While we’re waiting on New Hampshire primary results, and because there is no other news besides New Hampshire, I figured it might be time for a story.
The story is not hard to imagine. It’s a method of self-deprecation I used throughout my life, to allow others to make the decision…. after I have made a gentle suggestion. I usually throw my hands up, surrendering, “I just make the muffins, it’s really your decision”. It all started almost 40yrs ago.
I was a shallow, self-absorbed, female teenager, constantly late…. until I got fired for being late and then….. was never late again. In my foolish arrogance, I was convinced I would be come a successful executive and therefore, didn’t need to learn to cook….. I could hire a cook. My parents, Dad and Step Mom, both excellent cooks and entertained lavishly and effortlessly. They laughed at me, shook their heads and waited for the passage of time to correct my view of the world.
On a fluke, I was hired as a hostess for a hotel restaurant and promoted to manager by the end of the week. There, I learned……… every one had to eat (Imagine my surprise! Why are we so dumb when we’re young?)…….. there was money to be made in food (that was the good part)…….. being the host meant networking (I am a social creature)…….. and more power (I really liked that part)…… and finally, GOOD FOOD has strange powers of coercion (most beneficial)…… Almost overnight, food took on a whole new meaning for me. I knew I had a lot to learn but became obsessed with learning to cook and the fine art of entertaining. Kind of strange that I should end up owning a B&B, eh?
In the early years, friends and relatives were my guinea pigs as I worked my way through cookbooks. Business led me to NYC and a choice of transfer landed me in Miami at 22yrs old. In the final interview with my new boss, I asked him how he got started with new client development. Our company strongly relied upon repeat business. I knew the corporate office (I came out of the corp office in NYC) wanted their national reps to focus more on NEW business. The General Manager for all of South Florida, a mass of a man, a man’s man, thought about my question and glibly replied that he took doughnuts to all the Fire Dept Inspectors/Chiefs, thus creating friendships. Therefore, he got a peek at the drawings/specifications before anyone else.
I remembered what he said. Yet, I was a young exec, just starting out with a new apartment. I had to buy an ironing board and shoe trees, pots and pans. Doughnuts were expensive and there were 45 municipalities in my area. Do you have any idea how many doughnuts 45 fire departments can eat? I needed another option……. enter, Blueberry Muffins.
I shopped on Saturdays and cooked on Sundays, hundreds and thousands of muffins. It worked. I got to see the plans and specifications. I was “in the room”, at least, and south Florida was booming in the 1980’s.
One day, typical day, I was in the room with a Fire Dept Inspector/Chief who was on a call to the Architect in Atlanta. He waved me into his office and I put the muffin basket down on his desk. He grabbed for one, ripping apart the paper, disregarding the idea that he was on the phone with food in his mouth. He put the phone on speaker, telling the Architect that the ADT Nat Rep for Security System hardware/design was in the room. No response from the Architect. The Chief was a little intimidated by the “big” Architect in Atlanta. I could tell. Yet, the Architect in Atlanta was dismissive of my “friend” the Chief, and I didn’t like it. The building was a high rise, about 30 stories, and the architect had a bad case of “the big head”. As the conversation went on, the more condescending the Architect became.
I grew up at the knee of my Dad. There were building plans and concept models in my nursery as a baby. His team invented high speed elevators, and I was on the job site for installs at Sear’s Tower, Hancock Building, Amoco, The Superdome, etc. Their architects bounced me on their knee. Their union heads built my swing set. Let’s just say……. a pissant Architect from a swamp town like Atlanta (compared to Chicago and NYC) with a piddly-little-30-story-condo didn’t intimidate me at all. Truth was, most of all, I was mad he was not respectful to my friend. He wasn’t talking to the Chief like an Architect would talk to my Dad. He was looking down on the Chief…….. and it pissed me off.
Every set of drawings has errors. It’s a given. It would be impossible to create a set of drawings for any small home or a half-bath, let alone a 30 story building, without errors. Discovery of an error usually leads to a phone call from the engineer or contractor back to the Project Architect, as in, “What do you want to do about… XYZ?” It’s usually no problem at all, because it happens all the time. Anyone with any amount of experience in the industry knows this. How an architect reacts to the phone call speaks VOLUMES about the kind of fellow he is. For most of the conversation between the Chief and the Architect, however, I remained dutifully silent.
As the two men got ready to close the conversation, the Architect asked if the Chief had any questions. The Chief looked at me, open palmed, “You have any questions?” I nodded and moved closer to the speaker phone. Innocently… , like a little bird chirping, I asked about a few of the errors, which I CASUALLY found, that would hamper our install of the security system for each unit, fire system for the building, and CCTV. Note: these were not small errors, they were HUGE errors, and would significantly change my bid price on the project. The architect damn near came through the phone, demanding to know who I was….. Yep, spoke volumes.
In that moment, a key moment, everything moves in slow motion and we remember the fine details which reveal much. The Architect’s reaction was over the top, defensive for no reason. He was an ass with a chip on his shoulder, which obviously had nothing to do with the Chief or me. In a flash, I could tell by the look on the Chief’s face, he was used to being treated this way by Architects….. which was a bad sign. Yet, the way the Chief set his jaw, leaned forward in a primal way, was instantly protective of me….. that was a good sign of an honorable man. I was his buddy, and a young woman who brought him sweets. Beyond that, my question was valid…. and I knew it. After all, I was the bored young upstart with nothing to do late at night except look at building plans. The Chief, who was no electrical engineer but had superior working knowledge, reached for his set of plans immediately to check on my questions. All of this happened in what must have been a 3-second-pause on a long distance phone call. I opened my mouth to respond to the Architect….
And out it came…….
“Hey, I’m just the lady who makes the blueberry muffins for the firehouse, but it seems to me… that if you did ABC……. then XYZ would be easier. And it would probably save a lot of conduit, time, cost for the client, and the install would go faster…….. and I’m guessing……. the electrical contractor would kiss you and send you a great Christmas present…….and YOUR client would be happy with the time and money saved……short pause…… but what do I know….. I’m just making muffins……. you’re the Architect and you would know best.”, paraphrasing, that’s about what I said. Dead silence on the phone line from Atlanta…….
Knowing how to WAIT for an answer, silently, the Chief broke out in a Cheshire Cat grin. He knew exactly what I was doing, and he was laughing about it. I was all of 22yrs old. I had no business getting into a pissing contest with a 45yr old Architect from Atlanta and a 60yr old Fire Chief who definitely didn’t need lil’ ole me to defend him. Yet, hard to say it, but I knew I was right. The Architect countered with an argument about length of runs, placement and design of the chase system….. I was still right.
Within 3 days, the Chief received “additions and revisions”. As we discovered more errors (because it’s bound to happen), it became a running joke between the Chief and me. I loved that man…. like an uncle. He tucked me under his wing and ensured my success. And it started with Blueberry Muffins.
Blueberry Muffins became a mainstay in my life.
Flash forward….. I left ADT, joined a brokerage firm, loved it, cashed out, moved home, started the B&B, and got married……
I found a recipe for a German Pancake which I altered and became a winner for the B&B. I grew tired of making the same dish and changed up the menu after a few years. Unknown to me, one of my best corp clients flew in with a bunch of big shots he was trying to persuade…….. The whole flight in, he talked about my Blueberry pancakes…… and I didn’t serve them that morning. Whoops! He was crushed. I had to remake breakfast…. just for those sweet boys/men/powerful men/Capitalist Gods. From then on, when the blueberries ripen, late July, I order 20 gallons of them. The plastic bins cover every kitchen counter and the whole house smells like a great big blueberry. It’s wonderful.
Again, blueberry pancakes and muffins were the key to my success.
A few years later, I was at least 8 months pregnant…………. and the subject of muffins, actually, blueberry pancakes, came up again in a key moment. I was making breakfast, minding my own business, hanging out in the kitchen. In the Dining Room were the Mayor of our little town, the State’s Econ Development Director, and four Corp Execs who were in the final stages of negotiation for a 200 million dollar facility in our town, employing hundreds. The corp execs and our town/state had worked on the project for months. The execs had become friends, and completely outfitted my soon-to-be newborn in Nittany Lion gear from their home town. In other words, I knew everyone there and knew them well. They had the site plans stretched all over the dining table, and I had a hard time serving them, weaving in and out, while they gesticulated. They were arguing……..
Problem was, the agreed upon building site was under water. We had a “500yr rain” the day before the corp execs came in and the site was flooded. They were hesitating and considering another site in a competing town. They went back and forth. The guy in charge, Corp VP was about 6’3″, and our Mayor was about 6’4″ and their egos were getting in the way. The Mayor said, “Well Captain, I don’t believe I can help you.”, which I’ve heard before from him. It meant he was ready to walk away…. and lose the project. We were stuck.
It was really none of my business.
I was familiar with the building site, as my stepson played soccer in the fields at the end of the new “industrial park”. The building site opposite the proposed site was TOO HIGH, and required an enormous amount of grading for parking and truck access (and had a reduced price because of the elevation problem). I called my first husband, who was a contractor. I asked him how much it cost to move a cubic yard of dirt, if I supplied the dirt, equipment, diesel, and labor, to move it across the street. Off the top of his head, he said $1.69/yd. I did the math on a kitchen scroll usually used for the grocery list……… and walked into the dining room with a proposed solution.
And I started……
“You know fellas, I just make the blueberry pancakes here, but it seems to me, the site across the street is too high, and this one is too low, so if you move the dirt from one to another……. I’ve done the math……. I’m coming up with about $67K on a 197 million dollar project…… so it looks good to me……. but you should check my figures…….. cuz you would know better than me……. and the City should pay for the $67K (Mayor frowned at me)…… but the cost would be recovered because price for land across the street could be increased!……….. but you guys know more about this stuff than lil’ ole me…..
It was a win for the Corp Execs as they got the land improved at no cost. Ego assuaged. It was a mild capitulation for the Mayor, but he ended up raising the price of the land across the street another $120K, making money on the NEXT deal (which was also resolved over my dining room table). My first husband got the contract to supervise the excavating and soil testing. Win-win, all around.
And it worked.
It’s all about a gentle suggestion, allowing those in control to come to their own conclusions, with a little bit of coercion in the form of Blueberry Muffins or Pancakes….. and for those in the know, Chocolate Chip Cookies work just as well.
Easy peasy. Right?