Long Live the Salmon King

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The canulier received the news that the salmon king had died.  She heard it from the scone man, who asked the Latvian sausage maker and the Japanese salad dressing specialist, then the fiery Italian pesto girl until he finally got an address. I knew you’d want to know, he wrote.

tent

For years they worked the weekend farmer’s markets together, sharing the Brotherhood of Waking Up Before Dawn On Weekend Mornings, rewarded by an eyeful of sunrise as they drove to the market,  shivering in light jackets and hats as they unloaded their trucks in the early morning chill, breath pluming as they traded gibes and offered each other help erecting their tents with the fairground peaks. The salmon king would direct others to help the canulier, who was small.   His muscles are younger than my back! he’d laugh as the jerky man would scurry to lend a hand.

Getting set up is a 30 minute endeavor unless you are the salmon king, who kept his crab cakes and wild Alaskan salmon steaks in a cooler, which he sat on, behind a table: voila, a market stall. Within five minutes of driving up and calling out his halloos to the canulier and the sausage maker he’d be open for business, chatting up the line of customers who seemed to apparate from other dimensions to queue up in front of his stand before his market mates had rung their first sale.  The not inconsiderable cost of fresh, wild caught Alaskan seafood is not a deterrent to the crowd at this market, one of whom once left a Tesla key fob among the canulier’s towers of pastry boxes.  She really knows how to barter, the Salmon King could be heard remarking.

copper-canele-moldThe canulier could be seen slipping behind the salmon king as he gabbed with his customers, leaving behind a crisp white bag of pastry – usually vanilla, though he favored pineapple and lemon too. In between waves of customers the salmon king would hold up the depleted white bag and call out to the canulier (“Thanks, Canelé Queen!”) then  turn to talk  back pain with the gruff, grudgingly friendly sausage maker. When he joked with the pretty salsa girl with her long hair dyed mermaid colors, their laughter would invariably bring the young pickle man, something the canulier suspected the salmon king of planning, though he would never say.

The rules of the market are clear: all tents must stay up til the end of the afternoon, but the salmon king has been there the longest of anyone and when he’s sold out he’s sold out, what’s the sense in waiting around? He’d spend five minutes loading up and before noon he’d be making his rounds to say goodbye til next weekend. Often, he’d save back a package of salmon or crab cakes for the canulier and drop them at her stall when she wasn’t looking, then  drive off with a honk and a wave of  his suntanned arm out the window of his old Datsun.

bxw salmon

The last time she saw the salmon king, the canulier didn’t know it was the last time, and neither did he.  She returned his wave, packed up her truck that just rolled over 250,000 miles and made the long trek home. She would be up before dawn the next day, but for now the window was cranked down to let the eucalyptus-scented air rush through her hair, and there was the happy  surprise of the salmon king’s gift of crab cakes on ice resting in the passenger seat. Barter anything good? came the husband’s text, and she sent the delicious answer All hail the salmon king. The end of the weekend beckoned with the jewel-like flash of sunset on a glass of wine.

The canulier’s fine husband prepared the crab cakes for dinner;  they opened the window and talked and ate with the mild California air breathing its fragrance into the room. It was such simple perfection the canulier felt her heart expand until it threatened to escape her chest, like light leaving a star.  They watched the sun’s slow descent into the Pacific, lighting up the distant blue of the water with a glittering red shimmerlane that stretched  like a path you could walk straight to the edge of the world itself, a sight the canulier would immediately remember when the sad news reached her that the salmon king had died.

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RIP Dave

We Are All French American Berliners

thoughts while baking for the world

chocolate-caneles

In an age where people have never seemed so alarmingly disconnected from one another’s reality, it is reassuring to go out and about in the world, stumbling into unexpected moments of grace that remind us, we’re all in this together.

At the Farmer’s Market, a petite woman paused at my stand and exclaimed in the most charming French accented English imaginable, “Oh, canelés! My papa made me canelé every Sunday, how wonderful the kitchen smelled!”

She clasped her hands together under her chin and inhaled deeply through her nose, her eyes closed, to demonstrate, and I looked around half expecting the lowering gray clouds to part, the sun to come out, and a man to propose to her on the spot, she was that charming, it was that much like a moment that should be in the movies if it hasn’t been already.

amelie

Her eyes popped open and she bent down to look into the case, cooing “Really I must call my mother and tell her!”

Her gaze was filled with such delight I felt I had indeed done something worth calling if not writing  home about.

But why me? she wanted to know. How? Was I a Francaise? No, I tell her, my husband taught himself to make them, and over time we all – myself and the daughters included – became expert.  We each even have our own favorite flavor, but I knew she wouldn’t ask what was the best seller. All of our canelés sell well, but among our French customers there is only one best seller, the original Classic Vanilla Canelé de Bordeaux. Even the fondant flowers we sometimes put on top of the vanilla canelés for weddings is unacceptable to the French, who vaunt the original and want no truck with changes or even improvements.

She beamed at me and exclaimed “But you are so charming, the canelés, they are perfection!” (which sounded sexily like but zey cahn-uh-LAY zey ahr pair-FECK-shun!) 

Ever since, when I make canelés and they have been in the oven for about forty minutes, just when the scent begins to drift beyond the kitchen and send tendrils throughout the house, I think of this unnamed woman whose memory of a country kitchen in Bordeaux is now intertwined with my own story. In fact it was her voice I was thinking of when we needed a recording for an event we were catering: 

Just two filaments weaving themselves together in the tapestry that is humankind.

I sometimes think of her when I see the news – in her country, an extreme candidate is leading election polls, something not thought possible before the 2015 terrorist attacks on a newspaper and nightclub that killed more than 130 and wounded nearly 400 more.

Were all her family safe? Odds are, probably yes – her family was from Bordeaux, not Paris.  And what of my former colleagues, people from Paris and Lyon and Provence and Marseilles, people I boarded airplanes with and sat down for meals with, people who  invited me to eat birthday cake in the break room with them,  people who showed me pictures of their vacations and their kids during our coffee breaks before we returned to the business of whatever work it was we were working on.

Are they still going about their lives, and what are they thinking as the spring vote approaches with their own Le Trump rising and casting a long, sunset like shadow from the right?

So many lives touched, fate like a bee pollinating us with traces of one another.

I’d like to think the concentric rings of family and friends rippling around each of them are if not untouched by the terror (that is not possible), then at least unharmed, but the statistician in me knows the odds are slim, and what of it anyway? The tears of strangers sting with as much salt as my own.  The French had it right the morning after the World Trade Center attacks in New York on September 11th:

“We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, as surely as John Kennedy declared himself, in 1962 in Berlin, a Berliner”                    ~Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde

We are all connected, all the time, in ways that may have yet to reveal themselves.

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When Your Husband Sits Next To A Goddess & Other Rainy Day Baker Thoughts

rainy

It’s a rainy day and so I tried to cut the morning walk short but Jake wasn’t having any of it.  Come on, I say to him, and walk a few steps towards home.  He gives me a long stare and then glances left.   Smart dog.  Right is the park; forward is another park and both are out of the question and anyway there will be no dogs or people, only wet and mud.  Left is merely the long way home and of course I relent cursing mildly because he doesn’t try this shit with the husband, whom Jake adores more than life itself; theirs is a bromance for the ages, that’s what Jake thinks or anyway it looks like he thinks that what with all the worshipful gazing and instant obedience.  To be fair I get my share of worshipful gazes too or at least my right hand does,  The Food Bearing Hand as Jake  clearly thinks of it.  He always glances at the hand before my face which I try not to be offended by because being known in a dog’s heart as The Bringer of Food is not a bad thing at all and inspires its own dogged loyalties.  Jake  doesn’t like to be out in heavy rain but today’s umbrella defying slanty-misty-blowy affair suits him just fine.  He stands at the top of Pacific Avenue and waits as I trudge up the hill and he cuts a fine figure silhouetted against the sunrise, ears back, tail and nose up and into the tricky wind.  A construction worker hops out of his truck and Jake greets him enthusiastically and  you can see how it is just making this guy’s day, the two of them do a little dance of hello-how-are-you-aren’t-we-good-boys and by now my wool hat has reached the 50% rain saturation point but the air is relatively warm and I like the whispery sound the tires make on the wet pavement which is shiny with the reflected sunrise.  I am grateful not to be making deliveries on such a day when the narrow arteries of the FIDI are choked with delivery vehicles and those speedy little DPT munchkin cars.  green spider.pngOn the way home we pass the newly finished modern house and they have perched on the roof a huge blow up black and neon green spider wearing sunglasses with not eight but only two eyeholes just going to prove that you can spend a lot of money and still not have any taste.   On the other hand motion detectors cause it to actually turns its enormous head at our approach which startles me but this small bit of effectiveness does not redeem it anymore than Melania Trump  redeems Donald. Despite the stresses of running a 7,000 square foot bakery being inside of one is always nice on a day like today, it’s cold and blowy outside but inside it’s warm as a giant womb with nice dry hot vanilla scented air wooshing out of the convection ovens.   The wind rattles the metal floor to ceiling garage doors like zombies dying to get inside, where all is competing radio stations and the banging rattling clanking of big machinery doing its big jobs, the dog curled up on his bed in the corner of the office for once not begging to go visit all of his friends in this South San Francisco neighborhood of warehouse businesses filled with restaurants, caterers, car repair and paint companies, dry cleaners and based on the smell over by the RV storage lots, a shit ton of cannabis.We turn the final corner of the walk and the rain picks up and I channel the husband and command-not-ask Jake to come now please monsieur and also take off running because he can’t resist following me when I run and together we race up the 50 steps in front of the house and not for the first time I congratulate myself on finding a place that requires one to climb a mountain at the end of a long backbreaking day because every athlete knows the real training doesn’t begin until you are already tired. The husband calls from South Dakota because rain in the city means snow in the mountains. He is a powder hound through and through so you can imagine how I felt when he sent the text from the airport that every woman dreads “Hey guess what I am sitting next to Lindsey Vonn”  because even I am attracted to Lindsey Vonn because who could compare to Lindsey fucking Vonn she is a Viking goddess who is also a big mountain skier and she was on a box of Wheaties for God’s sake (which I bought. and ate.)  and I pray although I am an atheist that she is dumb as a rock because the husband will find this disappointing and demote her from Goddess to ordinary mortal hotness.  She looks a bit masculine the husband texts and I know he is just trying to make me feel better but I appreciate the gesture nonetheless because he also knows that I am looking at that magazine in the rack that has Lindsey posing in a bikini and skis in a real thigh burner of a position and she is fucking Hotness itself and then he texts that she wears more makeup than he expected jake sings.pngand also has a cocker spaniel and me and my make-up less face relax because no cocker spaniel can hold a candle to a chocolate labrador once they’ve gotten inside your heart they are written there forever and I’ve already texted the husband that if he leaves me for Lindsey I am taking Jake as the consolation prize which would only be fair.  The phone rings and it is Bill saying the new kitchen will be ready to tour next week and I jump up and down in the privacy of my own kitchen where the rain is lashing the windows in earnest and Jake jumps with me, and seconds later has laid the disembodied arm of his beloved stuffed orangutan at my feet and though the books say you should never let the dog win at tug of war I will let him and nonchalantly start eating a piece of toast which will cause Jake to drop the arm and begin drooling and I will give Jake the toast and seize the arm and go running down the hall waving and yelling how I have climbed the mountain and am victorious! with Jake bounding after me barking  but not loudly because we are indoors after all and he is a good dog.

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The Business You’re Really In

caneles garden of flowers.pngDescribe your business in a few sentences, the application read.

As a business owner I am in the business of making decisions, but this one always flummoxes me.  Do I focus on where we’re at, or where we want to be?  Journey or destination?

We make a French pastry, I think about writing, then don’t.  I am in the business of trying to raise investor money which means being in the business of being clear and concise  while at the same time curiosity-provoking all whilst on a short elevator trip.  “We make a French pastry” is concise, though not very descriptive, for all its accuracy.  And although we do in fact make a French pastry, we are not in the French pastry business, any more than Uber is in the car business.

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She’ll tell you what a canele is

I could go for cute and pithy: I’m in the business of delicious! But I’m in the marketing business and refuse to add to the burden of insipidity I see streaming before me every day on Twitter.

Don’t describe the product, tell a story about your customers!  the social media marketers suggest. The most common response when someone tries a sample is “oh my God” is what I want to write. One customer said “That’s so good it makes me feel like crying.”

I’m in the business of waking at 4a every morning, I could write.  I’m in the business of creating joyful mouths.  I’m in the business of farmer’s markets and regular customers that say where were you last week I missed you with a slightly accusing tone.

I’m in the business of addiction, I’m in the business of shock and awe and unrepentant and even self-righteous indulgence.   I’m in the business of so many other small artisan food businesses, all of us up early and driving through the dark to do what must be done.

Or maybe I’m in the business of something even bigger, something like brotherhood, which is the best word I can come up with to describe the happy fellow feeling of camaraderie that springs up around the sample tray as this Filipino grandmother and that Mexican agricultural worker and this Tesla driving VC cand that flight attendant in her  crisp navy American Airlines uniform moan and yell oh my God and furtively take two and even three samples.

18I am in the business of immediate gratification, I am in the business of giving your tongue a lesson in French cooking, where the ingredients are simple but put through a whole retinue of processes that cannot be skipped or rushed, which means I’m maybe most of all in the business of time.  To get to the oh my god takes eighteen precise steps taken over forty-eight hours, which is a lot of time indeed — it’s the same amount of time it takes to run 200 miles, the same amount of time it took me to drive from Austin Texas all the way to San Francisco fifteen years ago, it’s the average number of hours the average full time American employee works in an average week, according to Gallup.

People who work that hard typically don’t have time to learn the finer points of making a little known French pastry which suggests I am also in the convenience business.  And because canelé has an unapologetically French pronunciation, complete with funny little accent mark, one might say I’m in the ambassador business, bringing American customers an authentic taste of France, a place that many Americans resent on principle and rumor.

french flagMy French customers (of which there are a surprisingly steady supply in the south Bay) are unfailing (if a wee unflattering) in their expressions of amazement at finding something so authentically French in their mouths. Mais vous n’êtes pas français! they gasp, and then buy gratifyingly large quantities.  Some tell me mistily of their papa who made them canelés at breakfast Sundays in Bordeaux and then walk off having associated me, a very American-type American, with their French childhood as well as favorite pastry.

I’m in the business of subverting expectations, you could say.

Thanks to the universally appealing taste and texture profile of the canelé,  I am also in the business of weddings and twenty-fifth anniversaries and even three year old’s birthday parties. And after two years in business and the accrual of a large fanbase of regulars not to mention fellow farmer’s market vendors, I quite unexpectedly find myself in the friend-making business.

I am in the entrepreneur business, which means I am in the business of being uncomfortable.  The word ‘entrepreneur’ is (so I am told) Latin for “cashflow is now your number one concern”, which is something a lot of people don’t know, that even when you are not motivated by money, you are going to need it like a battery needs electrons, like a body needs water, like a baby needs touch.

And no matter what business it is that you think you are in – the piano moving business, the salad dressing business, the bridesmaids dresses business, the gluten free dog biscuit business – the business you are really in, is the numbers business.

You’ll also be in the growth business, and in the business of annoying everyone you know by finding in every single topic no matter how seemingly unrelated to your business, some potential opportunity for you business.

None of this will help you fill out the deceptively simple invitation to “describe your business in a few sentences”, though.

I am a writer  which means I am in the business of story-telling, so ultimately that is what I write on the application – the  story of how we are in the business of reimagining the cafe, sort of like The Moth meets Cafe du Monde.  It is the business of connecting people to each other, it is the business of bringing people together, it is the business of all of us, really, the business of the shared community of shared stories.

It only looks like a French pastry business.

 

 

 

 

Things I Learned at the Bakery This Month: Notes From Entrepreneur Land

 

  1. garbageGarbage blows around, so contain it. The very best way to contain it is to keep a lid on it. This applies equally to garbage that resides in dumpsters as the detritus that resides in human minds.
  2. Complaining about the heat, no matter how irrefutable, doesn’t improve one’s ability to bear it.  Better to just turn on some tunes or an e-book, keep a bottle of water handy at all times, and forget about it.
  3. Everyone needs a quality vacation.  If you think you don’t chances are the people around you need a vacation from *you*.
  4. Your success as a manager is apparent in how your employees act when you are around, your success as a leader is apparent in how they act when you’re not.
  5. It’s often more expedient to be pleasant than right.
  6. optimismOptimism is fine but make decisions with clear-eyed facts.
  7. “The customer is always right,” my dad liked to remind me. When I was a kid, I thought this sounded pretty unfair – I always felt sorry for the clerk at the other end of dad’s complaint.  Even if he wasn’t exactly yelling, the threat of yelling was there, like an odor, and everyone cringed away from it, me included.  I didn’t really understand how customers could act like dad and  be ‘right’ about anything, much less always be right.  But the business owner who treats every customer as though they are not only right, but valued for being so, is gong to have far more customers than the business owner who keeps score.  In fact you should go out of your way for customers as often as possible. It’s not enough to say you are passionate –  words are easy.  You have to actually be passionate. And active passion requires you to get your hands dirty. For me, this month, it has meant….
    • Getting ready to go for a run  and then instead jumping in the car to run down to the bakery to meet a customer who wants to have a tasting for an upcoming wedding but is only in town for the next two hours.
    • Getting a text from a customer who has pre-paid but won’t be able to pick up due to a sick husband, so after working farmer’s markets from 5a to 5p, driving to that customer’s house to deliver the order myself, along with a get well pack for hubby too.
  8. Learn to control your stress or it will control you.  Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can choose to be happy. It’s a much better state of mind in which to find solutions to problems.
  9. Music makes everything better.
  10. It always takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will.
  11. One of the great benefits of being a vendor at a farmer’s market is the opportunity for barter.  June is the season of stone fruit, cherries and avocados and plums shine darkly from the stalls.  I remember our plum tree in the backyard at the old house. So many plums, we couldn’t keep up. We were plum full of plums but still didn’t like it when three raccoons came to feast on them at night. The raccoons were really fat, and sassy.  They knew, even then, that the best plums are stolen plums.
  12. darncing cowsOur experience of fun is not unique to humans.  All animals have fun.  if you don’t know that you just aren’t in a place where you can look, and see.  On a recent trip to Norway my daughter accompanied our hostess to buy milk.  They bought milk not from the store but at the store, you might say – directly from the farmer who’d recently gotten it directly from the cows, and they’d been waiting for Sophia and Ingilvde to arrive to witness the annual rite of releasing the cows from the barn in which they’d weathered the famously long and dark and cold Norwegian winter.  The farmers  waited as a form of barter – because they get their herbs and blueberries from Ingvilde – but also, mainly, because they wanted to share the rare joy of the cows tasting springtime freedom.  The cows emerged nose first, sniffing then smelling the air deeply. Then they did something that can only be called dancing. The cows felt the springy ground beneath their hooves and the green spring air in their nostrils and they kicked up their heels and danced around.  Their joy and pleasure were  evident and unmistakable, just as it was unmistakable that experiencing it together, as a cow community/family, made the joy that much greater. In other Animals Experiencing Joy news, I have seen the following videos on the internet: a small wren inside an airport, flying to the start of the escalator, perching on the movable handrail and riding it til the end, then repeating the process. I have a seen a crane playing with a golf ball, bouncing it on the paved cart path to see how high it would go; I have watched a baby hippo running down the road with a baby goat, hilariously trying to imitate the springy little jumps. Joy is everywhere, when you look for it.
  13. like i said.pngIt’s never a good idea to start a sentence with “Like I said…”. It’s passive aggressive, whiny and defensive whether you mean it to be or not.   It says “You weren’t listening to me, I shouldn’t have to repeat myself.” When in fact, maybe  you should – maybe it’s your own darn fault you weren’t heard or understood the first time.  Like I said…don’t do it.
  14. It can all – and will, at some point – change in an instant. Stroke, heart attack, the headache that turns out to be a brain tumor, the stomach ache that turns out to be cancer, the unseen pancreas diseased, ceasing to perform it’s unseen job.  Losing control of the car, an oncoming driver texting and losing control of their car, a hospital acquired super infection.  A sinkhole opens up beneath your house in the middle of the night. A black bear strolls onto the trail.  You could be living your last normal day right now, and not even know it.  If you did know it – would you keep doing what you’re doing? If the answer is yes, you have passion.  If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to go find your joy.

French Pastry Sampling as Human Laboratory

3 amigosHow can you tell which one is which, your customers ask, looking at the rows of shining canelés, rows of vanilla with their yellow crowns, rows of deep chocolate with their semi-sweet dark coronas, rows of green tea with their dusting of imported matcha like dehydrated dragon’s breath, rows of shining hazelnut colored, cocoa-scented Nutella, rows of darkly caramelized pecans wobbling on their uneven base of knife-chopped toasted nuts.

You just know, after a while, you say with a grin and sooner or later they come back enough times they know their favorites by looking, too and everyone has a good laugh.

After two years in business there are all kinds of things you just know, in addition to the flavor of the canelé at a glance; there are so many things to know when you make the making of something your actual business.

2 yearsSome of your customers know this  – you know them by their sudden, warm smiles and sincere exclamations of congratulations when you tell them you’ve just celebrated your second year in business.

Most customers will not know anything about your business except the taste of your product, and that’s ok, because their choruses of mmmmms and ohmygods will more than make up for their blessed ignorance of the agony and the ecstasy of being an entrepreneur.

You know after two years of farmer’s markets what customers are likely to like; it’s not something you knew right away, but rather something you’ve learned from interaction after interaction, week in and week out, in rain, sunshine and  the damnable wind.

You know that the older your customer, the more the customer has been through, the more they are likely to, in one taste, recognize the effort, quality and value of what they just sampled and shoot you a sharp, considering, approving look that warms you right to the core, though no words are ever said, other than a brief “Good!” with maybe an even briefer nod.

You know that men over the age of 70 almost always prefer the Classic Vanilla; the flirty types, like the type that wears a homburg, will go for Caramelized Pecan.

men in hatsYou do not know why men stopped wearing hats but you wish they hadn’t. Those pictures from the 50s of men in hats in the street headed to Yankee Stadium are cool.

You know that almost all Asian women between the ages of 25 and 39 will probably like the pineapple because apparently it is similar in texture to a traditional Chinese dessert, and that very elderly Chinese men and women will stick with vanilla and maybe tea.

You know that the pretty Germanic-sounding woman with the dancer’s posture and the robust young son will never not get chocolate pecan, it’s been two years now.

You know that most people will want to buy the little ones, unable to resist the cutness, which you don’t mind because the little ones are 50% more profitable than the big ones though you know the big ones taste better.

You know that delivering by 5a Monday morning means catching the Wall Street crowd which means bigger orders from your wholesale customers which means less than 5 hours of sleep tonight and that’s only if you can get home from the bakery and packed up by midnight.  Which has never happened.

You know until you replace your driver, Monday deliveries will be an oddly contemplative part of the day, the streets not yet snarled with delivery trucks and Uber drivers. You know that while you drive, NPR droning int he backgrounded, you will be obsessed with thoughts on how to find wholesale customers  large enough to scale to your considerable production  capacity.

3 coffeesYou know that you will end the morning pleasantly jacked on caffeine, accepting all proffers of a beverage, it is good business to let your customers do  favors for you, and besides you love them all, the pour overs and almond milk chais and iced mocha lattes and cortados, even if you hands are trembling uncontrollably by the time you are finished with the sixth delivery.

france (1)You know you will get nervous when actual French customers from actual France taste a sample, even though you know, with the same certainty you know your bank balance at all times, that they will praise it and invariably ask you if you are French before ordering vanilla (and only vanilla, never any other flavor so help them God, or butter).

You know it’s hot and getting hotter and  you are staring down the oven-heated throat of a red-hot summer that is just weeks away.

You know that you have $4900 in outstanding invoices due to come in over the next 2 days. It’s nice to look forward to the mail.

You know summer is a time of big sales especially at the farmers market and you plan your pre-packaging strategies to boost sales by as much as 30%. People, you know, like and often even prefer to be told what to buy.  Especially if it’s delicious.

You know your electricity bill will be  60% lower this year than last year because you went to the Department of Energy website and learned to negotiate rates, because when every penny counts you learn to find savings in every facet of the business.  You feel a satisfaction in knowing this though no one you know will ever appreciate your penny-pinching ways.

You know when sampling that it is hit or miss with some kids, in the way that you know that the custard texture is not a common occurrence in a young American diet, in the same way you know that nearly all European and Chinese kids will love the texture and prefer chocolate, hands down

lemonis.pngYou know there will always be a dozen or so parents who buy their waddling toddler a single mini-canelé because the baby always holds the pastry triumphantly aloft, delighted at the perfect size for baby hands and generating many photographs and coos of isn’t-that-cute including from yours truly who sometimes manages to get our cancan girl stickers right on their chubby little arms, at the child’s own insistence and to the grinning proud delight of the parents.

You know there is no marketing like baby marketing and cheerfully hand out stickers to hundreds of kids, who toddle the market with your brand name adorably affixed to their noses, hats and sunglasses.

You know that after being up at 5 and working the market til 2p, a long evening of baking and cleaning at the bakery still lies ahead.  You know that your much-anticipated evening with your husband and your dog will include a perfect dinner of bartered farmer’s market food (crab cakes and artichoke hummus with snap peas in exchange for 8 vanilla canelés and 16 mini chocolate pecan cancans) and only 3 of the following: a nap, a walk, a run, an hour of writing, an hour of accounting, conjugal relations, yoga, meditation, closet cleaning, or desk cleaning.

no crying.pngYou know your lower back will start to ache by tomorrow afternoon but you’ll need to suck it up and get some sales calls in.  No crying in baseball – you know that too, because you actually played it (well, fast pitch softball) and you can’t remember a single instance of any player crying, ever, even injured teammates never cried.

And while you agree business is not the place for tears, you also know that crying every once in awhile because you care is not something to suppress, and being in touch with your emotions means you’re less likely to be ruled by them, and so you embrace crying when it happens though you know it shouldn’t, or at least not very much.
personallyYou know the cardinal rule of being an entrepreneur is  you can’t take No personally; you also know you don’t always have to take No seriously. Even and maybe especially when the No comes from a famous vc guy whose name is on the building and who the husband calls a friend, though he doesn’t seem much interested in being a friend, failing to interrupt his monologue about his acquisitions and club memberships even once to ask the husband a single question about his family or his life.

You know you should say something when the vc invariably mentions his wife and what a busy woman she is in that “aren’t you little ladies a hard working  bunch!” way some vcs have,  something that is polite and admiring and that certainly doesn’t mention that the vc’s wife doesn’t actually have a job, much less a business or a payroll or taxes or FDA inspections or a grease trap to clean every 3 months…but you keep quiet, because he isn’t really listening anyway, and because you know from experience the mention of the wife is merely the gambit of men who – even if they are surrounded by women –  do not actually work with women and have no intention of starting now.

You had low expectations but still you thought the vc would at least have some decent advice and could perhaps make an introduction or two but who instead delivers his no in his living room in a manner so droningly oblique that it actually isn’t til after the meeting  is over you realize the lack of a no was, in fact, the no.

Just as you know you shouldn’t take it personally when the vc makes odd, fragmented statements  that are so irrelevant to the details of the business you just outlined that you wonder for a split second if he has, in fact, been sleeping with his eyes open while you outlined your two year plan.

You know as you escape the stuffy manse into the bright spring air, that this no is one you will let go of as easily as a balloon, sending it sailing off into a bluebird sky.  You know this no is just another brick on the road to yes to your grand vision (something you see as clearly as the beauty of the day) and the thought makes you want to start running and get there, already!

But mostly you know that knowing all of this does not guarantee success, and that the most important thing to know is that which you don’t.  Which is why you better have fun….for after all,

what is the point if
when it is all said and done
you didn’t at the very least
have a lot of fun?

fun.png

 

 

 

 

Crashing and Burning and Hooking Up: Just Another Day at the Office

not the weekend hook-up of preference

Sales are way up and so are deliveries and therefore more driving is happening and so it was bound to happen – SMACK went the truck behind me right into the rear-end of my truck, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, there he stuck, hung up on my trailer hitch, for the better part of an hour while six lanes of rushing traffic flowed all around us.  The clack and roll of skateboards on concrete could be heard from the under-freeway skate park that sits on the corner at Division and Mission.

The two strong looking Latino men inhabiting the truck gone amok were polite and compliant but it must be said, not offering any insurance or license information until I  asked for it.  I can’t say as I blame them, I would be taking my cues from the rammee, too, if I were in the rammer shoes.   I snapped photos and saved to Evernote and we stood around watching as different configurations of men attempted to unhook our trucks from their unholy connection.

“You guys hit me pretty hard,” I said to the passenger. We watched as his companion, the errant driver, used the tire iron my husband keeps under the seat  to  do something that involved a lot of clanging but changed the hooked-together nature of our vehicles not a bit.   Personally I think he was avoiding dealing with me,  because he did know in fact that their truck hit me pretty hard indeed, as he was driving  – accelerating, even – at the time of impact.

“You sure did,” volunteered a skater boy who’d ventured over to watch the proceedings.  “Can I help?” he asked me, and I shrugged and indicated the hitch hitching the trucks together and he said “If you remove the hitch the bumper will be released?”

I looked and he was right and  both of the Latino men busied themselves removing the hitch and freeing the trucks and then very nicely restoring my trailer hitch (but upside down).

“Your truck looks ok – you’re lucky.  How about you, are you ok?” asked the skater boy. He is looking at my exposed right forearm with a frown.  I can’t blame him, the forearm in question is a hideous landscape of purple and peeling skin.

“That didn’t happen just now, did it?” he asked with some alarm.

We stare at the second degree burns on my arm, which actually look much better than they did earlier in the week, when a hose popped off a faucet and doused me with scalding water that instantly bubbled my skin into strange jellyfish-like shapes and colors.

Different accident, burned myself, I say to him with a smile.  He smacks his narrow fist into this palm with a meaty thwack and I jump a little at the sound.

“SMACK!  We all heard it. Thought sure someone would be hurt.  You were LUCKY!”

He drops  his skateboard onto the narrow median and slides away, a river of  traffic no more than twelves inches on each side of his bony tattooed arms.  To myself I think, huh, officially -literally – crashed and burned this week.  And survived to laugh with a skater boy over it.

The truck is not much damaged – at least, not in any obvious, see it with your eyeballs way, for which I am grateful.   As soon as the hitch is successfully removed we shook hands all around and off I went, figuring that was that.  I think no more of the incident other than to remind myself to turn a report in to the insurance company, not even the next day when I wake feeling as if I’d run an 18 miler the day before.

Man how far did I go yesterday, I think sleepily before realizing I haven’t run in more than a week (and I haven’t run long enough to make me sore the next morning in months) and I haven’t re-started yoga or weight lifting or rock-climbing or tennis or fast pitch softball but I *feel* as if I’ve done all of them, very recently, and with no rest.

When I try to pop out of bed and feel the weird new intractability of my lower back, I remember the crash.  The aches and pains follow a path from my lower back to my neck, with about twenty individual super achy points in between. But still, skater boy is right, I am lucky. I can walk, I can stretch, and most importantly… I can work.  No time to whinge!

crowds

Embarcadero crowded with SuperBowl visitors

herb steps helmetTraffic is insane in the city this Superbowl weekend  but with only 6 hours of nonwork in the past 72 hours I need to be out and about., so we mount the motorcycle and zoom down to check out the gladiatorial crowds which were claustrophobically dense, even spread all along the Embarcadero.  The motorcycle ride makes me exquisitely aware of my spine in a way that I wasn’t, pre-rear-ending.

The throngs of out-of-towners strolling the broad palm-lined boulevard remind me of the Italian tradition of the passeggiata, an easy going stroll that starts just after sunset, everyone strutting about in their finery and checking up on who needs to be gossiped about.

The men appear to be in uniform in their team hats and jerseys, but many of the women were dressed for a night out, in sparkly party dresses and sky high heels.   The sound of high heels clicking on concrete made my feet in their sensible motorcycle boots shiver with happiness. Some things about getting older are great, like not giving a rats ass how cool you look walking down the Embarcadero in a huge sweaty heaving mass of humanity.

flag and skyWandering the crowd I recall walking with my friend Sue one evening to a chorus of hissing, the charming flirtatious device of the men of Sicily when they see an unaccompanied woman they find attractive.   I sniff ten different kinds of perfume and am tempted to put my helmet on so I can flip the visor down but then I would have missed this awesome picture of the flag, backlit by the setting sun against the bluest sky in the world,  so I’m glad that I didn’t.

We think about stopping somewhere for a beer but it quickly becomes clear there will be no ‘just’ stopping anywhere and so we flee the madding crowds and twenty minutes later we are buzzing down Columbus Avenue which is equally throngy on this beautiful day.  cafe grecoWe decide to buy some coffee at the local roastery.  We chat with the owner Luigii for a bit and then head up the avenue to Cafe Greco, where we snag an outdoor table and share a pressed tomato and mozzarella sandwich, a beer and a Greco Grande and watch the crowds flow by.

In the coming weeks many things will happen, things that will make second degree burns feel secondary, things that will make crashing seem like a wake-up call.:  an employee will get word that her father has fallen ill and race to make his hospital bedside in time; a friend of my husband will take a freak fall on his snowboard, suffer stroke and a heart attack in rapid succession and  be removed from life support on his 50th birthday.  But all of this is still unknown to me.  There will be time for tears later, but on this day, the sun is warm and the breeze is mild and my husband sits smiling across from me.  Sometimes the small things are the big things.

The air cools noticeably and car headlights are coming on and the neons flicker to life as we start up the motorcycle and head home, yelling to each other in the slipstream for maybe the millionth time how it’s a shame we can’t find a good local stage and hear some music or a reading or comedy.   We’re not quite ready to go home yet, but nor do we want to hit a bar or go out to dinner.  BUT I’M FIXING THAT I shout to Herb, resting my helmeted chin on his shoulder.  And I am – I have made it my business, in fact, to fix it.  

DO IT HONEY! he yells over his shoulder and I give a whoop. We’re motoring up Broadway now, the part called Billionaire’s Row.  We pass the Getty house, the CEO of Oracele’s house, the house with a giant robot that gets a giant robot erection whenever the Oracle CEO is home (true story! I’d post a picture, but then deny you the pleasure of seeking it out  yourself on your next trip to San Francisco, which is akin to New Orleans visitors seeking out Anne Rice’s house in the Garden District). *

My whoop of enthusiasm startles an old couple walking a dog up Lyon Street.  They do not recognize us without our dog, Jake, but of course we recognize them – they do not approve of Jake, a chocolate lab who is affable to a fault and insists on approaching their dog for an enthusiastic greeting each time we see them. 

“He’s not friendly!” they invariably warn, yanking the leash of the nervous dog, who is meanwhile growling and frantically straining toward  Jake (who cares not one bit for showy displays of anxiety and wags in welcome).

The dog barks as the motorcycle sputters past and I give it the thumbs up and for a wonder, his master responds in kind, a smile splitting his face and making it look a million times kinder,  something my sweet husband must notice too because he beeps merrily as we sail up and over the hill, turn right, and head due west, the barking fading behind us as we head directly towards the ocean where the sun is setting in a fiery ball, suffusing the entire sky in such a beautiful pink and golden light I find myself  wishing like a child that the ride will go on forever.IMG_0097

 

*However if enough people leave a request in comments, I may post it after all.