Friday, June 30, 2006

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

So, this is it. The Big Day.

I have purposely not been focusing on what this day means, in terms of my life. In terms of my future. In terms of the awesome responsibility I will be taking on my shoulders. (Not to mention the awesome amounts of money changing hands.) The big picture is just too much for me to assimilate, and too overwhelming for me to contemplate. So mostly, I’ve been looking at this as a pile of random jigsaw puzzle pieces, each one representing one of the million responsibilities, plans, forecasts, talents, challenges, crap-shoots and sure things that, when properly assembled—over a ridiculously long period of time that is sure to try my very limited patience—will become a picture of a successful entrepreneurial venture.

Success. It’s hard to even define the word, as it applies to this situation. I’m pretty sure my hopes are not too high. At this point, I’m thinking if we don’t go broke in eighteen months we can claim success. Actually making money hasn’t even entered the picture yet.

And I’m pretty sure it’s the process that I enjoy the most, not the expected result, whatever that may be. Wednesday night, I stayed up until 2 am designing new table tents advertising our (pitiful) beer and wine list and our tiny array of dinner specials. I proudly put them out on the tables yesterday afternoon, modestly accepting the oohs and ahs of the staff. (Unfortunately, my little project seemed to act like customer repellent. Not one customer darkened the doors of the café for two hours yesterday evening. I sincerely hope that all the other little "subtle" changes I’m planning to make as soon as the ink dries on the contracts don’t have similarly negative effects. I don’t want to go in the crapper within the first three months…)

This afternoon at 4:30 pm we will sit down and do the deed…the deed which the ever-cautious bean-counter genes I inherited from my father have been agitating against since the idea of buying a business first entered my head. Luckily for me, I have been able to blow off those genes at times when I knew that listening to them would keep me from having any kind of a real go at life. So, Dad…put in a good word for us with the Universe and just…hang on. The ride’s about to begin.

He'll Be There

That old talisman mindset dogged my steps this morning, as I wandered, mostly ineffectively, around the house, half-mindedly applying myself to the little chores that need tending before I go to the café. The Café. That place to which I will be committing the lion’s share of my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears as of about 4:30 this afternoon—June 30, 2006.

Talismans. Good luck charms. The rituals to which I turn when my control-freak self realizes I have no control. The last-ditch effort to court the favor of Things I Don’t Understand. And to which I have traditionally had only the weakest of connections.

I look upon today as if it were a day as momentous, if a tad tardy, as a college graduation. Of all the people past or present who were ever part of my life, the one person I ache to share this day with is my dad. He would be outwardly cautious and stoic but, just under the surface, bursting with pride and anticipation for our new venture. Which would be betrayed by a twinkle in his eye and a slight softening of the poker face he always wore when Important Things took place.

So, I was carefully planning what I would wear to this event. This signing away of my life. This sealing the deal on a dream. This meeting at which I will undoubtedly be the only one present who truly grasps the cosmic significance of the occasion. Conflicting thoughts of “dress for success” and “dress as if it were no big deal” butted heads in my mind. I finally settled on a simple version of what I probably will be wearing to work for the next umpteen months: a pristine white long-sleeved knit shirt and a pair of black pants. The trousers were chosen specifically for their capacity to make me look slimmer and taller.

And then it hit me. The Dad thing. I knew that I had to take something of dad with me today. If it was January, I might have chosen the scarf I knitted for him back when I was in high school. Or even the ridiculous “Elmer Fudd” hat that hangs by my back door, with the scarf…that pair of things that represents the presence of my dad’s gentle spirit wherever I hang my hat. But those things would be a tad conspicuous, here in the middle of summer. And Dad was anything but conspicuous. They wouldn’t do at all.

There was no help for it. I chucked the stylish, slimming pants back in the closet and dragged out a pair of black jeans. Black jeans with belt loops to accommodate Dad’s black leather belt. It’s wide, it’s worn, and it’s extremely seventies, but who cares? My Dad will be there with his arm around my waist as I step forth into this great adventure. Right now that’s the most important thing in the world.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Still Alive...Barely

A week ago, I wondered if I would be reduced to posting snippets of whatever creative flashbulbs went off in my head in the midst of all the hubbub. At this point, I’m wondering whether my brain has enough spark left to generate even a firefly-esque flash. I passed fried a long time ago. I’m very nearly comatose.

The sheer amount of stuff we are trying to pack into every twenty-four hours has produced one interesting side effect. For the past many months, I have felt like time has been slipping through my hands like oiled rope. Lately, there is so much going on, so many things to keep track of, that time seems to be expanding–like one of those new hefty garbage bags—to hold it all in. Yesterday, I went to the hardware store on my break in order to get a key made. When I thought about that little errand today, it seemed like it happened at least a week ago.

Five more days to go until we sign the papers. I’m being stretched in a hundred directions, some of which I haven’t even had time to think about, yet. Today, I told Mr. Current Owner that I thought my head was going to explode, and he said, "Well, don’t do it in here. We don’t want to clean up the mess." Ha ha. No sympathy from that quarter.

Maybe tomorrow morning I will have enough time, and have my batteries half-charged enough, to go into some detail about what’s been going on. But now….now I just have to go to bed. A task much easier said than done, since, on top of everything else, the mercury has soared over 100° here in the Columbia Valley for the second day in a row, and sleeping is something not best accomplished in an upstairs bedroom that a bank of west-facing windows has lately transformed into a sauna. It always cools down at night around here, and we’re counting on two fans blowing full blast right on the bed to make the accommodations somewhat livable within the next couple of hours. Meanwhile I’m…typing. And falling asleep with my fingers on the keypad. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Monday, June 19, 2006

So Close...

How, exactly, is one supposed to act when one gets within inches of attaining a dream? A dream cherished and nourished and treasured for so many years? Like a baby nurtured too long in an ancient womb…can something dreamed for decades survive the monumental strain of birth into the realm of reality?

The questions lurk in the shadowed pockets of my mind. I can’t address them…cannot even acknowledge them, for fear that the possibilities raised by the contemplation will be so huge that they will put an abrupt end to my forward progress.

It’s the commitment. The commitment overwhelms me now. Thirty years ago, I was on the threshold of the greatest commitment I had ever, would ever, make. And, same as now, I could not think in terms of forever. “If it doesn’t work out,” I reasoned, “we can always get a divorce. Walk away and start over. No hard feelings, just a clean slate.”

Not so simple, of course. Had I allowed myself to think about it, I would have conceded that. But I had to have the fallback. Needed the escape route. Because there was, is, always will be, that contrary little voice in the back of my mind that cracks the whip, hardly allowing me to dream. It scolds that nothing is forever. And nothing ever turns out as you hoped. Dreams are dreams. Reality is…. something else.

Edging away from the larger, more ethereal issues, I stumble over the more immediate sacrifice: I realize that I will be committing to a place that I call my home, that has been my home for the past five years. But to this chronologically-challenged aging child, it doesn’t feel like home. Home is the place to which I have been chained, and from which I have been running, for the past decade. Despite the words piled upon words, proclaiming the need to detach from that place, to break chains and cut ropes and burn bridges--whatever it takes to be free—I freeze. The torch is in my hand, I reach out to touch it to the closest creosote-soaked piling. And I shake uncontrollably.

I will stretch out my other hand, steady that trembling brand. I will set fire to that bridge. And to that part of my heart that has had so much trouble letting go.

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Two Worlds Colliding

For the past week, I’ve existed with one foot in each of my two worlds. Trying to put time in at the café, so that I can be up to speed by the time we take over, and at the same time, preparing for one of our larger, and one of my favorite, events with the concession trailer. It’s been hectic, and busy, and up until yesterday, I thought, "I haven’t felt this alive in a very, very long time."

Today, though, I think I hit the wall. Things are not going well for me at the café. It’s no surprise that the crew is not welcoming me with open arms; I’m bombarded by negative vibes emanating from all concerned. And while I completely understand why they feel as they do, it is extremely hard for me to function with that dark cloud hanging over me. It was busy during lunch today (unfortunately, the first time it has been busy all week…which doesn’t bode well, does it?) And I didn’t know whether to jump in and help or stay out of the way. I felt like it didn’t matter which I did, it was going to be resented. I spent six hours there this morning, and by the time I left, I felt like I had a thousand-pound weight strapped to my back.

In contrast, yesterday I drove the trailer out to Astoria to set up the booth for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. It was so very nice to fall into my old routine. Café de la Rue fits me like a well-worn shoe. Whereas The Hot Flash Café feels like someone else’s custom-fitted boot. It isn’t comfortable at all. Yet.

I feel very much like Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, flashing back and forth between the Emerald City and the farm. When I’m behind the counter of Café de la Rue, I feel like "We’re home, Toto!" Struggling around in the negatively charged atmosphere of the café, I know I’m not in Kansas anymore. And I do hope that I won’t come to realize I should never have left my own back yard to go looking for my heart’s desire…

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Where Things Stand Now

Today, I delivered the non-refundable deposit the seller of the business we’re buying insisted he needed, in order to quit holding "other offers" over my head. So now, more than at any time up until now, this looks like a done deal. How I would love to be breathing a sigh of relief. How I would love to be looking forward, unconditionally thrilled, to assuming the captaincy of my own ship. But this whole exercise is turning out to be like a game of "Whack-a-mole." Have you ever played "Whack-a-mole?" It’s the arcade game where you get a big padded mallet, and you use it to pound these little mole-heads back into the holes they pop out of. As soon as you whack one mole, another pops out of another hole. Sometimes two or three at the same time.

So, I whacked the "financing" mole. And I mashed the "mollify the seller" mole. And I’m working on wrestling the "OLCC" (liquor license) mole back down into his little hole. But, what’s this? A monstrous head just popped out of a crater the size of a manhole.’s the "present owner’s overly-emotional manager" mole! Mr. Present Owner has gone out of his way to warn me that this girl’s family has lived in the county for a hundred years, and that even the appearance that she has been ill-treated in the transition could cost me big in terms of community relations for the next...century. Oh. Thank you so much, Mr. Present Owner!

I have met this girl. She is very nice. She is sweet. She is eminently likeable. In fact, everybody likes her—customers, staff and (obviously) Mr. Present Owner himself.

She is the absolute antithesis of me.

Nothing can strike more abject fear into my heart than the prospect of dealing with a sweet, likeable, fragile psyche. I am the personification of the bull in the china shop, when it comes to personal relationships. I have no guile, no political savvy, no off button. As a general rule, whatever is in my mind just falls out my mouth. I know enough not to be outright rude or abusive, but somehow that makes the situation even worse. It really hurts my feelings when people don’t get me. If I had a rhinoceros-tough hide to go along with my social ineptitude, it wouldn’t matter to me that I make such a god-awful impression on most people the first (second, third, gotta-know-me-for-a-year-before-you-can-tolerate-me) time I meet them.

Mind you, I only have to work with this girl for two weeks. And Mr. Present Owner has already promised her a generous severance package. All she has to do is work with me long enough to allow me to get my feet under me concerning the day to day operation of the place. But when you combine what he has been so "kind" as to tell me about her, and what I know from having interacted with her for a couple weeks a year ago, I know that she and I will get along like gasoline and a match.

I am scared shitless. My friends…. Any suggestions?

Monday, June 5, 2006

Overthinking It

For a moment, I consider that I am simply too old to be standing with a foot suspended over the abyss of the unknown. On the verge of leaning forward, about to shift the weight to that outstretched foot, confident that the resultant free-fall will be an escapade of the highest order. I have been there, and I have done that. Thirty years ago, that expectation of adventure was richly rewarded. There may have been accompanying bumps, bruises, a compound fracture or two….but they always healed quickly, and always the golden nugget of knowledge, of experience, was squirreled away into memory.

Perhaps there are, at last, too many of those little nuggets stored in the cupboards and closets of my mind. They are stacked to the rafters and oozing out under the doors and around the hinges; no longer golden, but turned to dross. Unrewarded risks, confident forays into mud or mire, heedless wagers placed on losing horses… They mock me; they haunt me. They drag me down. To safety. To uncertainty. To paralysis.

All I can do is strap on the blinders…allow no look back, nor to the side, nor too far ahead. Certainly no further ahead than the next footfall. Just make myself keep moving, and I will get There. And once I am There, the fear, the restraint, the immobility will be pushed aside by the process of contriving to make it from day to day…the simple groundwork of success.