I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area a little while back for an Army-required conference I had to attend. When I go on TDY (which stands for Temporary Duty), I try to check out places I normally wouldn’t go to. I asked around for suggestions, and a barista at a coffee shop told me to check out the Silver Fox.
I went for dinner, after nearly escaping a car crash with an incoming semi truck because I had accidently made a turn into a one-way street, and I checked at the counter. I was wearing a black pair of jeans and a grey and black hoodie, and this place had table cloths and leather chairs. I asked the host if I was okay dressed like this, and he told me no problem.
“Booth or a table?” he asked.
I told him I’d take a table, until I saw the bar. Elegant. Large. Cozy. And they would probably have a nice selection of Scotch.
So I told him I’d take the bar instead. I asked the bar tender for a menu and asked about their Scotch selection. So she gave me two menus. One for the food and one for the adult beverages.
Scotch servings started at 12 dollars, and they had 1 oz servings of some fine bands that sold for 60 dollars a glass. 60 dollars? I could buy a whole bottle of Glefiddich for that price. So I ordered a glass of something on the cheaper side, a brand I most likely mispronounced but tried to fake well.
The dinner was quiet. The bread was warm and fantastic, and it came with a slab of butter on the side that looked like it sliced by a playdough machine. But I didn’t care. I often judge a restaurant solely by their bread, and this was warm and bought locally.
At the other end of the bar sat a man in his forties. Mustache. Hair down to his ears. Wore a casual button-up loose at the collar.
I was in the mood for a friendly conversation, so I asked him what he was drinking. It was a red glass of wine that could have been a Merlot or a Cabarnet or… I can’t remember.
Didn’t think much about this stranger as he was getting ready to pay for his steak and wine and the bartender casually said, “Good luck with your movie.”
Well. That was interesting.
As it turned out, he was the owner of a movie production company. He’d just returned from D.C. and his team was in the post-production phaze of Dragon Day, about China taking over the U.S. because we forgot to pay the utility bill.
When the guy told me who he was, I felt a moment of slight intimidation. What do I have to offer to the conversation? But then, internally, I said, “What the heck. Talk to the guy. He’s probably got some really interesting things to say.”
The conversation was very casual. Genuine. Honest.
I told him a little about myself, my writing, my work as a photographer, and he didn’t act bothered or above me.
Actually, a couple of years ago, I’d run into another movie producer, also at a bar, but this time it was in San Jose, California. That experience had been different. That movie producer acted as though he either needed to be impressed by everything you said, or, otherwise, it would be his job to impress you.
At one point in that conversation (the San Jose one), the movie producer said, “You’re trying too hard. You’re pitching me all wrong.”
Pitching you? I thought we were just talking.
But with this guy, in Texas, it wasn’t like that. We were just talking. I told him about my short story collection, “Amidst Traffic,” and he told me a little about the process of making and marketing a movie. We talked about business. I hinted at some of my early frustrations of promiting and selling “Amidst Traffic” to a wide readership.
In return, he told me that only 7 percent of small businesses succeed. And the reason they succeed is that they learn to fail quickly and fail cheaply. Then make micro adjustments along the way until they’ve finally eyed out their targets, and then they go all in. You can’t go all in from the start.
That rung true with myself. I had spent too much money on promoting “Amidst Traffic” without first learning the market and the proper tactics of promoting a book. I’ve done well, enough, sure, by getting local media exposure and positive reviews from various independent agencies and readers, but I probably could have accomplished the same exact thing by spending half of what I did in marketing and promoting.
Fail quickly and fail cheaply.
At a point, I showed him the cover of my book on my Nexus 7 Tablet, which I had with me because I’d spent the whole afternoon reading. And he seemed genuinely pleased by it.
By the end, we shook hands and we exchanged business cards.
I’ll remember to sit at the bar more often from now on.
What about you?
Ever had an interesting conversation with a stranger at the bar?