by Lyle R. Hill
I was early … very early, and that’s rare for me. I’m the
kinda guy who likes to be right on time. Neither early nor late. Just
right on time. But the first meeting of the morning, just south of the
downtown area, had gone much faster than expected and it didn’t make sense
to drive back to my office in the suburbs and then drive all the way back
downtown for the next meeting, so I headed over to a nice, quiet little
restaurant across the street from where my next meeting was to take place.
I would then get a late breakfast, browse through the Sun-Times and stroll
over casually for meeting number two on this cool, but pleasant morning.
The purpose of this second meeting was to wrap up a complicated but worthwhile
job that I had been chasing for the past 45 days or so. And while the
customer with whom I was scheduled to meet was not someone for whom we
did a lot of work, times were tough and we needed the job.
Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for great restaurants. This particular
one is not destined to appear on anyone’s list of “must-visit spots” while
in the Windy City, but it isn’t bad … high backed booths … lots of plants
(both real and artificial) … and a better than average menu. I ordered
some scrambled eggs and then began reading the Times … like always, from
back to front.
Before I was half way through the back inside page, I glanced up and immediately
lost my appetite. In fact, I could hardly believe my eyes, because there
… just inside the front door … stood two of the guys I was scheduled to
meet with in just a little less than an hour. It wasn’t the sight of them
that disturbed me. Under normal circumstances I would have been delighted
to see them in this setting. In fact, I would have asked them to join
me and gladly picked up the tab. No, they were not a bother to me. It
was the third person in the group that bothered me … for he was a competitor.
Even more than just a competitor … he was someone I didn’t like … at all.
What was stinging even more was the fact that I had suggested to these
two that we meet for coffee or a meal during my visit with them, but they
had told me they were too busy. Well apparently they were too busy … too
busy for me anyway … but not for the other guy.
Within just a minute or so, the three were approached by the restaurant’s
hostess and, to my shock, she began leading them in my direction. I hiked
up the newspaper, which I was now hiding behind, a little higher and hoped
they wouldn’t see me. Fortunately, they didn’t, but as fate would have
it … and I have spent most of my life trying hard to become fate’s best
friend … they ended up being seated right behind me. The only thing that
now separated us was the very high back of the booth and a thick and unbelievably
dusty artificial ficus tree. I slunk a little lower into the bench and
positioned myself for minimum exposure.
Then, just as I was still trying to decide whether or not I could fit
completely and discreetly under the table, I started picking up their
conversation … and I was not happy about what I was hearing. First, slime-ball
competitor offered them tickets to the upcoming Cubs–Yankees game … a
hot ticket to say the least. The Yankees’ first visit to Wrigley Field
since the 1938 World Series had created an unbelievable demand for these
tickets … scalpers were already getting $300 a seat and the price would
certainly go even higher within a week or two. Next, Mr. Slime tells the
two that all he wants in exchange for his generosity is to know my price
on the very job that I am scheduled to meet with them about.
One of the many things I truly love about Chicago and its inhabitants
is the quick and direct way with which things are dealt. Chicago is known
as “The City That Works” and the reason it works is because there is little
ceremony … no guessing … no innuendo … no codes to be deciphered or puzzles
to be solved, just simple, direct action. I think this started many years
ago when someone from the West Side put a gun into the ribs of someone
from the North Side and said, “give me your wallet or I’ll shoot you.”
Both parties clearly understood the deal and made their decisions accordingly.
It’s all very Chicago.
The two men took the tickets, congratulated themselves on their good fortune,
and produced a copy of my proposal so that the glad-hander could see for
himself exactly what I had bid. And then to my complete and utter surprise
… no, not surprise … absolute shock … the two pointed out to the would-be
competitor that I was actually a few hundred dollars low, and that they
were scheduled to meet with me and their boss within the hour. They went
on to say that their boss was committed to giving the job to the low bidder
and that the job had to be awarded immediately to avoid delays.
It is not possible to describe the feeling that swept over me at this
precise moment. No … not due to the fact that my bid had been shared so
carelessly with a competitor. Bids are passed around every day. No … not
because I was being sold out for two Cubs tickets. After all, I’ve been
sold out before for a lot less. And no, not because the customers involved
had rejected my lunch offer and accepted the offer of my competitor. I’ve
been rejected before and by people much better than these. In reality,
this unbelievable feeling was being caused by the fact that I was actually
low on a bid … can you believe it? Me … actually low! It had never happened
before and I was overcome with a feeling of absolute euphoria. I banged
my head on the underside of the table, but two quick slaps to the left
side of my face delivered by my right hand restored my composure.
Now the two guys in this situation had made it very clear that they were
looking for the tickets in question. In fact, they had made it clear to
me as well and that was why I had also come prepared to show my “gratitude.”
Indeed two of my own tickets were resting peacefully inside my coat pocket.
Who could blame them for wanting to spend an afternoon at the friendly
confines known as Wrigley Field watching the Yankees and Cubs go at each
other? The last time the Yankees had played on Chicago’s North side was
October 6, 1938. The Yankees of Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig beat the Cubs
of Gabby Hartnett and Phil Cavaretta by a score of 6-3 that day. Lefty
Gomez was the winning pitcher … Dizzy Dean was the loser. It was game
two of the ’38 World Series. The Yankees swept the series in four games,
just as they had done to the Cubs in the 1932 series. Eight straight Cub
loses … all World Series events ... at the hands of the Yankees.
The competitor accepted the thanks of the two ticket recipients and then
quickly produced a fresh, blank proposal from his inside suit coat pocket.
He penned in a new price that now placed him exactly $75 lower than me,
stuffed it into an envelope and handed it to the younger of the two grinning
men. They shook hands, stood and headed for the exit. The whole ordeal
lasted less than 20 minutes.
I love Chicago … I really do. Can’t even think about living somewhere
else. Maybe you gotta grow up in Chicago to really appreciate it. How
it works … why it works … and most importantly, how to make it work for
you. And one of the things that helps Chicago work so well is the large
number of retailers of every type and description on virtually every street
corner in the city. So after crawling out from under the table at the
restaurant, it only took a few minutes to find a store where I could acquire
a bottle of whiteout and a crisp, clean, new envelope. And after doing
so, I adjusted the price on the copy of the bid I was carrying, sealed
it into the new envelope, gave the slightly used bottle of whiteout to
a panhandler after making him promise that he wouldn’t drink it, and headed
to the meeting.
Within seconds of my arrival, I was ushered into a conference room where
the two I had eavesdropped on earlier were waiting. Their boss quickly
joined us and after the obligatory introductions and chatter, I stated
that I had found a small error in my bid and had modified it accordingly.
I handed my proposal … which I knew would now be $18 lower than my competitor
… over to the trio. The boss displayed an approving nod. The other two
looked first at the new proposal and then sheepishly at each other. I
was thanked by the boss and told to start work immediately.
Many years ago I had been taught that after you get the order … get out.
So having accomplished the former, I quickly did the latter. And the best
part of all … I got out of there still holding the Cubs-Yankee tickets
with which I had started the day.
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