This week my day job has taken me to southern Florida. When I left my home at 7:00 AM on Valentine’s Day, I slogged through snow, sleet, rain, fog, salt and sand, and a few traffic accidents on my way to Pittsburgh International Airport. I always stop at the scene of an accident to see if there are any injured ladies who might be in need of mouth to mouth resuscitation. My life saving mouth to mouth services have never been needed, but you never know… sure enough, the first time I don’t stop…
So anyway, when I stopped at the second accident the dude appeared to be in some real pain, his leg was broken in seven places and he was bleeding through his eyes. Problem is, the only first aid that I know is mouth to mouth and I didn’t think it would have been beneficial for either one of us, so I tell him “…I’m sure that someone else will be along soon”. He didn’t even thank me for stopping; he just started cursing at me as I left. Kinda selfish, right? This dude showed no empathy for the fact that I had to catch a plane and I needed something to eat before I got on the plane because I had a short layover in Charlotte and there would be NO time for a quick bite before getting on my next flight. I get really light-headed if I miss a meal. I explained all of this to him as I was checking out his injuries. I guess he expected me to live on airline peanuts. This dude clearly had a different set of values.
So over rivers and through woods I go, I have my slice of Sbarro’s pizza and a Coke Zero, I hop on flight #1015 to Charlotte and then hop, skip and jump my Large behind into seat 10C on # 724 to Fort Lauderdale for a few days of sales calls and prospecting in someplace warm…someplace…warm. That sounds nice, that should be a Jimmy Buffet song.
I have never been to Fort Lauderdale. Most often, my day job travels are planned around a specific reason to be there. Usually I’m loaded with two or three ‘have to’ appointments that are pre-planned weeks in advance. Not this week. I don’t have a single appointment. Everybody I see this week knows my company, but only two people know me. I’m as anonymous as…as…somebody they don’t know.
I’m sure these facts are boring to you, but to me, they are about as exciting as waking up after a night of robust drinking and finding an unplanned stripper in my hotel room. It’s like I’m a new employee…learning the trade, adding contacts, getting referrals… “Who else should I see while I’m down here?” It’s actually more fun than waking up with a stripper in my hotel room because I can tell my wife all about it. Now, she will be just as bored as you are right now, but like you, she’s invested in the story teller so she’ll patiently let me finish in the hope that there may be a payoff by the end of the tale.
I wouldn’t expect much here.
So I stuff my fleece jacket into my suitcase in Pittsburgh as I checked my bag – willing to endure the cold of the PIT terminals because I wanted to get the full effect of walking out of the Lauderdale terminal into air that was warmer than 40 degrees. The Sunshine State did not let me down. I walked out to catch a rental car shuttle and the seventy-three degree Florida air takes my hand and pulls me in for a little hug. The hug wasn’t sexual, but it was certainly suggestive. ‘Why don’t you live here?’ that balmy Florida air asked me. I don’t know.
I immediately take out my phone and call my co-worker and rock, Jerry, and ask him the question… “You know, lots of people live in places other than Pennsylvania, why don’t we?” Jerry laughed, told me to “…work hard so you can justify the fun you’re gonna have.” I did.
I love my hometown, Warren PA. I have grown roots here, my children have flourished here, and my wife and I have made lifelong friends. I LOVE my job and the people I work with – I will work here for as long as they will have me (or until someone offers me a little more money) but…the winters… the winters in northwest Pennsylvania suck. Winter in northwest Pennsylvania is the reason why not many people live in northwest Pennsylvania. I can’t explain it any better than that.
Winters don’t suck in Fort Lauderdale.
The sun shines every day. Everybody owns a yacht. Everybody has a tan. Everybody is rich. Everybody is pretty. All the women can afford all kinds of clothing, but they choose not to wear very much.
When I walked into an office during my first sales call, the first thing someone said to me was, “You’re not from around here are you?”
“No. Is it that obvious?” I reply through a slight laugh.
“Yeah, pretty much. I have never seen a person as white as you. Your face looks like the belly of a flounder.”
“Thanks for noticing. Yes, I’m from Pennsylvania.” The confident prospecting salesman that I am is shrinking before this man’s eyes, the “flounder” comment was not meant to be complimentary. “We don’t have your sunshine up there. We have real winters and cloudy summers.” I continue.
“Man, no lie. Dude…you are so pale! The good thing is that your women stay better looking longer than they do down here. When they get in their mid fifties they get a little bit leathery down here…and your summers are probably a little more tolerable.”
We discuss the differences in weather patterns; my snow and rain and clouds, his occasional summer thunderstorm and “that time when it got down in the 50s.” He studies me and listens to my tales of cold temperatures as if I’m from Sweden…or Jupiter. It’s like he’s never met a person who came from the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line. I don’t think we discussed a single business point; no matter how hard I tried to steer the conversation to one of my company’s amazing products, we ended up talking about how white I was, or how cool his boat was. My alabaster skin and I left the premises not selling anything, and really disliking this dude.
My pale skin is the only thing that sucks in Fort Lauderdale.
So for three days, I make my calls, discuss the weather, punch a fistful of new contacts into my Blackberry; and after each day of toil, I hit the streets to find out if the nights in Lauderdale are as great as the days.
The winter nights in Fort Lauderdale don’t suck either.
The dining is awesome, the stores are cool and eclectic, and if I haven’t already mentioned it, the weather is amazing! The NFL teams suck in Florida, but everything else is so great, nobody cares…THAT’S HOW GREAT IT IS! Can you imagine? People up here throw bricks into their TV screens if the Steelers win by less than 10 points.
To add to this southern charm and rapture, (as if I need to) my host hotel was right on the beach, and it also hosted a large group of European tourists. These particular Europeans had a very liberal philosophy with regard to public nudity and swimming in the ocean, or the hotel pools. I’ll just leave that there and make no further comment.
Needless to say, it took an unprecedented display of personal discipline and moral strength to haul my Large, pale ass out of my room on Friday morning at 5:30 AM to go back to the sub-freezing temperatures of my beloved hometown. But there’s good news, I get to come back.
I have to mention a restaurant, G & B Oyster Bar on Sea Breeze Blvd. In the 15 plus years that I have been a traveling sales dude, I can’t remember when I have gone to a restaurant twice in the same week. No matter how much I love a place, I always want to see what else is out there. G & B busted that strategy to pieces.
The bartending team of Randy & Ryan took such good care of me on Tuesday night, I was forced to return on Thursday. Drifter Pale Ale and the very best bowl of clam chowder on this earth had a little bit to do with it too, but these dudes were great. The food is as good as any oyster bar I have ever been to, and the open air atmosphere inspires a friendly, laid back experience. Everybody sitting in your general vicinity becomes your friend.
Ryan is in his early twenties, and going through a breakup with a girlfriend of almost 5 years. It’s a good news bad news deal…he really misses his French Bulldog, because the Ex has custody until his living arrangements get a little more settled. On the other hand, he will be a single male bartender at a bar right on the freakin beach, for spring break in Lauderdale for the first time in his young life. I think Ryan is going to be OK. Randy is pretty much the same dude with a different haircut – these young men have a lot to look forward to, and they’re good guys too.
I’m sitting at this bar, staring at all the pretty ladies, watching these two have a blast making drinks and pouring nicely crafted beers, and I’m reminded of the line in the movie Hot Shots when Lloyd Bridges’ character addresses the pilots for the first time “…I look out there on all you wonderful guys and I say to myself ‘What I wouldn’t give to be 20 years younger… and a woman.’”
…and living in Fort Lauderdale.
Thanks for reading.
The Large Man