Saturday, February 15, 2014

Days of Our Work Lives: An unvarnished look at work today: Part II: Susan's Saga. Episode 13: The Town Hall Meeting Cafe

Part II: Susan's Saga  

Episode 13
The Town Hall Meeting Cafe

In the previous episode, despite being a star, Susan got laid off--Part of her work was automated, the rest offshored.

Susan was happy to keep her promise to make the four-hour trek to Ben's condo. 

For a guy's place, it was surprisingly well-kept. She liked that. 

Susan was afraid she'd never land another job. "Ben, I was at each of my last three jobs for a really short time and before that, I was a stay-at-home mom."

"And a music teacher."

"Part-time. Very part-time. Oh, I'm the perfect job applicant: 15-year-old degree in sociology from San Francisco State, stay-at-home mom who gave piano and voice lessons a few hours a week for 14 years. In my next job I got accused of creating a hostile environment against gays. As a sales clerk at Rory's Ag Supply, I lasted a grand total of two hours. And now I just got laid off after a big three months as an academic adviser. Now that's the sort of focused career with "a pattern of continual advancement" employers are looking for. Who's going to hire me, Jack in the Box?"

Ben offered, "Maybe you need to start your own business, hire yourself. That way you instantly go from hard-to-employ to CEO."

"Yeah, part-time music teacher. Big CEO."

"Well maybe you need to do something with a better chance of making a real living?"

"Like what, start a biotech company?"

"Of course not."

"Ben, I was joking."

"I know that but there's a point here. Any time you go into some cutting-edge field, you're competing with the world's smartest, big-moneyed-interests. And even if you came up with, say, some amazing drug, you'd need a fortune and ten  years to bring it to market. I used to work for a biotech company in regulatory affairs. To get FDA approval, it takes ten years and three truckloads of data, I swear."

"No wonder drugs cost so much."

"Susan, I'm talking about something simple, something under-the-radar, something all those geniuses from Stanford and Harvard wouldn't touch. You want a business where the competitors aren't that smart or hard-working. Like a business installing real estate sign posts or cleaning windows."

"You expect me climb up to the 44th floor of buildings with a squeegee?"

"You'd hire kids to do that. You'd do the sales and marketing. And the books--now that you know Excel and Quickbooks."

"What, I'm going to tell my family and friends I clean windows?"

"Susan, status is the enemy of contentment. You can quote me on that. Millions of executives, doctors, and lawyers, especially lawyers, work 12 hours a day, finally get home totally stressed out and collapse in their 3,000-square foot house getting loaded every night. Many people who run simpler businesses don't have that."

"But can you make money?"

"Well, take for example, a shoeshine stand in Seattle's financial district, at a hotel, or at the airport. It costs almost nothing to start. Profit margin's amazing. The only product with a higher margin is cocaine."

"You can't make a middle class living with a shoeshine stand."

"Maybe, maybe not. But you sure can net at least $20,000 a year. Then you simply clone it. You work in the first stand until you've learned the business. Then you hire a trustworthy friend to work there--pay them fairly, with profit sharing--and you open another one. Five locations and you're making six figures."

"I still can't see myself running a shoeshine stand."

"What could you see yourself running?"

"I dunno, maybe a cafe or something."

"Susan, there's a cafe under every rock in Seattle, even here in Sage River."

"What if it had something special to bring people in, keep people there."

"Like entertainment?"

"Maybe. At nights, maybe poetry readings, folk guitar, light jazz, comedy. And during the day, let me think..."

"You're doing great, Susan."

"Hey wait a minute. When David and I went on our honeymoon to Switzerland, there was a cafe called The Community Cafe. And in the window was a blackboard: Anyone could sign up to lead a one-hour discussion on whatever topic. We went back three times: Once they were talking about immigration, the next time Swiss banking secrecy, the next time whether they should rescind  legalization of drugs. Every time we were there, it was packed."

Ben added, "In America, we could call it the Town Hall Meeting Cafe."

"Town Hall Meeting Cafe."  Hmm.

"Susan, let's do it together."


"Really, Susan. I'll do all the tech stuff, you bake and do the people stuff: serve, make people feel welcome. Hey, now that you know Excel and Quicken, you can even be the bookkeeper!"

"With help...Ben, this is crazy! It costs a lot of money to start a cafe. I inherited some money from David but I can't afford to lose that."

Ben was on fire: "Like I said, there are a zillion cafes. Too many. Lots of them go out of business and we could buy a cafe, fully outfitted, for a song--You could contribute eight bars. And for the rest, we could get credit cards that are zero interest for the first year. After a year, we'll have good cash flow and can pay off the credit cards without paying a dime of interest."

"We couldn't get that much in credit cards."

"If we need more money, wouldn't your parents invest a little? And how about that rich friend you told me thought you were great?"

"Ben, this is crazy!"

"Let's sleep on it."

And they did...together, for the first time.

And when they awoke, in each others' arms, they were more committed than ever: to the Town Hall Meeting Cafe...and to each other.

The next episode is HERE.

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