Don’t Let The Warnings Fool You

Every smoker who used to smoke has a love affair with the past and thinks about lighting up every so often. In some cases such thoughts occur every single day apparently until the end of time.

The state of Oregon became a “non-smoking indoors or anywhere outside near a door, a school or hospital or dog or child” in 2009 and it’s been great for those who used to have to empty and clean ashtrays on a daily basis. It also lets people go out drinking and to not come home smelling like their clothes have been used to fan a brush fire of Camel Lights all night long.

When tooling around Portland I see throngs of people gathered on the streetsides and sidewalks, talking, watching, standing and smoking. As if the weather deemed it neccessary for people to be outside, as if it were a tropical country where everyone was in the street being seen because it was just too hot to do anything else. In countries and climates that are naturally warm, much of the population fill the streets so it’s a more of a communal society than many Western regions. Now the corners and barfronts in Portland look populated and celebratory. Regardless that those standing outside in droves have been kicked out because their habit has now become a nationwide stigma of poor health and decision, it’s nice to see folks always hanging out in front. (Smoking is still cool in my book. Not smart, but cool.)

On another note, if you’ve ever traveled through Salt Lake City or any other major airport where indoor glass cages with enormous vents that hang from the ceiling (like a toxic cleansing chamber if you’re wearing a yellow haz-mat suit) corral the smoking travelers, look inside and see their faces. Not really a happy bunch and I’ve often wondered if it was the traveling hours, the airline food, or the fact that they’re put on display behind nicotine stained windows to remind the rest of us how sad and lonely it is to smoke cigarettes. (Smoking is still cool. Absolute stupidest habit on earth, but still cool.)

3 Months and 2 Weeks

It was when the hotel was a “salesmen’s hotel” and there was free parking in the lot which is now used for valet, it was when the waitresses from across the lobby would solicit the men in the dark, kidney shaped lounge for more than just drinks and tips. When smoking in hats was second nature and deals were wheeled as hands were shook and glasses clinked.

All that was long before the hotel was sold to an umbrella corporation under another umbrella with more names than one could remember. Before that it was a no-frills, no nonsense hotel where if you were privy to the town, you’d know it was the best deal around.

When it was bought by corporate execs much of the old staff was shooed away to make room for newer and younger faces, the paint was ornately renovated along with the rooms and lobby. It became a boutique, a quaint theme attached to it’s quiet legacy and the hotel was transformed into a beautiful little place frozen in time. The bar was untouched by the overhaul and still flourishes with curious travelers and elegant locals but the restaurant  across the lobby lies vast and eerily vacant. It’s 20 foot ceilings and sprawling dining room with Romanesque columns and gold flake moldings where everything is set for a crowd sits weirdly motionless and genrerally ignored.

It’s not uncommon to have the hotel management remind its waitstaff to smile and stand up straight when barely 4 people come into its restaurant on any given night. But as you learn to understand how hotels work, you realize what makes the money gets the attention and what doesn’t make money is merely decoration.

And if you’ve ever seen my face, an ornament, I am not.

Blood

Sometimes I’m almost too lucky to have such a great and wonderful family. When you’re an only child that had to grow up real quick, you don’t always realize how much these people mean to you, how fortunate it is to have relatives you can turn to. Or be the one for them to lean on. Being alone and independent for most my life and through many endeavors, my family is something I’ve never spent enough time appreciating and only now do I truly understand.

I love and thank all my family for always being there even though most the time I’m not. And for being beautiful and diverse, successful and brilliant, even though most the time I’m not. (“One day”, I say, as I shake my fist at the sky.)

Selling Cars

Keep your chest out and your chin up.

When I sold cars the Trade Center went down and I remember watching the end of a great Super Bowl on a dealership waiting room TV with cock-eyed rabbit ears. Patriots slapping the Rams at the very last minute in a huge upset or something like that.

On the car lot I was what they called a “liner”. One who approached and lined up the customers for the higher paid and more experienced “closer” to come and grind out whatever agreement they could so then the better dressed and shinier teethed “desk managers” could finally approve said deal and we all got paid.

Worked that job for a year selling new and used cars, literally outrunning older guys to bum-rush any living thing that crept into those shark waters, it’s where I learned how to tie a tie 3 different ways and shine my shoes until I could see the future reflecting back at me.

Admittedly, I had a great time, car guys are some perverted and passionate people, a rowdy and joking group of people I could completely relate with. Like ninjas of disguise, ready with social weaponry suited for any occasion or company, crass or class whipped out like blades and masks in front of those who needed persuading. Many of these guys had wiring connected by the black tape of gambling, drugs and alcohol. Any other dangerous compulsion could be quickly spliced into their schedule as to complete their crazy circuit.

Very sensory oriented group of fellas I used to work with. They loved the rush of selling, the intense anticipation, how the possibilities were endlessly unpredictable when it comes to selling big-ticket items and how you can never really judge anyone. Someone could arrive on the lot in a broken-down Ford Escort and wind up buying a Lincoln. And someone getting out of a Humvee will run your smiling ass around all day, driving this and that and when you’ve finally pulled out the tenth car out for Mr. Rockefeller and his fancy shoes, he splits with a “thanks a lot, I’m going to go home and think about it.” Car guys call that a “jack”. They call that “brain damage.”

During my stint as a car guy I:

Learned when to say the exact right word and when to keep my mouth achingly shut.
Learned how to drive any kind of car anytime, anywhere.
Learned that selling is really just helping people find what they want.
Learned a little about how to use cocaine. Off a woman’s back. On a desk. In her office.                                                                                                                                   Learned that vices can make great, towering earners into hunkered down, burned-out robots. 
Learned that people who sell cars are some of the most entertaining group of people to ever gather on a slab of asphalt.
(The same group may also not even blink when they tear your heart out and trade it on the sidewalk if it meant a couple more bucks for a boat trailer or something equally ridiculous.)
Learned to make some of the strongest bonds with a few of those in that group.
Learned what kind of stereo system is required for a 6500 square foot house.
Learned the rush of making a huge hit by earning nearly a thousand bucks for an hour of socializing.                                                                                                  Learned that comptetitive, commissioned sales is X’s and O’s on a chalkboard. It’s war, baby.
Learned that confidence is the answer to every situation.
Learned that the hardest thing to walk away from is money.
Learned that the easiest thing to walk away from is greed.

Had it not been a career instead of a job, I’d have sold cars for a longer time. Had it not been for a few unsavory moments concerning the fleecing of young kids who just wanted a used car but will now be upside down in it a year down the road, then I would have sold cars for a much longer time. Had it not been for that job, I would have never had a desk manager spur my confidence one day by saying “Keep your chest out and your chin up, Reid. And does your grandma know you stole her drapes for that tie you’re wearing?”

I liked that Jack.

The Drink Stand Facing West

Working in the hot summer sun has its advantages despite how the heat blisters directly in front of you when you’re working a milk crate and folding table wedding reception bar. Advantage being you’re working around cold beverages instead of say, laying fresh tar.

Armed with ice and spirits, beers and champagne, you had a steady line of 10 in a thirsty single file, it was like staring down the barrel of  a gun.

Even when you’re stocked with all the booze and cups in the world, even with a beautiful cloaked bar with flowers and linens, without soda water, coca-cola, tonic or 7-Up, very few cocktails will be made for a wedding party. Except whiskey rocks. On a rooftop in the beating sun where men in ties were dying in the wrinkling air, drinking water wasn’t even available at the bar where you were stationed. Every time the next person in line approached to order you had to say no. Because you don’t have gin & tonics. Or even a whiskey and coke. You look down and see a bottle of bitters, an ingredient so integral in many cocktails and too often forgotten. You have bitters while a glass of ice water was nowhere to be found. “In fact, it’s pushing past 90 farenheit and I’m facing west for the next 5 hours straight without the mercy of shade and there’s a bunch of frustrated party-goers in line behind you as well, sir. I know you wanted a vodka soda with lime, but try a vodka cran. They’re on special right now since it’s all we have.”

Thank god for the vodka cran. Those who wanted simple drinks all got the non-cocktail cocktail, the drink whose entry level is around high school. Vodka and cranberry juice saved the bar today. That, and Budweiser.

It’s like catering on a plane exploding before getting off the ground. Then after it sits there burning for a few hours in the sun, it blows up again. Just to remind you.

It was a beautiful evening when dusk finally came and you almost forgot that many times in life you’re put in situations that demand you take control and be damned with those who stand in your way. This may have been your first time working a bar like this but you should have had the smarts to listen more to your instincts and less to those who are paid to have the answers.