Archive for October, 2010
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
What’s hardest about my upcoming move is leaving the neighborhood where I’ve lived for the past ten years, where practically every block I walk holds memories of my San Diego experiences.
It wasn’t my choice to live in San Diego. More like an accidental landing. Nor was it my choice to live near downtown. Both were due to circumstances beyond my control – just when I was busy with other plans. Then life happened or rather, interfered and the experience as told in my book “Don’t Hang Up!” (and in future posts) led me here.
Whenever I go out on my walks, memories crop up almost at once. Just down the hill is the hotel where I lived two years – I can see my room from the street – and the building that for those two years, I knew was where I wanted to live. As soon as I could afford it, I moved into an apartment with a view of the Bay only to be chased out a couple of years later by flooding after a downpour – in usually dry San Diego! As a desperation measure, I took the first place I found, never intending to stay long – those plans again – and left things in boxes for almost a year until I realized I felt at home. After six years, I now call it, affectionately, my Dump.
One of its major advantages is its location.
Where else can I walk uptown, downtown, to the Bay, or to Balboa Park with its wealth of trees, gardens, theatre, concerts, gatherings, events, and museums. Where else can I watch the sunset over the sea, cruise ships and boats on the Bay, historic homes, have my pick of coffee houses, restaurants, theatres (movies, plays, concerts, and opera), a mall, Petco Park, Civic and Convention centers, the trolley, train station, and hotels? Where else can I watch parades, attend special events, political rallies, or take part in them – all within walking distance?
Where else, on my way down the hill to downtown San Diego, can I see late 1800 homes with widow’s walks next to modern condos. Glance across to the Bay while a plane, about to land at Lindbergh Field, booms overhead. The Korean lady greets me in her drycleaners – 18 years here and you can Google us, she tells me excitedly; next door, is the Laundromat run by my friend, Sarita, who’s training to be a physical therapist, right by a rowdy, well frequented bar, and around the corner from the venerable Hob Nob Hill restaurant, a San Diego standby for middle-class families.
Farther down the hill, I pass the place where I worked for two years. I think about the people I met there, the ones who became my friends, and the way we shared the unique downtown lifestyle that only the underdogs can appreciate. Occasionally, I bump into them and we say hello in that tentative way of people who have grown apart. But the link is still there: our shared history.
Where else can I rub shoulders with the homeless and hear loonies rant? Or watch cruise ship tourists and well-dressed couples walk through the Gaslamp District casing out the posh restaurants while the homeless spread make their sleeping quarters in doorways, as many as four on one block. Latinos in jackets and bundled-up workers wait for buses or the trolley after a long day’s work while young girls in skimpy garb and men in shorts stroll along, not seeming to feel the drop in temperature or the gray day. After all, this is supposed to be sunny San Diego.
Skateboarders whiz by, cross the street, jump up on the sidewalk and swerve expertly around people. On Sundays, a whole bunch skate down the hill on the almost empty Fourth Avenue. Not for the first time, a bicycle barely misses me. They ought to be banned on sidewalks. People on two-wheel mechanized scooters that go about two miles an hour. The street musician outside the Gaslamp movie theatre is in full swing – some kind of Louisiana blues. I drop $2 in his hat. He deserves it for brightening my day. I drop by Borders to see what’s new, maybe sit down a while, and scan books I might buy. Try to avoid the old geezer who hangs out there and wants to talk.
Along the Bay front, not as many pedi-cabs as in the summer, but one goes by trailing a heavy beat music, and they’re still lined up in front of Anthony’s Grotto. I love the ship museum there:The vintage Mississippi steamer, the realistic copy of a frigate circa 1805, The Surprise – built for the film “Master and Commander: the Far Side of the Earth.” I can’t for the life of me, understand how 70 men could go all the way to the Galapagos on that one tiny vessel, and not go crazy. I suppose it was the daily ration of rum that kept them semi-comatose for most of the journey, and not all of them made it back.
Next to it is the 1863 vessel The Star of India, and further on, the ferries to Coronado and around the Bay, and then, the aircraft carrier, Midway. No matter the time they were built, all the ships have one thing in common: close and crowded living quarters.
I take the bus back up the hill. Often, I recognize faces of other people who frequent this route. Several I’ve encountered many times over the years: the sad eyed little Filipinon who never shows a sign of recognition, the loud-mouthed cello player who always is first on the bus so as to get his special spot – or if it’s occupied, bully the person into giving it up; the fiftiesh, faded blonde who lives in the women’s shelter and is vocal about what’s wrong with San Diego – the city’s broke, can’t pay its bills, and who cares about the poor? Why not go somewhere else, I’m tempted to ask, but I know the answer: this city also has great programs for the homeless and poor. I heard a couple discussing which place offered the best meal the same way that others might discuss which restaurant to visit.
Too many memories, sights, contrasts, places, and people to write about. And these are only a few of the many I have. But I’ve already overdone it here so you will just have to keep following me to find out more.
Next comes my move to a new neighborhood, a new lifestyle, a new opportunity. Who knows what I will find there?
Selling food is a risky business. And I gambled everything on my restaurant.
There I was, finally installed in all my glory, on my first week of running it. Sure, I lacked know how but I’d learn on the go. Or so I thought, with no idea of what I’d got myself into.
Where was Gordon Ramsay, or an expert like him, to force some sense into me? I shudder at the idea of him lambasting me with his trademark lack of courtesy, but … surely he’d have bullied me into a semblance of restaurant management skills. Or at least helped to avoid the pitfall of well-meaning friends with their help and advice.
Oh, for the wisdom of hindsight.
Statistics show that only one out of every ten restaurants makes it after a year. Usually, it’s a combination of talent, creativity, good management, and customer skills that pays off, but this magic combination is hard to come by.
So, why take such a risk?
I thought I was being practical, looking at the long-term picture, investing in my future, in a business that I could live off into my old age.
And I had a great idea, unique at the time in Mexico City: A boutique deli-restaurant that sold gourmet food at accessible prices. I pioneered the idea, and the type of food and restaurant that has become popular in fashionable areas in Mexico City. But, like many pioneers, it was the ones who followed that made their fortunes.
My first move had been to look for a good locale. I entrusted this to a friend who went out and in no time at all, found the perfect place. “It’s just right for you,” he told me. “The lease is expensive but worth it because of the area. But you have to buy it straight away or you might miss out on this great opportunity.”
Great opportunity indeed!
I’d never heard of buying a lease; I thought all I had to do was pay rent. Some guy wanted an exorbitant sum to hand over his lease on a small place in an exclusive neighborhood next to internationally famous stores and swanky offices, ad agencies, and businesses.
I agreed, believing this to be the best choice, and signed one of the largest checks in my life only to find out later that I could have bought the lease for one-third of what I paid. The former owner used the money on a five star honeymoon trip to Europe, then set up a fast-food Japanese place almost next door to my “high-class” restaurant.
My friend got a commission for finding the place, enough to pay a couple of months’ of his back rent.
Next step, fix it up. I called another friend, an architect, who assured me he could do it for a reasonable price. What I didn’t know was that he’d been left high and dry on a job, with a surplus of wood that he needed to unload, as well as workers whom he proceeded to employ for several months on my project, one that should have taken a couple at most.
He got going on the decoration. All wood. Heavy wood door and window frames, wood rafters, and ten-inch wooden slabs for counters and tables that would have made a medieval lord proud. Before long, the architect had gone way over budget, and I was overdrawn, without knowing why, while he tried desperately to prolong the work and use up as much wood as he could. The only thing that didn’t require wood was the large deli display counter.
Along the way, I learned a few lessons:
• Watch out for helpful friends. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Consult an expert in the field.
• Don’t start a business based on a passion or a hobby without first learning the ropes. I constantly hear or read about people who, after job loss or retirement, want to open an eatery/restaurant/food or catering business mainly because they love to cook. Not a good reason. Nor is watching TV cooking shows or experience cooking for family or friends.
• Don’t be a sucker and do things just because your best friends advise you to. Or believe all the promises people tell you.
• Don’t think, like me, that because you were successful in another business, it will be easy to pick up the skills to manage a new one. Take a course in restaurant or business management.
Getting back to Gordon Ramsay, yes, I certainly could have used him. Or some other tyrant like him. He’d probably have dismissed my assistant manager, yet another friend, who knew even less than I did about the restaurant business.
But G.R. wasn’t around at the time.
Despite these setbacks, I got off to a great start and my restaurant led to a five-year stint in catering. And I had interesting clients. Read about them in my next blog post, “A Brothel, Politicians, Embassies, Ad Agencies, and Brides-to-be.”
“My story, like so many others, has numerous turning points. An artist by nature, growing up in the middle class America of the ’50′s and early ’60′s, it was drummed into me that “artists starve.” That meant there were only select careers available to me as a woman…teacher, nurse or nurse/stewardess, secretary.
I tried to break the glass ceiling by majoring in TV production in college in Los Angeles, but the unions were all male. No chance.
Out of my choices, I took secretary. Did pretty good at it, too. Took the “pleaser personality” to its highest and for 35 years was an outstanding executive assistant to many CEO’s, CFO’s, Presidents, VP’s, etc.
Imagine my surprise when, in my 50’s, after an interesting detour into urban farming and farm stand ownership for about 10 years, I went back to find a “real” job as an executive assistant and found I was “overqualified” in every case. Probably 500++ job applications and interviews. Interesting.
Trolling the landscape for something that might pay the mortgage, I discovered that “mature” women were respected and valued in the real estate business. So, I invested the time and effort in a real estate license right around the turn of the millennium.
Things went well – for a while. Could’ve been better if I hadn’t married that abusive husband who managed to spend all the money I earned and defeat every success I set up to create. Divesting him cost me everything I had. Financial ruin. Leaving behind all the contacts, the network and everything it takes to promote the real estate business.
Start all over. Well, at least I had achieved my Broker’s license. But, oops, that was just about the time that the real estate market in San Diego started to stall and no matter how many lead generators I subscribed to or how many cold calls I made every day, I just couldn’t get revved up again. And, by that time the previous years of real estate boom had inundated the market with agents – you couldn’t open your car door without smacking a real estate agent.
The competition was vicious.
Still sticking in there, I opened up my territory to the entire San Diego, L.A. and high desert areas in an attempt to maximize the possibilities. Then came the blackest. The big dump. The market changed radically. Short sales, REO’s, foreclosures became the order of the day. Big banks, “settlement” companies, and unscrupulous agents took over the market. (The stories I could tell!)
So, here I am, back at a turning point. Wonder where I’ll go next??? Hmmmmm.”
Do you have a story of your own to tell about career loss, turning points and making new starts?
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