I have been plagued by forgetfulness. The other day, for example, I was wandering through my thoughts and ideas as I sped up I-35E toward White Bear Lake and I had a brilliant idea for a blog post. So brilliant, in fact, that there would be no way whatsoever that I could forget it. Unfortunately, that unforgettable thought occurred somewhere around I-694 and by the time I exited at Hwy 96 I had forgotten my unforgettable idea. (Those of you outside of the St. Paul/Minneapolis metro can consult a map.)
I have also been plagued by a lack of sales. If I am going to blog about sales it would help to have some sales. I have had many very pleasant conversations and meetings, however, and that isn’t all bad, but they are not sales. Of course one or two of these meetings might actually turn into something profitable, but not yet. So you take what you can get, and right now what I am getting is just that good neighborly feeling of being out on the street meeting people.
And all is not lost to forgetfulness either. I do remember, for example, meeting a bicycle shop owner late last week. (Good.) I had already stopped in a couple of times hoping to meet this man and he was never at his shop. Last week I caught him.
I expected a bicycle shop owner like most bicycle shop owners (Tip: They’re kind of a neurotic bunch), but I was surprised to meet someone entirely different.
I was directed to the back workshop and I braced myself for the usual smug put downs. And I was prepared. I had my counter attack carefully planned out. There was no objection this uptight cyclist would get past me. I was going to be certain of it. So imagine my surprise — and my mild disappointment — when an older gentleman came out from the back room. He looked like a true craftsman, an artisan…he looked like a cross between my maternal and my paternal grandfathers! My mental preparation was entirely defeated.
This gentleman was tall, intelligent, and patient. Trust me…other than the tall part, perhaps…these are not qualities that a salesman generally gets to enjoy in the people he meets. At first he was the typical all “no, no, no…”, but I kept talking and I did so mostly because I found the guy interesting, and even better for him I know I have something that will work for his business. I haven’t any doubt about it.
Before long we were chatting about the weather, holiday travel, and cell phones and I scheduled an appointment to bring back a proposal later in the month. No sale, but a good call, even if the man does not buy. He helped me work on my manner better.
I have had several meetings like this recently. People seem to be in the mood to chat and I am quickly learning that I need to find better outs to excuse myself from overly chatty business owners, especially those that are very unlikely to become clients. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn’t enjoy the exchange. Even the real bitter ones offer something for a guy with the right frame of mind.
Today was very much like that visit with the bicycle shop owner. Several good friendly chats with intelligent, patient business owners. I won’t get rich financially from anything I did today, but it was a good people day. I found myself forgetting about many things…like my job, for example. Should the home office call and ask what I did this afternoon, I would have to answer: “Stuff.”
Among that stuff was a visit to a restaurant fire. I had heard all about the fire all day and decided I wanted to check it out. I was more or less in the right city. I quickly surmised, however, that I had underestimate the distance, but I decided I wanted to see where the fire had occurred anyway. I kept encouraging myself “Well, you’ve gone this far, might as well keep going” until I got to what I thought was the halfway point then I told myself “Well, you’re over halfway there no reason to turn around now.”
Eventually I got to the fire scene and…nothing! The most boring fire damage I think I recall ever seeing. (The most dramatic might have been when I was 2.) There was a large television news truck outside with some little newsperson fussing in the cold and that was about it. Major let down. It looked like a bucket of Spic-N-Span would get the place ready to open in time for happy hour.
[I am tempted to insert an anectdote here about young women and driving that might be mistaken for something sexist and I’m not prepared to defend myself from U No Hu’s critique right now. Let’s just say that when I’m President of the World women under thirty will not be driving anything but bumper cars at the fair. But I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t want to be misunderstood.]
I will leave you tonight with a memory from several years ago. On my way to see a client toward the end of the day I drove past a business I visited on one of my very first days ever in the field as a salesman. I was a bit naive and eager and I didn’t pass any door. I knocked on them all.
This business looked like it might have been an art studio or maybe a photographer’s studio — I don’t really remember why I determined that — and I was curious to see what was going on inside. I noticed that the lights were out when walked up to the door, but I pulled on the door handle anyway. The door was locked and I saw someone inside.
He was an older man sitting in a chair in the middle of a mostly empty room and he seemed to be working on something on his lap. I rapped on the glass, but he either ignored me or could not hear me. I waited. I could see then that he was holding was a cat. The old man was hunched over and I imagined that he was talking to the cat as he pet it. Very carefully and tenderly his hand smoothed over the cat’s fur. It was strange, he and this cat were so much in the middle of things, but there was nothing there. Just an empty, darkening room.
The old man didn’t move to acknowledge me at the door and he remained hunched over his cat, carefully petting the animal. I didn’t want to embarrass or startle him, but I knocked again, this time harder so I was sure he could hear me. He heard me, turned, and looked up toward the door. He was crying.
We looked at each other for only a moment and he shook his head and waved me off. He then turned his back to the door and leaned over his cat again. I just stood at the door. I didn’t know what to do so I just left.
Occasionally I think about that stop and whenever I drive by the business I always do. I feel like I let the man down somehow. It is hard to pin down. I clearly wanted to express some apology for disrupting him, but there was more to it. I wanted somehow to let him know that I was ok, not so much that I understood, but that it was ok that I didn’t understand. You might think I am trying to say that I wanted to reassure him that he need not feel ashamed, but I think he was beyond that and I didn’t have that feeling at all. I’m not sure what that means. But I walked away. There was nothing else to do.