn’t even come down to say hello. To his customers! The folks who pay his bills. Forget about being a friend of his for a quarter of a century. Boy, things have gotten really off kilter these days.

Is it really that important? No. It. Isn’t. So why the expectations? I really have no idea. Maybe it is something about the Italian idea of respect for one's trade and the hope that if you ply it long enough and diligently enough someone will respond with the deserved respect. Well that could be a cold day in Dante’s Hell, if you really think folks peer that far out of their own personal box of consequences.

Life or death; now we’re talking consequences and importance. Not whether we can talk a restaurant manager into lowering his wine by-the-glass prices. The free-market forces will take care of that. The consumers are the real experts in that they will reward (or punish) good (or bad) business decisions. Not those journeymen who breathe it, live it, dream it, day and night, year after year. A sobering thought in the abstract. But weighed against life and death decisions, well, let’s just say if the shoe fits…

There are plenty of folks who wish they could get back into their own shoes. But their life took them to a place where they had to answer for the decisions of others. In the last 5+ years, many of these men and women have been lost to the future. Someone dodges a shoe, others can’t dodge a bullet. Random? Some divine plan here? And what does it have to do with the Italian wine trail? Or rather, what does the Italian wine trail have to do with it?

Not much. If anything. Like our little galaxy, just off to the corner from the really important goings on. Except for those of us who are going through it at the time. As it is with each and every one of us. Except perhaps for the most highly enlightened. Like the yogi master on an island somewhere.

Seventh inning stretch.

OK, back to the ballgame.

Where were we?

Oh yes. Yes, the meaning of our place in this daily activity. The wine business. The holiday season. The economic slowdown.

Like I told a colleague today, if you can feed yourself and wipe your own behind, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

Or would you rather walk a mile in a pair of shoes that the owner got blown out of?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reality blast. Now I can quit whining and hit the streets anew.

Anonymous said...

respect, that's what's missing in what we do everyday. We grew up learning that that's the pillar of every good business relationship. But you know what? when i have experiences like the ones that you just described (the no show), i feel like i live in a place where this concept is totally lost. And I am slowly adjusting and learning how to be a bit more "American" when it comes to business....


Avvinare said...

whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well tha that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "here lived a great street sweep who swept his job well." Dr. King, December 3, 1956 Montgomery, Alabama. I have had this framed on my desk for 20 year. Thanks for bringing up those who walk in different shoes and in dangerous places. seldom seen these days during talk of bailouts. you have a very special gift.

Alice said...

Inventive. Thanks for the twists and turns.

Anonymous said...

Eloquent, as always. I echo Susannah's sentiments. While it might not be brain surgery, it is your life's work. And you can use it to connect with people and change their lives from time to time. And if you are going to do it- do it well. Reminds me of Ryan Healy's post about the band on the Titanic who played all the while the ship sank. It's about dedication.

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