Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A New Way of Looking At Chili.....*

I love a good bowl of chili. Often times, I will order chili whether at a diner, or eating at a great lunch or dinner place.

Good chili is an art, and it is RARE.

After college, I took a job working "trucking and messenger sales" for a company based in Central Jersey, in the town of Woodbridge. Woodbridge is a cool town, with a large Ford Plant - (one of it's adjacent towns is called Fords) and, one could call it a combination of America at the end of the 20th century.....

It had it's mix of blue collar workers and technology companies literally on top of one another.

Woodbridge is also pretty much the CENTER of NJ.

It is where the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway - Routes 1 & 9, as well as many smaller arteries all intersect.

Right in the town of Woodbridge NJ.

It makes perfect sense to have a trucking company/messenger service, or any kind of transportation company located there.

I worked for this company - and was responsible for generating new business....but many times I ended up doing the "dispatch work" - as our dispatcher liked to sneak cans of Miller Genuine Draft Beer during the day.

All day.

By 4pm he had polished off a about 15 cans of Genuine Draft in a large soda cup from the local convenience store.

He started slurring -- and around 4:30 he was completely unintelligible.

Those of you that have worked in any transportation business, will understand that between 3-6pm is when most of the "action" occurs. That means, the customers call the dispatcher to set up their delivery of goods the next day business day.

The dispatcher has to line up the next day, logistically, and let the drivers know where to go - so as to "organize" the company day.

It was a hard job to learn -- but, I learned it....and our drunken dispatcher went from being angry, early on in my employment - as I was tring to help HIM (he said I was screwing up his whole next day) to, grudging respect.

One day, after he had already passed out at 4pm, and I was on the phones with customers, DOING HIS JOB - setting up the driver schedules for the next day -- he heaped praise on me....

"Kid, you are learning the ropes -- I'm gonna buy you a good bowl of chili."

I was shocked -- and said, "I'm looking forward to it."

A few days past, and I thought he had forgotten about his chili offer.....

He yelled to one of the drivers, Ralphie, who was a overweight 50 year old man, that wore the same jeans EVERYDAY - and who looked like he was a overweight version of Gomer Pyle....

"Hey Ralphie..." The Dispatcher yelled over the intercom.

"Take the kid (me) to OUR PLACE for a bowl of chili..."

I was horrified. It was one thing to work with a guy, but another to break bread with someone who I was genuinely afraid of.

Ralphie looked like a mental patient - and that he could snap at anytime, and bad things could happen.

But, he was a damn good driver. He was reliable, and never turned down a trip.

Ralphie was not someone I wanted to spend a Tuesday afternoon eating lunch with.

"Cmon kid, I got you - jump in my van...."

I climbed into a 1974 VAN that had exposed metal coils on the passenger seat. The Van was littered with magazines, spit cups from chewing tobacco, and bags from fast food joints....

I asked, "Where are we going?"

He replied, "To our special chili place."

He never uttered a word to me, until he dropped me back off at the office.

We pulled up to a sleazy strip joint (topless place) on RT 1, in I believe Edison NJ. I was horrified, and said to Ralphie....

"I'm not going in there...you said we were going for a Bowl of Chili."

His van door slammed, and I was left in the passenger seat alone....alone, sitting on the passenger seat coils, exposed metal sitting into my pants, of a 1974 van - alone in the parking lot of a strip joint wearing a Jerry Garcia tie - and tan slacks.

The parking lot was filled with pick up trucks, and 18 wheelers.

I opened the door of the van - and walked in, alone.

I had never done THIS BEFORE - as my typical lunch was the deli, or if I was adventurous, a drive for Mexican food.....

A topless place? A picture of my Mom ran through my head. "What would she say?" I thought to myself....

As I opened the door of the strip club, there was complete darkness. I could not adjust my eyes, to see anything -- and I felt blinded.

I muttered to a person near the door, that I could not see,

"Do you have a menu.?"

She replied, "Sure, how many in your party?"

I said, "I think two, but I will sit at the bar."

I sat down at the bar -- and the dancers immediately saw me. 2 older ladies (dancers) who I suppose were accustomed to gazing out at the lunchtime crowd, and seeing guys like, RALPHIE -- who I spotted across the bar. He was sitting alone.

I ordered the Chili from the bartender.

I also got lots of focus from the 2 middle age topless ladies who LOVED my Garcia tie. It was one of my more popular days in a bar -- as I'm relatively sure for the 1st time in my life, that I was one of the "attention getters for the ladies" in this dive joint full of RALPHIE look alikes.

One of the dancers was very pleasant asking me,

"what are YOU doing here?"

I yelled over the sound of Depeche Mode (or some other 1990's disco type music), "I'm here for the Chili, I was told it was good."

The Bowl of chili arrived.


It had the perfect amount of beans, the sauce was thick -- with the proper amount of vegetables -- and it was just spicy enough to make your lips burn.

I started to pay attention to what all the other people sitting at the bar were eating.....

Most of the guys had bowls of chili, and most of them were not paying attention to the dancers.

I started thinking -- "are people here for the chili or for the dancers?"

Not to get too ahead of myself, I figured the Chili was a distant second to the ambiance of a strip joint, on a highway, at lunch hour.

We arrived back at the office.

The Dispatcher said with a huge chuckle and a rare smile, through his rotted teeth , "How was MY PLACE for the Bowl of chili, did Rhonda dance for you?"

"Of course -- and thanks, the CHILI was excellent, the best I've ever had."

I thanked him. And, moved on with my life. Literally.

I've since grown up - and looking back on some of my post college working experiences, I can honestly say I've learned many things from many people.

As I tackle building my OWN BUSINESS, I use the "Chili analogy" that I learned from the Dispatcher that loved Miller Genuine Draft, as well as Ralphie The Driver.

"Look at people and situations differently. Be different - take risks...and in order to have GREAT EXPERIENCES in business (in this case chili) be ready to go do something every single day -- OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. "

Going to a strip club, certainly cannot be misconstrued as "going out of my comfort zone to make a difference," but it was to me.

It was my little learning about the Social Aspect of working with unique people, like the dispatcher -- and Ralphie.

I recently found out that the dispatcher died from a heart attack, and Ralphie died on the NJ Turnpike in a traffic accident a few years back.

But that bowl of chili, and all the things that came with it -- are just one of the things that goes into my arsenal of being successful when starting my own business.

It's more than the chili, it is LIFE - and getting the most out of it.

To this day, the word, "chili" conjours up a different and substantive meaning to me.

It evokes emotion.

And, that is success in my book. A key learning from a dispatcher and a overweight truck driver. I hope I can give my future employees their own, "bowl of chili."

Minus the strip club.


Blogger Rob said...

Andy - Great post I hope you hold your Holly Frijoles lunch with me in the same light. I distinctly remember the quote being, "There's chlorox in this hot sauce."

Couldn't agree more that you need to chase after the chili and if the path is unfamilar or untraveled or even scary it's a worthwhile trip. You might find that really great bowl of chili. Or you can do the status quo and open a can of Hormel.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that story before only Jim McGreevey was the (dispatcher)Mayor of the Woodbridge and about 14 young interns were jammed into the back of a van going for French Onion soup.

9:04 PM  

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