A couple weeks ago, my boss called to tell me that we were having dinner with a really important contact. In New York City, on Easter Sunday. I live in Los Angeles, and it was Thursday. I should have known the Chinese Communist Party was behind this. No really, it was. My company is owned by a technology company in China, and an influential provincial government bigwig and his delegation were going to be in the city. We had to make sure they had a good time. "Oh, give Shannon a call. We'll need her too." Of course.
I could recount this trip in long form narrative, but I won't. You're getting the "Lessons Learned" version because these days, I'm simply to busy to do that. My apologies.
Cover all the bases
When you're entertaining government officials from a foreign land, make sure to get there a day early and explore all the options. Because no matter how tedious it may be to kick back at a cigar lounge, survey the table service options at the local exotic entertainment club, or hit various rooftop bars to find that perfect fit for your guests, you have to think "I'm going to put my all into this, for the benefit of the company." That's what good employees do.
"I need to buy some iPads for our guests," my boss said. "Just drop me off at the Apple store and circle the block." Well, since it was Easter Sunday, and smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, it was hard enough to walk around the block, much less drive it. But as soon as I dropped him off, a parking space opened up. And it wasn't just any old parking space -- it was one big enough for the "Clear and Present Danger" Suburban we had rented to make the Chinese officials feel safe, like Harrison Ford was protecting them. Also, it was smack dab in the front of the Apple store. And since it was Sunday, it was free.
We just left the car there and took a cab back to the hotel. You just don't let a spot like that go. On principle.
China is the world's fastest growing market for wine
In China, business deals are done over dinner and drinks. So we made sure to supply plenty of wine at our dinner. I recently learned that China is the fastest growing market for it. I sincerely hope it's not because all Chinese like to down entire glassfuls of Caymus as if they were shots of birthday tequila. Somewhere, some famous guy who is associated with fine wine was turning over in his grave that night. And despite the fact that it went against every fiber in her wine enlightened soul, Shannon went glass-shot for glass-shot with them. I have a feeling that if the night went on longer, the officials would have gone home with "MrLady" tramp stamps.
Everyone likes to feel like a mobster
On Monday morning, we had breakfast with the delegation and took them to Central Park for a stroll. As my boss and the vice governor hashed out a business deal, I kept three paces in front of them and looked as menacing as I could, for no other reason than to look badass in case there were surveillance photos being taken.
Appease the kids
Which basically means spend too much money at FAO Schwarz to alleviate feelings of parental guilt for leaving them on Easter Weekend.
One of the things that impressed me most about the Chinese Vice Governor was how good his English was. He also knew every minute detail about American history and geography, more so than I did, sad to say. I asked him how he managed to learn so much.
"I love American history. It's so short."
When your boss says pack for a week "just in case"... you're going to be gone for a week
"Let's drive the Suburban down to Washington DC and Virginia, I have some meetings lined up with government people." (US government, this time)
So off we went, the three of us, suited up like feds, driving a really official looking vehicle. I usually hate driving, but we all looked too good for me to care.
Everyone likes to feel like a mobster, part II
When you've never been to New Jersey, and you drive down the Jersey Turnpike, and you're a huge fan of the Sopranos, good friends will indulge your desire to take a picture like this.
Also, they'll say "hold on a sec" and before you know it...
Woke up this mornin', got yourself a gun...
"Amazon Cloud FOR THE WIN!" Shannon exclaimed.
This is why she is our Director of Communications.
Detours take you where you need to go
The following segment will mean nothing until you read this. And then, it will seem out of place nestled in this post. But important stories have the knack of just happening wherever they need to happen.
"Hey, can we make a detour into Delaware? I want to show you where I lived."
It almost seemed like an afterthought, a last minute idea, a trivial whim, the way Shannon brought it up. But it had to be this way. You don't plan this type of thing. You can't think about this type of thing. You just put it out there, hand someone the wheel and buckle up.
Along the way, there were jokes made about two well-dressed Asian men and one white woman in a Black Suburban, rolling through the projects where she grew up. There was banter about how we were going to load up on Cheesesteaks that would put Philly joints to shame from the Claymont Sub Shop. But I knew that as we got closer, nostalgia would give way to real memories, and all I could do at that point was merely witness.
I witnessed Shannon, standing in front of this house. A home that rejected her 19 years ago and still held the power to keep her at bay.
"I want to knock on that door but I can't." Her mother no longer lives there.
We walked. Past kids playing on stoops, who paused to witness this curious trio traversing through their front yards, crossing through communal backyards in shoes unfit for ankle-high weeds, looking for something.
"Here it is. Stand right here. This is my recurring nightmare."
It was nothing more than an open area of grass. A rolling, lush, green field made monstrous by a little girl's memory of home.
"This is the creek I crossed to get to school."
She placed one foot on a rock and stood there, tentative. Then jumped to the next one. "These rocks are in the exact same place as I remember!" As I stood there, watching Shannon cross the creek in front of me, and my boss looking around nervously behind me, no doubt trying to remember if he had locked the car doors, everything felt random. Simultaneously poignant, yet laugh out loud funny, natural, yet out of place, peaceful, yet unsettling.
As Shannon stood there on the other side of the creek, in the same spot yet a lifetime away from when she last took a breath of Delaware evening air, I witnessed her finally knowing what was behind her so that she could clearly see what was in front of her. With work shoes caked with mud, we walked back toward the car, passing by the dumpster where her mother made her discard the last material traces of her life that day. We also walked by her mother's new apartment, where Shannon heard they moved her a few years later.
"Do you need to say bye?"
We got in the car and moved on.
Rules regarding expensive booze
When you buy a $2,000 bottle of Cognac for Chinese government officials, there are certain things you need to do:
- Make sure the restaurant will allow you to bring it in.
- If it doesn't, then make sure that the Vice Governor is willing to bring it home in his already overstuffed luggage.
- If not, then promise that you'll bring it to him upon your return to China.
- Keep it in a safe place, like the 3rd row seat of a tinted Chevy Suburban.
- When you return the Suburban, don't forget that you have a 3rd row seat. And don't go all the way to the airport and realize that you left the bottle in the 3rd row seat right before you get to the security line.
- Do find a cab right away to get your ass back to the car rental place.
- Do count your lucky stars that the car rental people were too lazy to open the mystery bag in the 3rd row seat and simply threw it in the dumpster.
- Do dive into said dumpster to retrieve your $2,000 bottle of Cognac.
Kids get tan if you don't see them for a week
One week away from your kids can really cause you to miss the hell out of them. And also be really jealous of them for spending their weekend in San Diego kayaking, lounging and working on their beautiful Southern California tans.
No one will read your long ass posts to the very end
Except you, of course. Thanks.