The Sky is Falling
One particular sunny fall day after the lunch rush, I was catching my breath and staring out the window. I had come in from cleaning the last occupied outdoor table and took a minute to soak up the weather. I remember taking a break at the table while I cleaned up after the last group of lunchers had left. A few of those customers were familiar, but not all. This was a common occurrence and I was thinking how nice it is when regulars to do my marketing by bringing in new people to try out the place.
As I turned to walk into the kitchen a loud unfamiliar noise made me stop and listen further. A new sound is something that catches your attention quickly. Working in any environment for a period of time accustoms your ears to the usual and unusual noises. The coolers turning on and off; dishes being placed in the sink, breaking dishes - when they are not being “placed” in the sink; the clanking of bottles as the self service drink cooler in being loaded, - or the lack of that noise when the staff is not on that job by a certain time. Of course the door opening and closing is the primary noise, indicating business in the door, or people leaving.
What catches your attention most are the unfamiliar noises. That’s when your ears perk up. All other processing stops as you wait for follow up noises. “Am I going to be needed to investigate? Do I have to address a situation?” And other thoughts as “Did my day just extend well into the evening because the compressor just blew? A pipe broke? Or some other new issue?”
The noise was loud and sharp but slightly muffled. I couldn’t identify the location at first but I had a sense that something had shattered, most likely glass. A quick glance at the windows that covered the front of the store gave me some relief, but I ventured outside to investigate further.
Years ago I found a small hole in one of the front windows with a circular beveling around it that was less that one inch in diameter. A police officer having coffee in the shop one day informed me it was most likely a BB gun shot from a moving car during the evening hours (at least I had hoped in was evening). Also a regular occurrence in the neighborhood. My concern was that this happened again, or that the window with hole was cracking even more.
The glass windows looked fine but I noticed something shiny on one of the green plastic tables next to the front door. Looking closer, I saw small pieces of glass and some older looking shards of wood. Very odd but I was somewhat relieved to find the source of the noise.
The window that the table leaned up against looked fine and in one piece. There wasn’t anyone on the sidewalk nearby or running away from the scene. I suppose someone could have tossed something out of a car but that also seemed unlikely based on the location of the debris. Part of the pieces parts were wedged between the table and door, and other parts were directly below the table on the sidewalk.
It looked like a window frame but I couldn’t see any missing parts on my windows. I was confused and started surveying the area outside more thoroughly. It took a minute before I glanced towards the upper levels of the building. (Have you ever noticed that people never look up? I had a TV hanging from the ceiling for years. Every time I turned it on for some event at least a dozen customers would ask me if it was new. Even though it had years of dust on it and it was outdated by a many more years than the dust.)
So I looked up to see if it was even plausible that something had fallen from above. Was someone working on the roof? If so, “my landlord” and “aneurism” would be in a sentence that afternoon. At first I saw nothing due to the sun’s glare and the reflection off the glass building from across the street. As I squinted and changed my position on the sidewalk I saw the culprit; a missing window on the second floor. Correction, part of a missing window. The rest hung there dangling with anticipation like a child who misread the effects of wind on a hurling snowball, cocked and ready for the second attempt.
The necessary safety concerns kicked in that starts with confusion and moves to selfishness as I moved far away from the building edge. Next was the concern for others walking on the sidewalk and so I proceeded to move the chairs further away from the table and turned them on their side to create a makeshift “don’t go here” area. Not that this would be nearly enough if the other half of that window fell, but it was a start.
Next I called the landlord, whose office was on the top floor of the building. Possibly the only good thing about having an attorney for a landlord is her immediate recognition of a potential liability lawsuit. And that’s exactly what this was. Not even the craziest lawyer could reasonably argue that this was anyone’s fault but the building owner. She responded quickly and within minutes the two of us were on the sidewalk staring up at the half window discussing the next move. As much as I wanted to hand this off to her and be done, the risk was too high to not be involved in the plan of action and the proposed solution.
This was a necessary but unpredictable step. My landlord and I have had our go-arounds over the years and we were both prone to outbursts that may or may not have been justified. There was no telling where this interaction was heading. Fortunately we were both calm in our approach realizing the potential damage and injury that could have been. Once I realized this was going to be a smooth problem solving adventure, I decided to let her in on a little more information.
In this small town most attorneys are at the very least familiar with each other’s name, if not reputation. Usually the knowledge is greater than that. In addition, most sitting judges are much more familiar with the host of attorneys in the community, especially those in an elected position. The customers at that table a few minutes prior to the falling debris were members of the judiciary in the federal court system (the appointed kind). Now that may sound bad but just wait. The ones I knew at the table were very familiar with my landlord. The judge sitting at the table had a great deal of experience with the building owner and plenty of it on the negative side. So contentious was there relationship that I remember reading that the seated judge had recently sanctioned my landlord in his court. Now I certainly don’t know much about all this court stuff, but none of that sounds very amiable.
After I mentioned this to her it might have been the one time we looked at each other with that silent understanding of the possible implications of the near miss tragedy moments ago. It didn’t last long and we were right back in the slightly awkward renter/rentee conversation. She spoke about what she was going to do concerning the problem without speaking to me but rather out loud as the decision was being made.
The next day someone was working on the window and checking out the rest of the building for a potential repeat of yesterday’s excitement. We were fortunate enough to never have this particular incident reoccur but we had our share of other normal crazy building problems over the years.
Concerns over the near future took over and put the near reality of what had happened on hold for several days. Once the building had been reviewed by one of the owners professionals, it started to sink in. A federal judge was a nearly maimed at one of my tables while having lunch that day. Maimed by a window from a building owned and occupied by an attorney that he had sanctioned. That might not sink in for us regular folks, but it make good gossip in the legal community.
This was not the only time things came falling from the “sky”. In the early days at the Baked & Carved we were working out some very common problems in an old large building. One that was compounded by the destruction of Midtown, a complex of 5 or 6 six buildings less than 2 blocks away. When you knock down old buildings, removing the decaying structures of history to make room for the future, is but one of the end results. Even in the city demolition changes habitat.
The long standing home of the first indoor mall in a city limit had also housed many city residents you hope never to see. The rodent population was being displaced with that destruction and was out looking for a new place to dwell. Some evenings you could see the large rats scurrying from some early evening hunting ground. Using the same path the large humanoid population roamed, the rodents were on their way to the underbelly of the city though the sewage grates. The humans to the the underbelly on the street level. Smart little creatures, as they had learned to traverse the path along side the curb on the street so as not to alarm the sidewalk patrons.
One thing I learned from my absolutely crazy exterminator over the years, Yuri, concerned the mouse and rat population. If you have a mouse problem that disappears without any additional changes in other variables (he did NOT speak like that), then you have developed a rat problem. You do not want to elevate the issue to that level.
With the deconstruction of an entire city block, infrastructure and all, there was an underground war going on for new territory. In our building, the mice had a stronghold. In addition I think they were housing many more immigrants than usual and we were experiencing a small population growth problem.
It was a Thursday, around 5:30 pm. I remember it well because a small group of woman in their 50’s had come in the restaurant. Not that this was completely unusual, but this group represented a desired market not often in the bar. Evelyn was a regular at o’Bagelo’s and had brought them because she knew I had opened the place. She and her friends were headed to the RPO (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra) that night and decided to try out this new place of mine. Evelyn was not only a customer at o’Bagelo’s but someone I had always found very likable and comforting to have around. Although only about 10 years or so older that myself, she had a consulting motherly way about her. Not that she would impart her opinion, but the type that could do so with her look. Very familiar to my own family, even though my own mother had passed away more than 20 years earlier.
Let me background this a little. I had opened up Baked & Carved in an expanded section of a bar in a popular downtown area. It was a hangout for the twenty and thirty something drinkers. In was also located in the only city section left with a university and dorms. The others colleges had ran for the suburbs with all the other working people. A beautiful theatre was directly across the street but the clientele for most of the shows there wouldn’t step foot in the bar. Mainly because of the bad habit of playing very loud (and in my opinion very bad) music all the time. The levels may have lowered a bit before the sun set, but very loud has always been the first line item in any critical review.
Having these ladies visit was a step in the direction to increase business. Getting an early eating crowd before the later drinking crowd stumbled in was necessary to increase the sales and make the place profitable. I will admit that I ultimately failed at this as I could not mediate the differences of the old guard on the bar side. Hoping to keep the profitability of the old system and add on a new dimension to the place was proving difficult. Each time the crowd grew in the place, there was an immediate return to an environment of the old days. The music grew loud and those that were there for the food got uncomfortable and the drinking side won out. This limited return eaters on slower nights unwilling to risk the same experience they had encountered on busy nights. Lesson learned, I guess, again.
Back to the falling sky. The ladies had come in an were a little put off by the dark wood and many T.V.’s, but the music was tolerable. We had a few things on the menu that were on the lighter side, i.e. salads and vegetarian items, and I was glad I was in the house for their first visit. Evelyn introduced me to her friends and gave me the rundown on their evening. All was going well so far.
The ladies were seated and had their food. I was behind the counter of the open kitchen keeping an eye on all that I could. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement that was out of the ordinary. Just as with sounds, your eyes pick up on irregular things. Something had fallen from the ceiling and landed behind Evelyn. The seating was a U-shape around a center walking area and she was sitting with her back to the open walking section. One friend next to her, and two across facing the center of the room.
Whatever had fallen from the “sky” was still in the middle of dining area and after a quick investigation, I found it was one of the unwelcome building inhabitants, probably scoping out new quarters for the influx of immigrants. My stomach jumped into my throat in embarrassment for what appeared to be an eternity. I was still. I had an employee grab something to scoop up and cart away the carcass, but this too seemed like forever. I apologized to the ladies and comped their meals but I knew right away I would never see them, or any of their friends for that matter, ever again.
There was a soffit that ran around the edge of the walls and extended about 2 feet. Recessed cylinder lights were placed in regular increments along the soffit and created some nice additional dim lighting. Unfortunately, some of the lights no longer worked and were removed leaving holes in the ceiling. Needless to say, after this event, I had them filled and taped over, but the damage was done for this night.
The embarrassment was not limited to my management abilities and my career, which would have been enough to make me curl up and hide. The personal disappointment was much deeper because it was Evelyn. A person who seemed to be able to see through any and all of my pretense and confidence. A woman who looked at you as though she knew everything you had done wrong in your life but still came in to eat your food. All this was reinforced when you spoke to her. I know that is a lot to place on someone, but that’s just how it felt. I don’t know how someone develops that ability, but she has it.
My “Chicken Little” stories may not have the impact due to the lack of a disastrous ending in either case. And that is precisely my point here with these “near miss” scenarios. There are many factors in life (and business) that come so very close to being big impactors, both positive and otherwise. A mouse falling on a customer’s head during a meal can be an insurmountable business hurdle. A window falling on a federal judge and the unthinkable outcomes are a life hurdle I am glad I never had to confront, not to mention the impact on the individual and his family.
In the past I have discussed the theories of “Predestination vs Free will” and it is a recurring theme in many of the incidents and antics that have occurred over the years. I don’t want to parse this ending into a discussion of Determinism vs Fatalism vs Free Will, as I am certain to lose many of the readers at that point. Those are better left for the metaphysical philosophers, theologists and quantum physicists. And I had a hard enough time typing that last sentence let alone discussing the content.
I would like to leave off on this note: I’m not so sure that either of them has a clear and consistent answer to the big picture, but with all the “free will” that appears to exist, there often feels like a pre-deterministic reaction that interferes or follows.