Doyle's Fish & Hicky Bar


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Of Being Guest Bartender....

     Had a very unusual opportunity the other night.    My long time friend Dawn, owner of Jones Road Icehouse asked if I would like to be a guest bartender.   This request was confirmed by her partner Will.
     Now, you are thinking.....he must have been a bartender before.....NO, I have never been a bartender.    However, I have made a lot of noise about  taking care of her place and maybe stepping in whenever they need a night off.  I took an online course to get my TABC license.     The course itself is eye opening.   I never knew a bartender had to count every drink by every patron and guesstimate when they have had enough based on the patron's weight.
     As a lot of your know, business can be unrelenting and it's great to be able to take a day off occasionally.  I agreed to do it and we set a date.   Plus I wanted to experience it.   I have a great interest in other unrelated businesses and how they work.
     I waited with nerves on edge.   I surprised myself at the way it all felt.    The day came and I rushed to get there at the promised hour.    Lots of old timers at the bar and with good cheer they welcomed me as a brand new bartender.
     Will showed me where each beer was.    Several big coolers and a couple of refrigerators, cups, ashtrays, paper towels, how the register worked, how to take a debit card.....finally, the location of Red Bull.  
     A customer held his Bud Light up in the air, I ran over, grabbed one out of the cooler, popped the top, and served it.
     I was a a bartender!
     Only problem was I served a Coors Lite instead of a Bud Light.   I offered to pay for it and Will wouldn't let me.   I was embarrassed and determined to not make that mistake twice.  Though they didn't say anything I was also determined to not drink on duty.
     I slowly began to absorb the awareness of the bar.   A patron at the end of the bar is staring at me.   I hold up a  beer and he shakes his head yes.    Another customer, wiggles his bottle, I show up with one and he takes it.    A third takes his bottle out of its koozie and places the empty on the counter.   I exchange it.   I watch a guy drain the last bit from his bottle, I'm there with a new one.
     So many little signs, happening all at once.   Plus I was still hunting beer in the coolers.   I didn't realize they had so many kinds.
     Then I got a lesson on how to serve beer properly.   I was to rub the neck down with lime, then apply salt liberally, and stuff the lime into the bottle just so.   I learned and quickly.   I certainly didn't want to be a liability for the owners.  
     Backing up a bit.    Why is this work remarkable?   And why is it remarkable for me?
     I own an internet retail company that sells unusual closeouts, large plastic fish, aluminum can crushers, pails and buckets of all sizes, horseshoes for crafting,  western decor, gothic fleur de lys decor, and lots of ashtrays.  DC Mach Inc.   We also manufacture various items in the USA and right in our shop.    Plus I find  many other things  in shows that I travel to far and wide.  My company is small but we still do a mil a year in gross sales.   We are importers, artists/sculptors, and inventors, and me and my staff consider ourselves second cousins to Einstein with genetic ties to Neanderthals.   Meaning that we believe in flashes of genius followed up with brute muscle.   Our motto is "No Boundaries."
     I can back up further.   I owned an automotive mechanic shop for 25 years and was an ASE certified technician specializing in mobile air conditioning.  During that time I was also a steel sculptor for hire and made and sold artworks for several years.   I still have a couple things I simply couldn't part with.  I donated one work in my brother's memory to the Omega House in Houston and it may still be on there.  My work was also recorded by Home and Garden Television several years ago.   A show called That's Clever.
    Plus, I was a musician and songwriter, playing locally in small clubs downtown.  I was kind of found at an open mic at Anderson Fair.   I was fortunate enough to make two albums, be included on some compilation albums by Waterbug Records, have my songs recorded by several artists, and finally to be included in the Smithsonian Museum's Folkways Collection in the Americana category.   I sang at the Townes Van Zandt memorial in Houston, TX  and  I  helped produce two albums by  Doug Clark and Elva Jones.
     Before this I worked in the oilfield as an equipment salesman,  am a father of two fine children (now grown with their own families), and before that I sold musical instruments.   Mainly guitars.   I had come from musical theatre and was tired of starving.   I worked two years professionally (for money) and was in a great many shows in college and out.    I did two seasons with  "Texas" in Palo Duro Canyon. (I recently revisited that artform by playing the male lead in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, where I played Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.)    I was on the first soccer team ever for West Texas State, now West Texas AM.    Didn't even get a jersey for that effort.   I was also a day manager at a Pizza Hut in Canyon, TX  for awhile.   I was hell on dough and pasta.   In college I was a male model for the art classes, one of the first male dancers ever for the Kilgore Rangerettes,  taught guitar, worked at a movie as a projectionist,  a practice dummy for girls table tennis team, sold handmade jewelry,  and would write papers for anybody for $1 a page.  
     So, after all that, at this late date, why on earth do I want to be a bartender?

     When you work for yourself you tend to be careful who you let close to you.   Most people have an agenda.   They want something.   They want a favor, to borrow something, to bounce something off you, to see your technique, to check your insurance, your long distance plan, your vendors,  what kind of car you own, what color bank card you carry and by the way just how much  do you got in the bank...........?
     You find that you have a tendency to stiff arm everybody out of the way and say NO to everything, step back from every entreaty, and look through guarded eyes at every offer.    I cringe inwardly every time I hear the phrase,"Can you do me a favor?"
     Truthfully, I get harder and meaner about it if I'm not careful.  One reason is a lot of people don't want advice or friendship but they do want to take my time and distract me from what I need to do.   Maybe they simply want what I have.   I have to remind myself  not everyone is a thief and I would rather err on the side of charity.          But that is another story....
     That's why my being a bartender is so therapeutic.    For once, in my day, I have to care about and look after everybody within my range down to the smallest detail, and let them within my comfort zone.   Actually, I have to throw my zone away and deal totally with theirs.   Their needs before mine.
     It's amazing to me, that when I am only interested in taking care of others comforts, my issues cease for a moment.   It's like they can't exist on the same plane of existence.   I let mine go and dwell on my customers.   I am at their beck and call.    I serve.             

     Somehow it's healing and freeing.

     At the end of the night I wiped off the bar, loaded extra beer in the coolers, and walked out from behind the counter feeling like I honestly cared about the customer.   It was somehow personal by then.   I was surprised and a little embarrassed when they paid me for my shift.
I felt like I should have paid them.   They could call it "Dawn's Day Spa for Busy Executives"
     I think I may need another session soon--before she  really does start charging for it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Business: The Monster of Risk

     As the owner of  DC Mach Inc. I tend to run into a lot of people who want their own business.   They want the perceived goods.   The money.   To be the boss.   To have the final say, the big stick. They want freedom.

     But, I guess you've heard - freedom ain't free.   To the new business owner I offer some advice concerning risk.
     Business is a constant reminder that everything costs either money or labor and it's not the obvious things that will kill you.  It's the unknown monster that eats up both.  

     I'm assuming we all know what costs are involved in our businesses.  Buy a widget wholesale then mark it up to retail.  That cost is pretty easy to figure.  Then you have rent, utilities, wages, taxes, advertising, etc.  All relatively simple costs to tabulate. These are easily known.
     But wait,  now you have to factor some sort of cost figure for risk.   This is hard to do.   You have to guess what could happen to trip you up.   A fire?  Storm?   Market collapse?  Loss of key employee or distributorship?   We all have varying levels of risk tolerance.   I have never been able to tolerate huge risks.   So I take lots of small ones.   I would rather fight small monsters with a rock and a stick than giant monsters with a cannon. 
       It seems to me that my business has been a series of baby steps because of those unknown monstrosities.   I admit, I don't know if this is the best way to go or not.    Those baby steps may be why I'm not the next Bill Gates.   I don't know if he took baby steps but I like to imagine he did.   In my case it was a way to handle risk.  I mean, why stick your head out during a hail storm when you can stick out a finger.   In a worse case, like a really big bowling ball size chunk of falling hail, which part of yourself would you rather lose?   At least I would be alive to try another day.   I mean, I would have  9 fingers left.  I honestly expect wisdom to cost me something so winding up with only 9 fingers is acceptable.
     But what about those circumstances you can't plan for?   The ones that stick their heads up like a tyrannosaurus rex over the trees tops.   He sees you.   You can fight, hide, or run.    All three decisions could be the right one.
      If you don't remember any more than this, please remember you will always be at risk and something will always be threatening you.   When you own your own business the T Rex shows up when you least expect it..     You simply can't begin to foresee all the monsters that will threaten you.
       I was once sued by a county law firm for not paying property taxes on the property NEXT door.    It wasn't my property and never had been.   However, they didn't care and only wanted payment.   They filed a lien on the property I was currently on.   My taxes were paid up.    I had to secure a lawyer as they really wouldn't talk to me and the court date was approaching.     We settled it through him and they disappeared leaving me feeling fully justified in thinking monsters really are out to get me!
     Another time we lost our water.    It simply went off.    We called the water company and got an answering machine.   Seven days later, innumerable phone calls, walking every inch of our property and the adjacent property, we found an old house that a man was repairing.    He found a valve up under his house and had simply turned it off.   Not knowing it was the main line to our building.    The water company didn't know this either.   Being devoid of water for a week meant bathroom usage was questionable.    We had to haul water in 5 gal buckets from the ditch out at the street to flush the commodes in the building.
     One morning I came onto the property and only one of my working dogs came to the gate.   I keep dogs mainly to just bark a lot.    I believe they have been the primary reason I haven't been broken into over the years.   The only insurance I've ever had that greeted me at the gate and I truly loved.
     I looked around and figured he must have dug out somewhere and hopefully somebody would call me to come get him.   All my dogs are tagged.    One of my employees said he found him underneath a shipping container.    Somehow this german shepherd had gotten frightened during a night time rainstorm and decided to seek shelter under a 20' steel container.    He had dug under it until he was stuck midway.   He couldn't back up or turn around.     We got a couple shovels and started tunneling under the middle of the structure.   We dug down about 2 feet and then under about 4 feet till I had to dig basically with my hands since I was afraid I would hurt the dog with the shovel blade.    We also jacked the container up with a car jack just enough to accomplish all this.   We finished about noon and my dog Jake scrabbled out covered in mud and shaking.   Needless to say he was delighted to see us and promptly went to sleep under my desk in the office.
     My point with these stories is they have NOTHING to do with the normal course of business.    They are the monsters of risk that just inexplicably show up.    All teeth and roaring.    You can't ignore them as they may do away with you.   So how can you prepare for things like this? 
     If you are expecting a hard and fast answer, well, I don't have it.   Insurance helps.  A wealthy family to go crying to would work also.    But I mainly keep a cash back up.    I've found that when things go wrong, really wrong, and you need money, it's very hard to come by.    I stopped letting myself get to that point.   A banker who wouldn't loan me a dime taught me this.
     This may not be the best way to do things.   I mean, it really may be the hard way.    That's the way I learned this much of it.   Hopefully you reading this will prepare you a bit for the tough days ahead.
     Make no mistake.   The owners of that abandoned building you are looking at  or that closeout you seek to buy was visited by the very monsters I'm speaking of.