Someone I follow on LinkedIn, a “career expert” with a lot of followers threw this out. I never found myself disagreeing with her before. But this time she lost me. She was adamant: “Managers cannot be friends with subordinates.” There are other prohibitions that so-called wise people like to throw out like “don’t date anyone you work with” or “keep your personal life separate from your work life.” I actually read a post from another so called expert cautioning that you shouldn’t socialize at work. Socialize with your friends and family, and they are not at work.
Well excuse me. All these years of working and being on teams and observing human nature was wasted until I came upon these fonts of human relations wisdom. Not to put to delicate a point on it, but it sounds like they have sticks up their asses.
But I like to be open minded about things so maybe these are good guidelines. That is, for those of us who cannot behave like adults. Otherwise, it’s lowest common denominator bullshit and it ignores the human instinct, one of our finest instincts: to bond. It replaces it with corporate worst case scenario worry wart horse shit. This was one of the topics that a group of senior leaders kicked around recently. These are not social media “influencers” or corporate policy setters. These are top-notch, respected and admired leaders that between them have led thousands of team members. They assured the audience you can be friends with your peers, your superiors and YES, you can be friends with your subordinates. It takes a little adulting, and it takes a little extra thought process, particularly for managers, to make sure you are not showing favoritism. But that is what managers and leaders do. We deal with complexity. Nowhere in the job description does it say leaders cannot be human.
You spend a significant amount of time working, whether it is remote or on site. Do you really want to be in an environment where you keep people at arms length? I sure as hell don’t. In some cases it’s damn near impossible not to be friends. Try picking up a work team and moving them half way across the country where no one has family or outside of work friends. You are going to be friends because you have no one else. Try having to rush an employee to the hospital and stay with them because there is no family around. You are gong to be friends. Try traveling the world with people on your team and all the adventures and craziness that entails. You are going to be friends. Or making sure an isolated employee halfway across the world gets their chance to lead a global project. You will always be friends.
I just went skiing for a week with a former employee, we enjoyed skiing together but also epic conversations in the evenings and just catching up on personal lives and careers. I am not alone in this type of experience, but the killjoys of the world would have us give that up.
Many members of my family worked at Drakes Bakeries when they were located in Brooklyn, NY. It was like an extended family. (You can’t say family either when you talk about co-workers I’ve recently discovered.) It was hard to find friends and relatives that were not somehow intertwined via Drakes. Whenever we went to visit friends of my mothers or my aunts, there were always Drakes connections. You found them at church, at the bowling alleys and you found them married to each other. Long after 1st marriages ended, usually by death but sometimes by divorce, there was a good chance that next marriage would be an ex-coworker from Drakes. The men fought the war and when they came home, they found their sisters working at Drakes and they got on there too. The Greatest Generation. Try telling them you can’t be friends at work.
I can think of at least 20 coworkers, that over the years have married each other. I have supervised some of them. I can think of many many more coworkers that have dated each other. I can think of many managers being friends with employees. You know what I can’t think of? Any single instance of someone I know that suffered career damage. And even if you did…would you sacrifice your soul mate or a lifelong friendship for something as fleeting as a job or the next rung on the ladder? You would? See the subtitle to this essay.
The wind off the Danube was biting and ancient. It tore downriver, curled around the Parliament and whipped past portraits of battles and kings in Buda Castle before doing a crack the whip through the Chain Bridge. The same way it had for years and decades and centuries and millennia.
At home, we’d all be indoors, warm and oblivious. But here, the cold has us under its spell. We buy warmer hats from street vendors and amble through history. We buy antiques from small stores and fancy ourselves the customers in an Ernst Lubitsch film.
We could go back to the hotel restaurant, but that sounds boring. So we wander in the dark; cold and hungry, down dimly lit side streets and narrow alleys. Finally we come to a place with the right vibe: warm incandescent lighting, a few tables with wooden chairs and checkered table cloths and a bar that ran the length of the room.
We were the only customers, and the staff, at first laconic and perhaps feeling a bit put out, rallied and became warm and gracious. As we thaw ourselves and our eyes adjust we see it is bigger than we thought. There are tables in an alcove beyond the bar and in one dark corner a large, worn, banquette where we imagine counter-revolutionaries plotted against their Soviet masters. But tonight it is just us, and we are relatively happy with our corporate masters, who are paying for this grand adventure disguised as work.
The change in attitude might have been because we were foreigners; three Americans and a Mexican. Or, perhaps because as we peeled off layers, they discovered the beautiful young woman in our little group. Either way, they served hot goulash with warm bread and cold beers from the taps and hovered like mother hens. When we left there were handshakes and hugs with all of us getting the same measure of warmth as our comely colleague.
As we walked back to the hotel through the quiet streets, and back along the Danube, the Palace and the Chain Bridge lit like jewels against the night, we resolved to eat where the locals ate in each city we visited. And so we did, in Worms, and Székesfehérvár, and Strasbourg.
It was a habit we all continued with our other travels around the world. Getting off the beaten path, asking the locals where to go. Or accepting dinner invitations from our international colleagues. Business travel can be harried and brutish, and you can visit a place without ever seeing it. But we made the most of it. I can’t imagine, what my life would be like, if I had conducted all those meetings, all those work sessions, sitting at home in front of a couple of video monitors.
Sam stood on the apron of the stage, looking at the mannequin. It was wearing a red dress and he liked what he saw. It had been a long night with many trips up to the rafters above the auditorium adjusting the lights. He was having trouble getting the red to pop in the dress and also to get some depth. The problem had been the darker lights on the shadow side which kept turning the red dress grey or blue. But when he turned down the darker lights the set looked flat. Finally though, he had gotten the angle, the dimmer settings, and the gel color just right. He had moved the dress all over the stage, or at least where Leslie would be moving and the effect he wanted held. It was just one scene, but the red dress was central to the plot. Now he was exhausted and just needed to rest. He looked forward to going over to the all night diner down the street and getting some French Toast and Apple Pie. Then bed.
But first, back upstairs to shut everything down. He stood up to head up the stairs when he saw Anna coming towards him from offstage left. Crap. Anna was engaged to his best friend, Steve. She was alright but always had some drama happening and she seemed to focus on him for advice. He didn’t mind, he liked hanging out with her, but just now he was dead tired. He could tell by her walk that she was worked up about something but he didn’t really get it until she stepped out of the shadows and into the bright stage lights. By coincidence she was wearing a red blouse and his stage nerd kicked in and he noticed that her blouse showed up nicely in his lighting as well. Then he looked at her face.
The tired feeling immediately went away replaced by an adrenaline rush. “What happened to you…I mean who did that!?”
She started crying “I’m afraid to tell you but I don’t know who else…”
“Fuck that, someone hurt you…you had better tell me.” He motioned to the front row of seats in the auditorium and they walked down there.
His strong reaction seemed to comfort her, she obviously wanted to tell someone. “It’s hard to talk about.”
“Of course it is. Take your time. Do you want some water?”
She nodded “Yes, please.”
The water was a stalling tactic to let her pull herself together and for him to calm down a bit. This was his best friends girl…he was gonna be best man at their wedding. He just needed to take a deep breath, use his head, and not do anything stupid…let the campus police handle it.
He handed her the water and sat down next to her. “Thank you.” She leaned against him, not a surprise, she had always been very tactile so he made nothing of it. “I don’t know how to start.”
“Look. I know this can be hard to talk about.”
All the men on campus had taken training about what it was like when a woman is assaulted and how to react appropriately. He had listened and knew sometimes the women blamed themselves. “It’s not your fault. No matter what happened its not your…”
“No. Thats not it.” She looked away from him. “I know it’s not my fault.”
“Well you just tell me when you’re ready.”
“I’m worried about you.” She turned and looked him in the face.
“Oh don’t worry about me. I won’t rush off and go try to beat him up. We will let the cops handle it. Have you told Steve yet?”
“That’s why I am worried about you.”
“Because of Steve? Don’t worry, we’ve been friends forever. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid too.”
“It was Steve.” She was visibly shaking.
He didn’t say anything for a long time. He remembered the part about believing the woman but he was having a hard time with this. Steve? The most upright guy he knew. He would never hit a woman. He decided to fake his way through the conversation and hear her out. “Was he drunk or something?”
“No. He’s never drunk when it happens.”
“When it happens? You mean it’s happened before?”
With the house lights down and the stage on full bright it had the sensation of making him feel they were cocooned together. As he waited for her to continue, the soft rush of the HVAC system and the hum of the light dimmers up in the lighting coves were the only sounds; they were familiar sounds and he focused on them in order to recenter and calm himself. Well, he thought, could his former best friend be abusing his sweet little fiancé? Can’t get much worse than that.
IT GETS WORSE
She took a deep breath before speaking again. “You’re going to think I’m so weak but I was scared. On our first date…”
“He hit you on your first date?”
“No, well I mean yes. But it was worse. He forced me…”
“Oh my god.”
“Then he told me I belonged to him and if I ever try to leave him he’d hurt me and my mom really bad.”
He knew better than to ask why she didn’t just leave. He might have been fooled by his friend but he wasn’t so naive to think a woman could just walk out on an abuser. Especially with a threat like that.
“You’re not weak but I’m a fool.” He was still processing, should he believe her over his friend? Then he thought of the consequences. If he took her side and she was lying well, he could lose a good friend. On the other hand, if he didn’t believe her and she was telling the truth, well the consequences for her would be brutal.
She shook her head. “How could you be expected to know he was lying? He fools everyone, hell my mom loves him.”
He knew what he had to do, look Steve in the eye and ask him. Then…well he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. Meanwhile, a righteous fury was building inside of him. That Steve had betrayed him, and what he might have done to Anna. Despite his rationalizing, In his heart, he believed her.
But even then, as he processed all of that he was questioning his own motives. Because best friend or not, he was in love with Anna.
“WELL ISN’T THIS COZY”
They both jumped, startled by Steve’s sudden appearance up on the stage. Standing on the edge of the apron, blinded by the lights he squinted down at them.
“Stevie. What that hell have you done?”
Steve gave a sweeping arm gesture “Maybe I should ask what you’ve done? You and this whore.”
He started to get up to rush the stage but before he could Anna bolted for the backstage door. That was good, he wanted her out of this. He would handle it. “Dude, I thought I knew who you were. You need help.”
“Seriously you’re gonna let a little slut come between us?”
“The little slut who you were engaged too? I never would’ve let anyone come between us. But that changed when you…”
“Hit her? Oh don’t be so self-righteous. Like you never slapped a chick around. What about that Dora babe? I noticed she’s not coming around much anymore. Or then maybe she jealous of you and Miss Anna. Do you talk about her in your sleep?”
“Dora moved on and why is not your business but I never hit any woman. And I sure as hell never…”
“You never what? What did she tell you?”
It was hard to say, and he could tell Steve had been drinking. He didn’t want to say it. “You forced her to have sex with you. Then you threatened her.”
“You mean I raped her. Don’t be such a delicate flower.” He was tottering on the edge of the orchestra pit now. “For God’s sake Stan, she was a tease. Did she tell you that part? Hell you saw the way she looked at me in that Bio class.”
“Yeah I saw her looking at you. She wanted a date, not to be attacked.”
Steve took a step back and looked ready to vault the orchestra pit opening into the auditorium when he saw a blur coming from stage left. The blur looked a lot like Anna. It looked a lot like Anna holding a handgun.
It looked a lot like Anna holding a handgun because it was, and as she stopped mid-stage she pointed the weapon at Steve. “Get on your knees!”
Steve, gave a half laugh and then looked at her “whatcha gonna do with that bitch?”
“On your fucking knees!!!!” She pulled the hammer back.
“Alright alright!” Steve dropped to his knees and put his hands behind his head without being asked.
Anna yelled for Stan to dial 911 while she kept the gun leveled at Steve.
“You’re gonna hurt someone with that. You know they say the thing about a gun is someone can take it and use it on you.” He looked at her and gave her a threatening smirk.
She must have considered what he said because she ordered him onto his stomach. He complied. “I caught you with my betrayer friend and I got a little angry. I guess I drank too much. And for that I got a gun pulled on me.” He strained his neck to look at her. “What do you and whore-dog over there have to tell the cops? I mean what do you have that you can prove?”
He was laughing. “The cops are gonna cart the two of you off and take me to the hospital to make sure I’m not traumatized by all this violence. I think I can work up a good cry by the time they get here.”
Anna motioned Stan to come up to the stage and then handed him the replica prop gun.
Steve snorted “this is beautiful, now you’ve both held a gun on me.”
Anna pulled her phone out of her pocket. She had been backstage when Sam and Steve were arguing.
She pushed the play button.
TEN MONTHS LATER
It was the beginning of Sam’s Senior year and though he and Anna had texted a few times over the summer he hadn’t seen her since the end of the school year. Even with Steve’s conviction, some of his frat brothers continued to spread rumors about her. She decided to finish out the year and transfer.
Sam had lost some friends as well, but had gained some better friends. Besides, at 6’3″ and 195 pounds, few people dared to bother him. Those that did he ignored.
He was sitting on a picnic table when he saw her walking towards him across the quad. Once he saw her she gave a little recognition wave. It was warm out and she was wearing a short skirt, her hair down and cascading over he shoulders. His heart damned near stopped. He had been talking to a girl that he kinda sorta liked but she, recognizing Anna as well, patted him on the shoulder, gave her a friendly wave and left the playing field.
“Man am I glad so see you. But what are you doing here?”
“What I’m doing right now is starving. Wanna grab a pizza?”
It was a short walk to Al’s but long enough for her to fill him on her plans: she was stopping by on her way to finish her senior year at a women’s college out East. She had big plans: she would go to law school and then found a non-profit law firm to help abused women.
He had never seen this Anna before. She had always seemed…not superficial, that would be the wrong word. She cared deeply for others, that had come out in some of their talks. Maybe passive, or even timid was a better word. But that mouse was no more. There was a glow in her eyes, as if they were lit by some slow burning inner fire. She still had the gentle smile and sweet laugh, but now, she had grown into something new and, he thought, something even more beautiful.
“Penny for your thoughts?” She took his hand in hers.
They were on their way back to her car, and he was trying to keep it together. He had been hoping she was back to stay, or maybe had some plans that included him. But he was struggling to see where he could possibly fit in. He decided it was now or never:
“I love you.”
“I know, and I love too” she said as she drew him closer, walking arm in arm now. But…”
“But you’re not that person anymore. And I just don’t fit in I guess.”
She pushed him away, a little harder than she meant to. “Don’t speak for me. I don’t want that again. Ever. From anyone. That’s not it at all.” Now it was her turn to struggle for words. “I need to work on myself first. I am not sure I know how to be healthy in a relationship.”
They were standing by her little convertible now, her leaning against the drivers door, looking up at him, both his hands in hers now. “Can you give me a little time? I mean I’m not saying for sure but…”
“You know damned well I will. But you know, you better hurry, Danita is hot on my heels.” He said with a wicked grin.
She pulled him down and kissed him on the mouth. “Yeah, I liked her little wave. I’ll kick both your asses.”
Then she slid behind the wheel, and he watched as she drove off in her little car, her hair blowing in the wind, laughing, wild and free.
Damn. John stared in disbelief. It had to be her, frigging Conway. It seemed this hard as nails, uptight, cutthroat litigator could rock a whole different persona.
He laughed at himself. Despite how much he liked his fiancé, Claire, he had to admit Conway had taken his breath away when he saw her walking through the supermarket. Luckily, she hadn’t seen him and yes, he had better forget that and focus on the case. She was tough and would flame him and his client if he wasn’t careful. In the stark incandescent light of this courtroom, he did not find her the least bit appealing.
The case dragged on for a couple of weeks before the parties agreed to settle. They had both won in a way, neither client getting what they wanted but both walking away feeling they got the best they could. Secretly though, he knew his client had the better position and somehow Conway had come out even. Had she staged the supermarket thing just to throw him off his game? From what he had heard he wouldn’t put it past her.
It had been several weeks and he was trying to forget about her. Geez, she was a pit bull and obviously on a power trip. He told himself he hoped they would never cross paths again. He knew that was a lie. It was more than just the way she looked, though that certainly didn’t hurt. She had a reputation for suffering no fools, and she certainly had a sharp tongue. The challenge was damned near irresistible.
And then he was back at the grocery picking up lunch and a voice said “counselor”.
He turned and there was a beautiful woman wearing a short dress and bright red sandals. He was aware that he was gaping but couldn’t help himself. He stammered out “you look different Ms. Conway…I mean from court.”
“And you look the same counselor. And by the way, it’s ‘Gretchen.’”
He said “John”, and somehow it came out like he was a 5th grader with a teacher crush.
They stood there exchanging small talk while they waited in line. Then she got called to a newly opened register,
He waved and then watched her checkout and head out the door.
That’s just great. Things were going so well with Claire, but now he couldn’t stop thinking about Gretchen. Again.
Trish leaned back in her chair and stretched her long legs out over the ottoman. It was a move designed to focus his attention; but to be honest, his attention didn’t need much more focusing.
They’d been sitting here in the hotel lobby, close to the fireplace for nearly two hours. Save for a couple of bio breaks, and trips to the bar to top off drinks, they had been talking non-stop. There were chairs scattered close by, and they would be occupied for a few minutes at a time as people waited for ride-shares or friends to show up. Overhearing the conversation, they would have assumed it was just two people becoming acquainted with each other, which it was. But there was also playful taunting buried between the lines. A more seasoned student of human behavior, such as the desk clerk, could see the slowly escalating flirtation. He had alerted the night manager, and they entertained themselves with a play by play of the proceedings. There was a beer riding on who would make the first move.
There was a more altruistic reason for their voyeurism: they had often observed a man and woman getting to know each other in that exact spot. The big fire and the dim lighting seemed to encourage people to drop their guard. Often, more often than one would think, it ended with her a little tipsy and him offering to walk her to her room. They weren’t about ruining anyone’s fun, just making sure both parties were playing the same game. A quick “how are you tonight?” sometimes was enough to break things up. Or not.
This couple seemed evenly matched though. They looked to be both in their late forties or early fifties. The woman had long blonde hair, creamy skin and enormous dimples. The man looked like he had stepped out of one of those “Touch of Gray” advertisements. They were both tall. They were also both sober.
The clerk, by long established custom got to choose first and went with Trish as the first mover.
But then an unexpected occurrence; they were standing and hugging. A good bye peck on the cheek from blondie. He offered his hand, which she took and then slowly withdrew, letting her fingers linger suggestively on his palm. She walked down the hall to the elevators but not before throwing him a backward glance.
“They ain’t done” noted the manager, stating the overwhelmingly obvious.
The clerk shook his head “he could have followed her into that elevator. Did you see that last look?”
“He likes her.” The manager gestured towards the man who was now poking around the lobby looking for nothing in particular; decompressing. “He’s playing the long game. Who’s working breakfast tomorrow?”
“Tammy. I’ll clue her in.”
Tammy was a supervisor in the hotel restaurant. It was her job to make sure meal service ran smoothly and that the dining experience was in keeping with the hotel’s high level of service. Tammy was also an important information conduit.
To understand where this is heading you will need to understand a little bit about how some hotels operate. While guests are visitors, on any given stay they outlast their hosts who will work a shift and then go to their own homes. So there needs to be official communication channels so that there is continituity of a guests experience between shifts. Did you want a taxi at 7am? Duly noted in the overnight log. Was there a big party in room 403? Noted. Was someone acting suspicious? Also noted. Or maybe someone was ill and the day shift should check in on them and a million other things that needed to be communicated from one shift to another.
But in some hotels, like this one, there were unofficial channels. Things that people wanted to know but certainly didn’t need to. Things that only became clear over the course of a full twenty four hours. Such as why was the man in 611 spending so much time doing laundry, or how come a frequent customer, say Tina, had switched out drinks from whiskey sours to beers. Or for that matter, that Mark, the bartender, wanted to work whenever Tina was in residence. And how was it that Mark always knew when Tina would be showing up?
Trish and her gentleman friend had left the overnight crew with a cliff-hanger and that would never do. This was where Tammy came in. Tammy prided herself on knowing what the guests wanted before they even showed up for a meal. She knew which ones wanted to talk and who preferred to be left alone and who, in any given stay, might start off eating alone but had later acquired an eating companion. Especially a breakfast companion. Sometimes, a simple inquiry to housekeeping, about unused rooms, unslept-in beds would seal the case.
In short; Tammy could smell an assignation like a raccoon can smell old eggs and coffee grounds. And in this case, Tammy sniffed the overpowering aroma of restraint. But that doesn’t mean nothing interesting was going on here.
Sure enough, the next morning the two of them had shown up to eat breakfast together. Tammy sidled over and introduced herself. They reciprocated and she found out the man’s name was “Rob”. “Ah, Trish and Rob” she said coyly noticing how Rob’s face flashed red. “So, what are you two lovebirds up to today?” More blushing from Rob.
Tammy knew how to cut to the chase. If they had been business associates, relatives, or even just friends a quick denial and setting the record straight would have occurred. But the long pause told her the issue was as yet undecided. In an effort to get past the silence, Trish asked if she could recommend a good place that they might enjoy visiting.
Tammy pounced: “Some place romantic?”
Without hesitating Rob replied “Yes, that would be perfect.”
Both women stared at him.
Both women smiled.
Trish was grinning from ear to ear “something romantic would be very nice.”
And with that, Tammy had everything she needed to know, which allowed her to take off her espionage hat and replace it with her match-making hat. Now she would need information from the night crew.
But the night crew was no help. Trish and Rob had not shown up that evening. Hoping they had missed them, Tammy stayed past the end of her shift, but there was no sign of them. Had they checked out? No, housekeeping, doing their normal refresh rounds reported luggage still in each of their rooms. Neither of the beds showed signs of having been slept in.
What had become of them? Speculation abounded but Sarah, the newest member of the the day crew, seemed to have the most plausible explanation: they were business travelers, and would need to book expenses for their hotel stay. So they remained checked in while they were off on a romantic getaway. But they would need to come back. Their luggage was still here, along with what looked like laptops and other electronics. Sure, they could sneak in, grab their stuff and be automatically checked out, but everyone was on the lookout for them.
Why would they care? Well for one, humans love a mystery and it gave the staff something to talk about. But also, everyone that came in contact with them had thought they were both really nice. Even Tammy, who was a bit of a misanthrope.
But there was a nagging thought on all of their minds: what if something had happened to them? Or what if he had done something to her? Well there was nothing to be done about it for now, they would just have to wait until their scheduled check-out time and if they didn’t show, they would do what they always did. Box up their things, bill their credit cards and if there was something that seemed off, well they could file a police report. But really, there wasn’t much the police could or would do unless there was some suspicion of a crime. Which there never was.
But then two days later they came bouncing into the lobby, gathered their things and went to check out at the front desk. Sarah immediately called Tammy who rushed out from the restaurant.
“So…how was your trip?” Tammy asked without waiting for pleasantries.
Trish held out her hand.
Someone behind the front desk whistled.
Tammy gasped “oh my god! Well it must have been pretty good!”
Rob was nodding happily “great recommendation Tammy!”
The manager came out from the behind the front desk, and hugged Trish. “I don’t think we’ve had anyone get engaged here before! After you’re married come back for a getaway and the stay is on us!” she said enthusiastically.
But Trish was shaking her head “We just got back from Vegas…”
The lobby erupted, Tammy opened the bar, a no-no before noon, and everyone shared a champagne toast. The valets, seeing what was going on, somehow managed to write “just married” on Robs rear window. Then they said their goodbyes and the couple roared off happily to wherever they were going. Rob was from Troy, New York and Trish was from Nashville. While everyone wondered how that would work, people that ran off to Vegas after a 72 hour fling could probably deal with that kind of minor detail.
Things returned to their normal cadence of trying to make guests happy and dealing with the usual hotel drama. That is until the the police detective from Troy called. It seemed Rob hadn’t returned to work, and his ex-wife and daughter had not heard from him either. Once they explained what happened to the officer, he sighed and said, “sometimes people just get a wild hair and off they go.” Still, there were people worried about Rob so the officer collected Trish’s information and thanked them for their help. That was all he needed to know.
He was back on the phone two hours later. “Nothing you told me about this “Trish” checks out. Not her phone number, not her email, and someone else lives at the address she gave you.”
Everyone was gathered around the phone which was on speaker. Susan, the manager, noted “she used a credit card to check in. Let me look up the number.”
“Don’t bother, it’s almost certainly stolen.”
He then asked for a detailed description of Trish. So together, they crowdsourced a description: her wavy blonde hair, green eyes, soft features with prominent dimples and creamy skin with a flawless complexion.
Tammy remembered something from when she first saw her “I noticed she glided into the restaurant. Slowly, like she owned the place. Very self-confident; she knew how to own a room. You couldn’t miss her.
“Right said the detective. Because she is 5 feet 11 inches tall.”
No one spoke a word until the detective broke the silence “did she speak with an accent? Like Eastern European maybe?”
Everyone said “no” except for Sarah, the new girl.
“I’m second generation Romanian. Her accent is very slight, almost none at all, but I could tell at once.”
The manager was incensed “why didn’t you say anything before?”
Sarah, though new, was not to be trod on. She bristled. “What, she is suspicious because of an accent?”
Before the manager could defend herself the detective broke in. “This happens all the time, something happens and people start barking at each other. Go easy on yourselves.”
Sarah looked at Susan and without saying anything let her off the hook.
Tammy jumped in. “Who the hell cares. Officer, what do you think is going on?”
“Well, it’s with the Feds, but I can tell you this woman has been married in Vegas at least six times. She is pretty enough to get a man to latch onto her, but not so young that it makes them wary.”
“I told them where to go to have fun…” Tammy said dejectedly.
“She didn’t need your help for that.” the officer said gently.
“Anyway, once she figures out the man is both available and has some money, she lures them away from a hotel, and the poor guys fall for her. Once they are married, she gets access to his banking information, drains his accounts and disappears.”
There was a long silence while everyone wound their way to the same unspoken question.
“I don’t think we’ll hear from Rob again.” Said the detective a little sadly. “He had a lot of people that cared for him. Didn’t know him myself, but apparently he was a good man.” He sighed “You might hear from the Feds, they’ll be looking for more evidence. But for us, it’s a closed case.”
Several hundred miles away, in a hotel lobby, in front of a roaring fire a tall pretty blonde named Tonya, in her late forties, stretched out her long legs and asked the man she’d been talking to if he’d top off her drink. As the bartender refilled the whisky sour, the man looked over his shoulder at her and wondered how he had gotten so lucky.
You know what you’re gaining. A little more time at home, time with your family or your dog or your lover. Precious things.
But those are all inward facing, insular. You have more time to hang out with your friends, the ones you chose. The ones you’re comfortable with.
But those are not the people that will make you grow. The people that will infuriate you until later, when you calm down, and realize they had a point.
Or the ones that will stop you in the hallway, on a whim, to tell you something you don’t want to, but need to hear.
I once had a career discussion with a colleague from Hungary while waiting at a taxi stand in Pittsburgh. He held a superior position and thought I could do bigger things than I.T.
There are no taxi stands in remote land.
The overwhelmed young lady that I saw crying at her desk. The talk we had about perspective…it would not have happened in remote land. She would have been crying at home and by herself.
I’m standing in a driveway in Hungary, me and my Russian colleague, having been invited over for a nice Hungarian dinner. Instead, in a brilliant move, our Hungarian colleague has dragooned us into shoveling his driveway before dinner. But just now we are doubled over in laughter as our host is getting the devil from his wife. It’s in Hungarian, but being married ourselves, we require no translation. She does not like the idea of having your dinner guests shovel your driveway before feeding them. He gives us a shit-eating grin…out of his wife’s line of vision, of course.
I know some of you have shoveled a driveway. I know some of you may even have shoveled a driveway with a Russian. The strange twisted dynamics of the universe suggest that you may have, implausible as it sounds, shoveled a driveway, with a Russian in Hungary. But please, don’t tell me you’ve shoveled a Hungarian driveway with a Russian while your Hungarian colleague is getting a tongue lashing from his wife.
Try that with Zoom.
The meal, in case you are wondering, was fantastic.
It hangs in my memory, isolated. I can’t reminisce because there is no one else that would remember it. It’s weird, such an impactful experience.
I remember the hot sweaty dance club, our senses heightened by days off the grid. I remember the cold mountain air at night. I remember the night before we started climbing, laying in a park in Aspen, watching the fireworks. The mountain air, warm during the day froze us. We huddled for warmth and the next day bought warmer clothes.
The trip guides, US Marshalls, packing heat, a husband and wife team. Tough people that go in harms way so we can sleep at night.
As usual I found someone to hang with. Most people paired off on these trips or just happily hiked alone. Her and I always lagged behind the others, laughing hysterically at stupid shit. Having a stare down with a marmot, rolling our eyes at the super OCD guy. Both of us lying without planning it, claiming altitude fatigue while the rest of the group explored from base camp. As soon as they left we took off on our own hike. They had a nice hike but we climbed higher and glissaded down a steep hill covered with snow in early July.
Mr. and Mrs. US Marshalls gave us a look when they got back to camp.
“You said you were tired. You know you shouldn’t have gone off like that.”
We each returned the look. Relax. It wasn’t like we got eaten by a bear or anything.
Someone in our group got lost in the woods at night returning from a bathroom break. Over morning coffee, they tried to justify it, “the rocks looked like tents and the tents looked like rocks.” Where at 2am there had been concern, now after being awakened by screaming in the middle of the night, our reactions were caustic. It’s hard to get back to sleep when you’re awakened by something that sounds like two bobcats fighting. Looking back on it, they took the ribbing pretty well. To be honest, it happens.
There were a lot of people with long legs on that trip, so the hiking was fast, which at 11,000 feet for several days in a row is grueling. No one complained, but we did force a change in itinerary. Why not camp here for a few days and explore with day hikes?
Everyone agreed, and its the way those trips usually went.
Back to the dance club. If you have ever spent significant time in the backcountry, once you lose the sensations of civilization everything sharpens. Instead of hearing your neighbors car alarm you can hear a twig break hundreds of yards away. You can hear a stream long before you get close to it and you smell EVERYTHING. And so the club, the loud band covering Talking Heads and the closeness of all the bodies was like a spike in my senses, and that is why it sticks.
It comes back to me in bits…
The penetrating cold of the mountain air at night.
The alpine meadows covered in mountain Bluebells.
In Aspen, the night before we hit the trail, lying on our backs watching the fireworks arching overhead, lighting up the towering mountains surrounding us.
Mr. and Mrs. US Marshalls shaking their heads, wondering what they’d gotten into.
OCD guy going on about how to make beef stroganoff over a fire.
My hiking partner laughing like a hyena.
Glissading down a steep hill towards a pristine mountain lake and lucky we didn’t break our fool necks.
The hot smell of bodies in the dance club.
I try to put them together, to relive the experience, but it’s all pieces parts.
None of us met before the trip.
None of us met again after.
But for 10 days we were together, intense and interdependent.
The cop came into the house without knocking. Not because we were having a wild party, (though he thought we might be). No, he came in because our cars were parked all over the neighborhood, in the snow covered streets blocking residents from getting to their homes. Reasonable enough.
The second thing he saw when he walked in the door was me sitting in a chair, in the living room. There was almost no one in the living room with me. Almost.
The first thing he saw, and the thing most men would notice first was Amy. He commanded me to go find the owner of the house, or at least someone that lived there. I didn’t budge. I didn’t budge because Amy was planted firmly on my lap. Why she was there, I wasn’t sure, but my sole mission at the moment was keeping her there. I mean this kind of thing didn’t happen to me every day. Amy looked at me, not budging either, almost daring me to get up. It was a test if ever there was a test. Although, to be honest, girl vs cop wasn’t that much of a test.
He commanded again. Again I didn’t budge. And then, as if he suddenly registered what he was up against, laughed and said “okay, just tell me where they are?”
I pointed towards the kitchen. “They’re in there sir.”
No reason not to be polite.
We were all underage but there was no alcohol on the premises. That was fortunate, because in a town that size the police knew everyone and would have ratted our host out to his parents.
The cop walked out of the kitchen, satisfied that we would clear the cars. For good measure he tossed an admonition over his shoulder to clean the place up before the parents came home. As he passed us by on the the way out the door he paused and shook his head, giving Amy and I a wry smile.
My new seat mate raised her hand like scout’s honor. And with that, she plopped down next to me in the first row of First Class.
She had just strode onto the airplane, large and in charge and demanded a drink. When she was told we were getting ready to push back and she’d have to wait, she remonstrated, to no one in particular and to everyone in general, that $1200 ought to get you a drink whenever you wanted it. But she threw up her hands and started sizing me up. Was I going to be a problem? Would I put a buzzkill over the next 2 hours?
I didn’t kill her buzz and she didn’t behave. She didn’t behave but she turned out to be one of the most fascinating people I have ever had the privilege of sharing a flight with. I looked into the galley. Here’s something I’ve learned about flight attendants: they are scanning and evaluating everyone that boards the plane. Is this person crazy? Could they help in an emergency? Might they need assistance during the flight? Were they going to be a pain in the ass? I’ve flown a lot, and you can tell a lot of things by just keeping an eye on the crew. Everything from a subtle nod of the head at a seat three rows up, to them tearing up the aisle at a run. (Flight attendants running is never a good sign.)
I saw our cabin flight attendant right before she turned to hide her face. She was laughing. Hard. She decided this one was going to be a wild ride and she was up for it.
As we spoke, I found out she was going to visit her mother. Her mother had built a fortune and then donated much of it to worthy causes around our city. There are buildings with her name on them. Big fancy buildings. She also gave much of it away as a parting gift to her employees when she sold her business. She was a popular woman. This was her wild child, but successful in her own right and owned a massive amount of vacation properties. She didn’t use her mother’s money.
Over the course of the next couple of hours she analyzed my playlist and decided my music choices made me a good guy. She also made me listen to recordings she had made and published to iTunes and told me I should be drinking more “you gotta keep up buddy, I move fast.”
She had some life behind her and she had made enough mistakes to make her interesting. She told me I wasn’t chasing my dreams, that she could tell I was successful, but wasn’t working in corporate America boring as hell? I laughed and admitted that yes, but that my upbringing, without much money biased me towards security…I never take for granted the roof over my head and the food on my table. I could tell by the look on her face that she had just learned something herself.
After being quiet for a minute while she processed that, she said “you are really self aware. More than me probably.”
I told her that the part of my job I loved was the international travel, and the ability to get to know people all over the world. Her eyes brightened, her mother and now her, were making their fortunes in the travel business. “Now that’s something. That’s something to hold onto.”
We chatted for the rest of the flight, and towards the end she gave me a business card and told me to bring my family out to Montana to ski. “You now know someone that can get you a good deal on a condo. The prices are crazy, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
Despite her opening performance, she didn’t drink a whole lot but the crew kept her glass full. As much as she pestered them, she kept them smiling and laughing.