Ambience

My first job out of high school was as a busboy at a bar and grill just outside of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. This was not my choice exactly. I was trying to wrangle a job in a record store. But eventually the parent who was hosting me said that the deal was I was out of the high school now and was supposed to start experiencing this thing we call “working.” He said, hey, I know. Why don’t you go to Marshall’s West End?

My Dad tells this story differently. In his memory of this, I found this job busing tables all on my own, and it just happened to be at his favorite bar and grill in all the land.

But as I recall it, my DOD* was not going to have his son spend his post high-school summer in a feckless job hunt for a wussy job anyway, and so he directed me down to one of his favorite haunts where he knew the bartenders were excellent and would mentor me properly. I am eternally glad that he did. Because I got to work for Elliott.

What’s the voice I hear when I hear Elliott’s voice in my head? There’s an actor whose voice rings around there reminding me of what Elliott’s bark was. It’s a familiar voice, a black actor with a strong, solid voice, and I can’t think of his name now. But that was Elliott. My boss that summer was certainly authoritative. And he knew his business. My Dad and I just today were thinking about him, wondering whatever became of him, one of the best bartenders and finest men who ever walked.

The greatest thing Elliott did for me was to teach me the importance of being proactive for your chief. Anticipate when he will need a new tray of glasses and retrieve them from the dishwasher before he asks (this was a BIG one). Anticipate when the barkeep is ready to call it post-last-call and be ready to swoop down and steal peoples’ drinks from their hands. And, perhaps my most valuable lesson from this professor was something he simply called “ambience.”

I mean, all it involved was walking over to where the coffee station was and dimming the lights. But I can still hear Elliott the Bartender barking out “Yo, Aaron! Ambience!” If I was having a good night, my grubby mitts were already on the dimming switch before he asked. And, by the end of the summer, I had nothing but good nights. Elliott exhausted his exasperated trying to turn me into an enviable busboy. But he sure did it. I like to think he cried a little when I left to start college. In fact, he swore to me that I could go to college all I wanted to, but I’d never get the restaurant biz out of my blood.

He wasn’t wrong. I pine to feed people for a living to this day. Just not the path I ended up taking.

But my point here is to talk about ambience. And its importance. And how lost that appears to be on many entrepreneurs.

I heard the song “Rockin’ in Rhythm” recently. This is a Duke Ellington song that is, according to Wikipedia, “credited to Ellington, Harry Carney and Irving Mills.” The version I heard was much more up-tempo; the version I enjoy (from a “the Original Recordings” collection called “Mood Indigo” that has been my go-to Duke for decades) has a much more playful tempo and attitude. But, it was unmistakable, and I whistled right along.

Because I was at the time enjoying lunch with my DOD*. At Sticky Lips BBQ in downtown Rochester. I did something weird and possibly unheard of: I ordered a cheeseburger. It is a delicious, passable cheeseburger, though I doubt I’ll do it again in light of the more authentic offerings on the menu. However, I wouldn’t dissuade another person from doing it. And, P.S. The home-cut fries can do battle anywhere. Fantastic.

But the ambience though. We walked in the door and the dude at the display counter immediately welcomed us and directed us upstairs. And 1940s era jazz played, including the aforementioned Duke Ellington joint that I recognized. And the music was not too loud. It was perfect. And we enjoyed our lunch. And we tipped pretty well.

Now last weekend, DOD* and I were in a little town called Edinboro, Pa. And we first went into the little used book store because that’s my DOD’s gravity. And we went in. And they’re playing the local shitty country music station. And it’s kind of got static.

We went to the Edinboro Hotel for lunch. They didn’t have any music on. Nor did they have any really relevant games on the TV. They had golf on. Golf.

So there is actually a Mexican restaurant in Edinboro. Weird. And their food is good. The chicken is marinated and delicious. It’s not bad for “Tex-Mex” fare. But. The ambience.

We walked in and went to the bar. They have a fabulous bar. Full-on island style. It is one of the reasons I like the place. Most Mexican places have shitty bars. This one is an entire island, with many spacious seats. It should be the most packed bar in Edinboro. But it’s like. Empty.

On a Saturday night.

We gringos were the only ones there. Besides somebody’s kid, who is sitting in the corner, entertaining himself with a coloring book or some such thing.

I noticed on the TV facing us, playing at a medium volume, was a network showing of one of the Smurf movies. On a TV not facing us, there is some Spanish program blaring. Nobody is actually tending bar, instead, a waitress is coming back and forth to take our orders and check up on us.

Now my DOD* and I are sort of frustrated restaurateurs. Could we afford it, and had we collectively the patience for it, the restaurant business certainly calls to us. So we were curious and asked the waitress if business ever picked up for this place. Tuesdays, she said. Taco Tuesdays.

The food was fine, passable Mexican fare; in fact, I recommend a chicken dish there as the pollo is nicely marinated. But these folks failed miserably on ambience, and I think their business showed it.

I mean, ambience doesn’t cost anything. But it sure can bring dollars through the door.

*Dear Old Dad


Postscript: I still have a mix tape Elliott the bartender provided me with, called “More Stuff,” apparently created on Aug. 7, 1987. Here is what a mix tape from one of the best bartenders who ever walked the planet looks like:

A
“You Are the Woman” by Firefall
“Don’t Cross the River” by America
“Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band
“Sit Yourself Down” by Steven Stills
“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac
“Good Enough” by Bonnie Raitt
“Give Me an Inch” by Robert Palmer
“Empty Pages” by Traffic
“You Love the Thunder” by Jackson Browne
“Goin’ Back to Miami” by Blues Brothers
“Come on Up” by Young Rascals
“The Shape I’m In” by The Band
“Baba O’Riley” by The Who

B
“Badge” by Cream
“Aqualung” by Jethro Tull
“Too Many Names” by Eagles
“I Came to Dance by Niles Lofgren
“Fire on the Bayou” by Neville Brothers
“Pressure Drop” by Robert Palmer
“Love Her Madly” by The Doors
“Suffragette City” by David Bowie
“Keep on Growin’” by Derek & the Dominos
“Tell Me Why” by the Beatles

La La La Tee Hee Hee

It’s one of those days where I left work today having learned something, having gotten one step closer to comprehending the subject matter with which I work. Wait. I was thinking that Active Directory is this cute little service in a little box that sits on Microsoft Exchange’s shoulder and whispers in its ear. You’re telling me it’s actually a behemoth? That it’s global, domain-wide, and actually runs like at least five vital services and authenticates every transaction that goes across the server?

Yeah.

Well. Knowing that is going to help a little.

That is what I like the best about a job like mine. I can end a day calling it a success if I learned something new or if I realized during a phone call that I am actually mastering this.

Now at my first job at this concern, I was at that point in six months. But I had a severe background in HTML monkey work already. That was easy. I’ve been at this a year plus, and I still spend much of my time feeling like a six-year-old in a Pascal class. But I took two calls today and am starting to feel like less of an idiot on the phone with these admins. Maybe they were just being nice. Or maybe my gray matter is actually soaking in these abstract architectures. I mean when that guy today said he wanted to check his Java logs and I was like “yeah, you’ll go to the Event Viewer” and he was already going to the Event Viewer, I mean, my inner Alex Trebek was nodding and smiling. I like that.

Today, I am more competent than the White House Press Secretary.

“Sean Spicer is a profoundly stupid liar working for a profoundly stupid liar.” (Lawrence O’Donnell)

I have tonight gone the gamut on the TV; watched the Rachel Maddow on SlingTV, then tried to watch The Voice. It is horrible. Just horrible. I have no words to explain the horrible. So I have gone to Herbie Mann record I have around because my dear Mother recently bequeathed me all the vinyl she owned. And generally, I am not a Herbie Mann guy, at least not in the studio. His live albumes are fanastic. But this Windows Opened album is nice.

So that’s how I’m spending the last of my April 11. How about you?

Even Auto Mechanics Have Tough Troubleshooting Issues

Customer states check engine light on. Install SOP part. P0411 sec. air flow incorrect. Traced fault to a restriction in the cylinder head. No cylinder head available. TAC sent engine. Went to replace the engine. Went to replace engine. Had old one out when I found out TAC had sent the wrong engine. Called TAC again and they instructed me on how to clean air ports in head. Cleaned sec air injector ports then reinstalled engine. Verified fix.

That was my last week or two. How you doin’?

Just down the road from me, there’s a local furniture store. See, you leave my apartment and make a right and then you got through this intersection and then down the road a little and to the left, there’s this furniture store. And this furniture store hires one person per corner on that intersection to stand there and hold a big sign advertising the store’s current sale.

So, I’m in the market for furniture these days. And I’ve seen these people standing on the corner holding these signs all summer long. And I’ve had a dilemma because this store has nice furniture. But I’m not sure how I feel about buying furniture from a store that hires people to stand out on a street corner holding signs. It seems demeaning, and I can’t imagine these hardy people are earning much.

So today it was rainy and blustery out. And I saw one of these employees just give up. She did. In the time I sat at the intersection and made my turn right, she threw down the sign, got her mobile phone from her purse, and made a call.

It’s refreshing to in a single moment catch someone in a genuine “fuck this shit” moment.

P.S. The TV stand I purchased from there last week is really beautiful.

Wine Whine

Me, on the phone with a local restaurant this morning, inquiring about a corkage fee.

Me: Good morning. Do you have a corkage fee?
She: A what?
Me: A corkage fee. You know. When my party brings its own bottle of wine, and we give you money for permission to do so?
She: Oh. We don’t do that. Because we sell our own wine.
Me: Perhaps I’m not being clear. We would be giving you more money, and you would not have to sell us anything at all. It would add to the check, which would increase the tip, even. This is free money from us to you, all you have to do is to assist us in removing the cork.
She: No, we don’t do that.
Me: It’s legal in Pennsylvania. I looked it up.
She: Nope.
Me: Seriously. Name your price. It’s free money.
She: Sorry.

Around The World In A Day

I learned a few things this morning. I learned that the bookstore at 123 East Main St. is not open at that time on Sunday morning. I learned also that there is a bearded man in an orange shirt on East Main Street in Rochester New York who would very much like to know if you have an extra cigarette he might have.

Extra? I don’t even have one.

I wanted to show Mom the previous living situation. We could only gaze into the lobby, but I think she understood the gist of my living standard for the past four years. Especially after man in the orange shirt asked us a second time on the pass the other way up the street if we had an extra cigarette and then in front of the music store where one man on a bicycle had already successfully cajoled a dollar from one of these four or five young Dave Matthews Band fans, and when a second, not on a bicycle, approached to ask them where’s HIS dollar, the first man on the bicycle commenced to school the second gentleman on his bad form.

This was on a Sunday morning.

Thank you all for helping me clarify to my Mother that her help and my dear Grandma’s help in getting me moved elsewhere was a good idea. I severely appreciate it.

I did get to show off the gem of the neighborhood, Hart’s grocery. Grabbed one of my favorite morning staples, the Natalie’s Grapefruit Juice. You should go there and buy one because they are the most best things around.

They even taste good without vodka. I’m not kidding. And, for some reason, I can’t find a single drop of the product in my new neighborhood. I’m going to take this to you, Lori’s Natural Foods. I want my Natalie’s gapebook juice. It’s dreamy.

Anyway. So after that we took East Ave. to Clover to all the way to Honeyoye Falls, so that was quite the scenic route. Tried to show Mom the house she rescued me from buying but couldn’t find it. She said hey. We’re here. Let’s go to Canandaigua. (She is still working on pronouncing that town’s name without getting that little cramp in her neck and then somehow saying “Canada-booger-freestyle-wheat-thin.” We’re working on it. I cannot wait until we graduate to “Ganondagan.” I can’t even say that one yet without the eye twitch and the sweating and all.)

(I don’t even ask my Mother to say “Rehoboth” anymore. Her doctors insist. It’s “that beach in Delaware” or weeks of steroids.)

So we went to Canada-booger-freestyle-wheat-thin and there were boats and a beach you had to pay five dollars to get in. And we went to Wally’s for lunch and they apparently like to blare the local country station at you while you consume there excellent food in their weird little dive. I of course had the full-on Wally Burger, my Mother had the chicken cordon bleu.

We crossed the road to walk up and down and some broad yelled at us about taking the crosswalk, although we did not hold up traffic a bit. I showed her my bare ass. It was magical.

Then I said, but we’re 14 miles from Geneva. And we went.

Geneva, I think, is an improvement over Canada-booger-freestyle-wheat-thin. I find it not a bit ironic that, just miles from Ingersoll’s first home are some really beautiful churches, really, they are stunning, and in this tiny lakeside place. Geneva downtown is open and lovely, and pleasantly hilly. This to me, with my limited knowledge of the geography, is the start of wine country, and I only know that from several attempts previous to visit Ingersoll’s house in Dresden (New York).

I mentioned Dresden to the cheerful, helpful woman at the Geneva visitors’ center (open Sunday), and how the place is basically a post office, Ingersoll’s house, and some kind of military installation. Yes, she says. Long since decommissioned, and boy was that a hit to the area. Wow. I had no idea.

No sightseeing heading back. Full-on thru-way, baby Then a beer on my deck. Then a fine meal at the finest bar in ROC, the J.B. Quimby’s.

I think if the goal was to give my Mom a good snapshot of the area as she daydreams about where to spend her life in future years now, I think we did okay.

Yep. I think we did okay.

*

In Other News
As I punched up the elevator, a neighbor of mine was talking in the lobby on his mobile device. He said, “so, what do you think of Big Brother? I think they’re going to get rid of that girl…”

I said “SHHHHH! I haven’t seen it yet!”

And I wasn’t kidding. Off to watch it now. What a stupid thing to do, and yet,