A couple was leaning over the patio rail, vaguely lost, looking for The Bonefish Grill, and asking the smart young lady at the table next to me for guidance. She was drawing a blank. My Atlantic Station restaurant directory showed me that they were misinformed. Boneheads Grill was the actual place, and I could see it on a Google Map, 1 block south and 2 east of where I was seated.
I descended from my high stool and waltzed myself and my MacBook into the conversation.
“I think you are actually looking for Boneheads not Bonefish folks. See here it is, just around the corner …:
“That’s it” says the fellow. “Thanks!” and into the early evening they went.
When they were out of earshot my new acquaintance opened up the conversation.
“You know they said they were looking for a pretty fancy place. I wouldn’t call Boneheads fancy. Would you?
“No, heck no. Fast casual at best. Bonefish is nice, but Boneheads… nah”
“Yeah, exactly! Ah well, whatever floats the boat I suppose (or other words to that imprecise effect)”
Readers might be reminded at this point that regardless how expert or convincing my presentation is, when I start to chattering with people I am quite obviously not what the surfaces indicate. I do not possess, nor have I yet cultivated a feminine voice. I do turn down the volume a little and edit for profanity but otherwise the voice is the same voice I engage the world with every day.
With the laptop placed back on my table and me pulled up into a chair closer to her, facing her, we continued the chat. Dialog is not my strong literary suit, so I will expose the action as epic narrative here.
I invited her to my table, because she was getting peppered with inquiries from passers by. She smiled and declined, needing to hold the table for her friends who had left PC’s, bags and gear there while investigating the premises on foot. She had wanted to join them but her bum knee and a small crisis at home kept her at the table. Her knees looked just fine to me, but she showed a weary face and described some gawdawful bug her 8 year old had picked up at school or playground that had necessitated several visits to the Doctors, and a mitt-full of shots, pills and suchlike.
She needed this like a run in her tights of course, because the business was demanding so damned much of her just now. My earlier instincts were pretty much on the money. She represented the property developer to commercial real estate brokers, and was in the business of arranging marriages between them and retailers who might sign a lease at Atlantic Station. We spoke about the personality of the place, and what sort of shops might thrive here. Chico’s she thought should move in, while I thought they were a little OTP (Atlanta slang for bland suburbs “Outside The Perimeter") for this setting.
My consideration was that there was a possibility of creating a genuine destination shopping venue in Atlantic Station if more marquee retailers with very small retail footprints in North America were courted. More designer boutiques, luxury brands, European vendors looking to test for expansion in America, and etc. Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world, the convention center is a straight shot down the 85/75 corridor, Lennox and Phipps don’t have room for new tenants. From a business and differentiation perspective, this made sense to me.
Having an excuse to go swanning around Europe looking for clients I proposed might be a nice sideline motivator for a clearly cosmopolitan gal like my chatty new pal. This was some different positioning and thinking to her, and a little outside of her plan. I was smiling inside reminded of just how close this moment felt to my typical business life. I am always the voice in the room questioning the first principals of just exactly what the hell makes this business uniquely definable, sustainable and well defended against the competition. Some days I don't get burnt at the stake for my thinking too. It is a pretty natural line of work for me, and here I was, at it again.
In heels this time though. Pro Bono too.
Occupancy rates were pretty good she opined, given overall economic conditions. No, the residences are not fetching what they should, and finding great brokers was next to impossible. She really hoped the two new guys she had signed on to the challenge would succeed where others had tried and faded away. But topmost in her mind was her poor sick little boy. 5 shots of who knows what and still laid low he was. If she or her husband or the dog caught whatever the hell he had things would just fall apart. It is just so sad to see a sick little kid and you want to snap your fingers and make it all good, just now, and maybe have some ice cream then .....
Here friends, are a few things we did not talk about: Her outfit. My outfit. Why a chap might dress smartly en femme and visit this café today.
Her colleagues returned from their tour of their new battlefield with bright ideas to air and campaigns to mount, and I smiled and excused myself from the now serious business setting. The wine finished, the check signed, the Mac shut down and my things gathered up, it was time to move further on into the evening.
I found some killer shoes and a beautiful new blouse. I met some friends, one of whom is a new acquaintance from the recent Southern Comfort Conference for a nice supper. And I drove home, still surprised at the all-encompassing feelings of newness that come with these explorations of … I am not sure what to call it, but lets settle on these explorations of my fuller self.
And the thing that stood out was the short, deep, in some ways really intimate conversation with the stranger at the café. A conversation that did not light even for a second on my differences, or my admiration of her differences.
I hope you find that hopeful. I do.