Archive for February, 2012

Someplace Warm

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

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Sweet Little … Kids!

‘I was about to lose it there’ I think to myself as I’m splashing water on the lap area of my pants. ‘I don’t deserve this; I’ve been good this week. I’ve exercised, I’ve eaten right, I have avoided the local ballet, and I have had very little to drink. I’m not turning over a new leaf or changing my life by any means, I’m just saying that I have been good this week. So why did Southwestius – the modern god of traveling sales dudes, curse me with Julius and Demetri? Where’s my reward for a virtuous life? (OK, virtuous week, but still?)

Julius and Demetri are the tag team 4-year old and 3-year old brothers who are wreaking havoc on the passengers waiting on a flight to Buffalo at gate B-18 in Chicago Midway Airport. While we are all distracted by these unholy terrors, the passenger I’m most concerned about is me. I’m just not in the mood to be nice; love and patience are not in my emotional inventory today. I’m tired and I want to go home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love little kids as much as Michael Jackson did; but there comes a point when someone has to step up and say something. The parents of these children do not want that someone to be me. And speaking of the parents, if I have to give them the annoyed head turn – one more time, security is going to have to get involved. How do the grown-ups in charge of these twerps let this behavior continue? Here’s an example of the discipline techniques of the parents of “Sweet Little Demetri” and “Handsome Little Julius”:

“…now come on Sweet Little Demetri, leave that man alone. Can’t you see he’s trying to work? Come back here sweet boy. Hey, Handsome Jules: do Mommy a favor and go get your brother before he makes that big man upset.”

“NOOOOO…I’m a MONSTER! (No shit) He has to come here by myself!” replies Handsome Julius. I think he meant himself, but he’s only 4 years old. I’m not looking for proper syntax, I just want the big brother “monster” to come get the little brother “pain in the ass” away from me and my laptop.

Since Handsome Julius won’t help, Mommy’s intervention continues…

“Ahhh…Demetri! Don’t touch that mans computer sweet boy. He’s working on something. Sweet little Demetri won’t get a lollipop if he doesn’t come here RIGHT NOW.”

So Sweet Little Demetri leaves me and runs across the gate area as his Mom unwraps the cellophane from a lollipop, he grabs the sucker from her hand and runs right back to me and waves it proudly in front of me like it’s the participation trophy he’s gonna get in a couple of years for being on his neighborhood swim team. He licks the red candy 2 or 3 times with a tongue that is covered with what appears to be chewed up peanuts or cereal…or mulch, and in that process the stuff that was on the inside of his mouth is now on the outside of his mouth, along with the red slobber from the lollipop. In like 30 seconds and 3 licks of a lollipop Sweet Little Demetri goes from just obnoxious and loud, to obnoxious, loud, and dirty. He must feel the same discomfort that a human might feel in the same situation, so he chooses to wipe his face off…on my pants… on MY EFFING PANTS!

I will be the first to admit that I’m a bit prissy when it comes to spots and stains on my clothes. If I spill salsa on my tie, the event just became business casual.  If I get a little mustard on my shirt or my pants, my day is over until I can change into a clean garment. It is what it is, and I am what I am, I’m sure there is a formal name for this particular brand of neurosis, but I don’t know what it is. What I do know is that I can’t function with “spooge” of any kind on my clothes, and Sweet Little Demetri just wiped kid spooge…MOUTH spooge…right on my crotch.

Mom and Dad don’t see it happen; they just see me stand up real quick like. They suspect something is afoul as I look at them one more time, so here is their next strategy:

Mommy says, “Handsome Julius, go see what your brother has gotten into, that man seems upset.”

This time, instead of arguing, Handsome Julius runs across the nice carpet at Gate B-18 and slams his body into his younger and smaller brother. So now, of course, the crying starts. Sweet Little Demetri is in pain, and Handsome Julius gives me a smile that says, ‘I did that for you dude, that little shithead won’t mess with you anymore, Mom or Dad will be here any second now.’ In a twisted and irresponsible way, I was grateful, and amused. I won’t apologize.

His smile predicted the next series of events correctly…sort of; Dad put down his book and came over to comfort his sweet little boy. I’m standing, Handsome Julius is standing next to me, and we’re both looking at the Sweet Little one screaming and writhing on the floor. I sat my laptop on the chair I had been sitting in and leaned down to help. As my nose got closer to where all the action was, I realized that one of the two had a really bad diaper situation going on. I mean really bad; it smelled like the home of a cat hoarder. The diaper smelled like what the world would smell like today if sewage treatment had never been invented. What could a kid that age eat that would make him smell so bad? Why am I involved in ANY of this…this shit? I just wanna go home.

So Dad looks at me and says, “Is everything OK? Are they bothering you?”

Because I have many good Christian friends who read this stuff, I can’t write what I wanted to say. Really, dipshit Dad? Do you really have to ask if they’re bothering me? They’re bothering everybody!

What I actually said was, “I’m trying to get some work done, but they haven’t hurt anything. Swe…um…Demetri, um – this guy,” As I pointed at Sweet Little Demetri, “just wiped his mouth on my pants. Do you have a wet wipe or something I could use to clean it up?”

“No” he says, as he looks at me with disgust, as if I were some kind of child hating, insensitive jerk. He continues, “…sorry, no, we don’t have anything.” He grabs Sweet Little Demetri, who is still screaming, and walks him over to Mom, and has her “handle it”.

At this point, I am coming out of my frickin skin with anger and frustration. Worst of all, Dad walks away and he leaves Handsome Julius…the bigger and stronger, and obviously meaner of the two, with me! You can’t make this shit up! For years I have assumed that the downfall of our society was rooted in the growing popularity of Rap music, insufficient funding for education, MTV, and violent video games… I’m so wrong. It is CLEARLY jerk-off clueless parents like these two.

I sit back down; I angrily start shutting down my work center because I have to go to the restroom and get some paper towels and some water and splash it all over my crotch so as to remove spooge that I did not generate. A wet groin area on one’s trousers sends a special message to your fellow travelers.

As I stuff power cords into my briefcase, Handsome Julius is just standing there, staring at me, smiling…as I lean over to finish packing I discover that the bad diaper belongs to Jules. I do the gag thing, I cover my mouth and nose, and I wretch just a little. I am so close to simultaneously puking and kicking someone’s ass, at this moment I’m actually afraid of myself. I really don’t care that he might be like 3 years old…I believe him to be a demon from another dimension that needs to be exorcised from the living world and sent back to wherever he hailed from.

But of course I don’t, I don’t because I’m not an “ass-kicking” kind of dude in any situation – but especially with kids. My true belief is that there are no bad kids; there are only kids who have dipshit parents who do not understand airport etiquette or common decency. Also, these two kids are apparently named Sweet Little Demetri and Handsome Julius, they are obviously going to be getting their asses kicked quite often as they go through life, so there’s no sense in me starting the trend – it will start soon enough.

I don’t kick anyone’s ass, I don’t even say a harsh word, I simply set my stuff aside and I grab Handsome Julius’ hand, I smile at him and I say, “C’mon buddy, let’s go see Mom & Dad. You need a new diaper.” We walk across B-18 and with a smile…I tell the mother, “I think your handsome boy here needs a new diaper.”

“Well! Excuse US! We’ll just have to get right on that. So sorry if we might have offended you with a dirty diaper!” is her sarcastic and ungrateful reply. I transfer custody of Handsome Julius with the release of his handsome little hand, and I walked away.

I walked away thinking, ‘I could kick HER ass, and nobody would care…they would probably cheer.’ But I’m not an ass-kicking kind of guy. Love and patience Large Man…love and patience.’

Thanks for reading.

The Large Man

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Different faces, different ideologies, different cultures, and different values are all present, but they don’t really matter at 101 Bottles Beers on the Wall in Kent, OH. It’s just a pub…a tap room and beer purveyor for people who are looking for something different, something off of the beaten path.  Despite the diversity of the crowd, it’s a laid back hang. 101 Bottles is simply a mellow place to gather and enjoy a beer.

Insert Robert Frost and valuable words to live by:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I like beers that you don’t see on the shelves of your standard convenience stores, or in places where everyone goes. I like beers that you have to work for. I like beers that are unique, less traveled by, and maybe created with a little “artistic license” by old hippies, trappist monks, artists and chemical engineers who couldn’t cut it in the corporate world (I’ve spent some time with a few brewmasters who fit this description).

Because I live in a small town in Pennsylvania, a unique beer pretty much describes everything beyond AB, Miller, and Yuengling products; all fine beverages, but not a first choice when I’m seeking a beer adventure. In Pennsylvania we have to buy our beer by the case at a distributor; this makes one somewhat reluctant to experiment or explore an adventurous palate at home. A Young’s Double Chocolate Stout would be really cool to try…but purchasing a case is a risky investment for something you’re not sure if you’re going to like or not. If you try one and it’s just okay, you’re left with 23 & ½ beers that you have to get through, rather than enjoy. Life is way too short to waste time on a bad beer choice. Bad beer and bad company are numbers 17 & 18 on the Large Man List of Life’s No-Nos.

Now, insert 101 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…3 hours from my hometown…where the laws are different:

Located in Kent, OH … 101 Bottles is a retail outlet for specialty import, micro, and craft brewed beers. They also have wine, but beers are their thing. The number 101 is probably a misnomer by about  4 times. I would bet that there are at least 400 different flavors of beer in this shop. They are in a humble little roadside strip mall in the Kent University area; I have to say that this store is a top 5 all time favorite find in my Large Man travels.

Travis, a red headed & bearded tap technician, store minder, and first class beer sommelier, offers up a friendly wave as you walk in the door. Beth, a feisty, bohemian looking beauty stands at the register and greets you with a smile and immediately offers to “…help you find anything”.  Justin, a tall, lanky, ball cap wearing dude is swarming around the store & tap room working on TV settings  and the store appearance, and although he has a busy vibe, there is still time for a wave and a smile and a “How ya doin’?”.

I’ve been in a lot of specialty retail places for beer, wine, stereo equipment, musical instruments or clothing; “high end” places where you go for expert opinion and guidance on a particular product you’re looking for.  Often times in these places I have felt intimidated or smaller than the experts whose help I was seeking. I like to call it “intellectual intimidation”, I don’t know what the real term for this behavior is, some people call it “snob” behavior, or “elitist”…I use “douche bag” a lot too. We all know what I’m talking about, and it’s probably fair to say that many of us have experienced it. You won’t get that kind of treatment here at 101 Bottles. These folks are as knowledgeable as anyone, but they like to share that knowledge. These folks are are not beer snobs, they are beer lovers…and they are happy to spread the love!

The limited release of Bell’s Hopslam Ale, a double IPA style brew, is what I was hunting during my most recent visit to 101 Bottles. Unfortunately there was no bottled inventory available, but they had a fresh keg of this nectar of the gods in their tap room; that was good enough. I once paid $15 for a 12 oz bottle of the stuff and I thought it was a good deal.

You can’t describe this beer appropriately in English because the words need to be spoken in a more poetic dialect – but I’ll try:

Bell’s Hopslam assaults your taste buds with layer upon layer of flavor and texture. A malty front with a grapefruit middle and then almost a pine finish are things I experience when I take a pull. I like to pour it very cold and let it warm up, to about 40 degrees.  I think this process allows the beer to open up all its layers and lets you experience its full spectrum of flavor. Its color is a beautiful shade of copper; its aroma is as fragrant as a country fence rail covered in honeysuckle. Every sip tastes like what you imagined a first kiss would have been like with that girl who got away…that girl of your dreams. If Hopslam were a girl, she would have a fiery, robust mane of curly red hair, she would have a big round athletic butt, large pouting breasts, and she would play the cello with the violent passion of breeding ostriches (trust me). This woman would be comfortable in a burger joint with that Guy dude from the Food Network, yet she could still hold court with the entire room at a sophisticated private bistro in Upper Manhattan. She would be the kind of pretty that all the dudes loved, but the girls wouldn’t find threatening. Class & cool in the perfect combination…and then some.

That about covers it. But imagine all those things spoken in Portuguese – then you get the true understanding of this magic potion.

So anyway…

… I walk into the tap room and I ask Travis for a chalice of this brew, and he cautiously asks me if I’m going to “try anything else?” He doesn’t know me, so he doesn’t realize that this was a silly question; there are 24 taps within his reach – all of them limited releases and specialty potions, and I have $117.37 in my pocket; of course I’m going to “try anything else.” I’m not being critical of the Trav man, actually quite the opposite – he was just being a pro.

“But of course” is my reply.

“Well then…ahh… I wouldn’t go with the Hopslam first. It’s just gonna CRUSH your taste buds for anything else you might want to try. I have a fresh tap going on another IPA that is great.”

I agree with his suggestion with an enthusiastic, “Giddy-up!”

And so it goes…for the next 90 minutes I sample a small handful of beers from all over this great nation of ours. A glass is poured, we discuss it, and I walk around the store and look at what is available for purchase in 6 packs and 22s. How cool is that? Pour me a beer, and then let me walk around the store and figure out what I’m going to buy. It’s a groundbreaking retail model in my opinion.

While I shop,  people are filtering in and out, there is a good looking couple who bring in dinner from the burrito place down the street, they have their dinner and they sample from the 24 taps and they join in on the discussion topics with the 12 or so other people who are perched on barstools in the room.

There is a fireman who asks my opinion on all the natural gas drilling that’s going on in PA and Ohio, there’s an attorney, Scott, who jokingly offers me his business card “just in case I enjoy too much Hopslam.” Travis has a buddy, Steve, parked at the end of the bar and they’re discussing Trav’s roommate situation. Beth has now brought her dinner in, and while taking a break she reads her book, eats her evening meal, and passionately discusses a subject with fireman dude in between bites. I don’t know Beth, and I’m willing to bet our ideologies are very different, but I like her. I hope we get a chance to talk, maybe debate points that we care about someday down the road. I enjoy the company of smart people…this is a smart place.

What I like most about this place is the comfort. I will, and often do, pay more for a product if I’m comfortable with the people I’m doing business with. I want the deal to be mutually beneficial, especially in the case of a beer purveyor, as I am most certainly going to be a repeat customer.

With Travis’ expert help – and patience with my questions, I harvested a generous and varied crop of new beer to try…and luckily, at a distributor in PA I was able to acquire a case of Hopslam too. I will return home to my family and my good friend and neighbor, Bob, as a conquering hero. The beer that is in my trunk could quite possibly be breaking several state and federal statutes (that’s lawyer talk, ask Scott)…but I don’t care, I like beers that you have to work for.

101 Bottles has a Facebook page, look them up and like them…tell them The Large Man sent you. Also, they are mentioned quite affectionately on Beer Advocate’s website, so trust me when I tell you that it’s not just me – the beer world loves these people too. If you like adventurous craft beers and friendly people, and if you respect people who love what they do, learn more about these folks. If you are ever in their neck of the woods, stop in. If you are a beer connoisseur, it doesn’t get any better.

Thanks for reading.

The Large Man

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