indy rock.

My first big appointment was in Indianapolis.

We had a customer there, and each year they had a vendor fair that they based around the Indy 500 time trials.  They’d fly in all their vendors, put them up in a hotel, and then have a party at a suite that they owned at the Speedway.  The vendors would have an opportunity to meet with the buyers and present any new products, and then they’d finish the week with a tour of the pit area.

I was going to present my product line to them.

The flight from Newark to Indianapolis was short.  Just over an hour, I think.  Dosed up on xanax, I had a limo pick me up at my house (I’d taken to having a limo take me to the airport during my trips, as leaving my car in the long-term parking lot was a pain in the ass, and made it clear to any potential burglars that the man of the house was gone for days on end).  It dropped me off at the terminal, where I checked my bags and walked to the gate to meet my flight, just slightly on edge.

From there, I stuck to my normal formula: wait for the boarding call, then just stand there.  They’d go through all their boarding calls, and everyone would get on the plane.  They’d all wait in the jetway like cattle, slowly edging forward until they got on the plane.  Then, they’d squeeze down the aisle of the plane to their seats, bumping up against people who were trying to get comfortable, trying to stow their carry-ons in the overhead compartments, trying to get their magazines or notebook computers situated so that they’d have all their stuff ready for the flight.

Once they announced the final boarding call, I’d wait for everyone else in the terminal to get up and go into the jetway.  Then, I’d go.  I’d walk right into the jetway, right onto the plane, right down the aisle and right into my seat.  No waiting.  No jostling.  No lines.

And that’s what I did here, too.

Except then I sat.  And sat.  And sat.  The guy next to me actually fell asleep.  It was May, so it was hot on the plane – there was no air circulating in the fuselage, so I was sweating and the air was very stuffy.  The flight attendants tried to make us feel better by feeding us all free drinks, but that didn’t help – they were tiny airplane bottles of Pepsi in plastic cups with those little, cylindrical ice cubes that melted so quickly that your soda was water in minutes.

After the first hour I started getting cranky, and my xanax was wearing off.  Pretty soon, the fear began to settle in: my stomach knotted, and all the muscles in my back began to tense.  I started thinking about the ascent, and about that point where the plane is traveling too quickly to do anything but actually take off – and if something happened to be wrong, it was just too bad.

Why were we being so delayed? It was as if we were trapped in this tiny metal tube, with no air flow, just sitting there, waiting to die in a crash.  I was freaking out.

I got up to visit the john and splash some water on my face, and on my way back, I glanced over the shoulder of a guy who was reading the newspaper.  The headline of the story he was reading said It’s Not Too Late To Turn Back.

It was an omen.  I just knew it.

When you’ve got a completely irrational fear that you know is completely irrational, you constantly wrestle with yourself to contain it.  You don’t want to give in to it.  And so I sat there in my seat, scared shitless, refusing to do anything.  And finally, after nearly two hours, the aircraft pulled away from the jetway and the door closed.

And then the plane stopped again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking,” came the disembodied voice over the intercom.  “We apologize for the delay.  In a few minutes we’ll be taxiing toward the runway, but there’s a pretty significant backup there as well.  We’re currently 25th in line for takeoff, so it will be at least another hour before we’re in the air.  Thanks for your patience.”

Nope.  Sorry.  I had to get off the plane.

I buzzed the flight attendant, and a nice woman came over.

“I’m really sorry to do this to you,” I explained, “But I have to get off the plane.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean I have to get off.  I’m having a panic attack.  I’ve been here for two hours, and can’t sit here for a third.  I’m claustrophobic.”

I totally made up that claustrophobic part, but it seemed to work.  “Let me go talk to the pilot,” she said.  And she turned away.

A minute or so later, I felt the plane moving back toward the jetway.  The flight attendant came back and said “Okay, we’re going to let you off the plane.  Airport security will greet you at the jetway.  They’ll want to interview you.”

“Interview me?!” I asked, incredulously.

“Interview you, yes.”

“Airport security?  Why?”

“Because your luggage is still on the plane,” she explained, matter-of-factly.

Holy fuck, I thought.  They want to make sure I’m not a terrorist.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain again,” came the disembodied voice. “We’ve got a passenger that has asked us to let him off the aircraft, as he’s not feeling well.  Since it’s our goal to ensure complete customer satisfaction, we’ve decided that it’ll be best for everyone if we let him off the plane.  We’ll be pulling back to the gate in just a minute, and then we’ll be on our way.”

Oh, boy, this was embarrassing.

The plane pulled back and the door eventually opened.  I got up and sheepishly grabbed my bag out of the overhead bin and walked down the aisle.  Thankfully, I sat in the front of the plane, so I didn’t have many rows of people to walk past.

And sure enough, there were a couple of airport people waiting for me as soon as I got off the plane.

“Hello there,” one of them said.

“Look, I’m really, really sorry,” I said.  “I was kind of freaking out.”

“You have claustrophobia?” one of them asked.

“I’ve never had that happen before,” I said.  “We were sitting on the plane for two hours.  It was stuffy and hot.  I’m sweating.  The pilot came on the intercom and said it was going to be another hour before we were in the air.  I started to panic.  I’m sorry.”

“Do you have claustrophobia?” he asked again.

“I don’t know what you call it,” I said.  “Look, I didn’t mean to cause any problems.  I just want to get on another plane.  I was going to get off and rent a car, but I’m realizing that if I do that, I’ll never fly again.  I have to fly a lot for work.”

“You fly a lot?” one of the suits asked.

“All the time.  I’m here every couple of weeks.”

“Has this ever happened before?” he asked.

“Look, I’m afraid to fly,” I explained.  “Lots of people are afraid to fly.  I have to fly a lot for business.  I have a routine that I do, to make it easier for me.  The plane was stuck for two hours on the tarmac.  It messed up my routine and I started freaking out.  I’ve never really, actually freaked out before, and I didn’t know what to do.  So I buzzed the attendant and asked her to let me off the plane.”

“You’ve never had this happen before?”

No,” I said forcefully.

They let me go.  I heard them closing up the door as I walked toward the gate.

Turned out that there was another flight scheduled to go to Indianapolis.  Initially it was scheduled to take off nearly four hours after the one I was originally on, but due to the delays, that flight was almost ready to board.  Back in those days, you could switch from one flight to another just by paying a $50 fee.  So I paid the fee, got my ticket, ran to the gate, and got right back on the next flight.

That flight took off and landed right on time, with no problems.  Smooth as shit through a goose, as they say.

And when the plane touched down, I got right off the plane and made my way to the baggage claim.

Turned out that the baggage carousel that my flight was using was the same one as the other flight – the one that I was initially on.  That flight had just begun unloading its baggage.

Right next to me, waiting for our bags, was a guy from the other flight.  He had met someone in Indianapolis, and as I stood there, the guy recounted the flight for his Hoosier friend.

“First we were trapped on the tarmac for two hours.  Then, finally, we pull away and start moving, and then some asshole decides he needs to get off the plane.”

I looked at the ground and turned my shoulder, so he couldn’t see me.  I grabbed my bag and left as quickly – and quietly – as possible.

The trip itself was productive.  I introduced the product line to the client, and they really liked it.  They told me that if I could give them pricing when I returned to the office, and the pricing was lower than their current vendor, they’d buy from us.  It was approximately $3 million in product a year.

$3 million.  That was a 15% increase in sales for my company, all with one customer.  A very valuable panic attack.

When I got back to the office, I worked up pricing that I knew would work (I knew everyone’s pricing in the industry at that point).  I brought it into Fred’s office and started to take him through it.

“What are they paying now?” he asked.

“Well, I know who they’re buying from, and I know what their best program is, so this is the lowest they can possibly be paying.  We can come in a few points lower than that, and we’ll still be very profitable.”

“I asked you what they’re paying now.”

“It doesn’t matter what they’re paying now,” I said.  “What matters is that I can get the business, and do it profitably.”

“Bear with me,” he said.

He totally used the expression “Bear with me” all the time, and he used it completely wrong.  “Bear with me,” to Fred, meant “shut the fuck up and listen to what I’m saying.”  Sometimes it also meant “You don’t know what you’re talking about, so listen to me.”  Other times it meant “You are wrong.”  It never meant “Be patient while I get to my point.”

“Bear with you what?” I asked.

“Bear with me,” he said.  “I’m telling you that you can’t just hand them pricing if you don’t know what they’re already paying?”

“Why not?” I asked.  “I know what price point we need to be at if we want the business, and I know what price point we can sell the products at and still be profitable.  I’ve already reviewed all our different programs with you.  You’ve already approved the deepest discounts.  This is not the deepest discount we’ll be offering.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to go get this business right now.  We can have this done by the end of the day.”

“I’m going to tell you this one more time, Al,” he said.  “We’re not going to them until I know the price they are currently paying.”

“And I’m telling you that they’ll never give that to me,” I explained. “That’s not how the retail business works.”

“And what if we leave fifty cents a battery on the table?” he asked.

“Fifty cents?” I yelled. “I’m putting a three million dollar deal in your lap and you’re worried about fifty cents?  I flew all the way to fucking Indianapolis and you’re worried about fifity cents?”

“Damn right I am,” he yelled back.  “You don’t get where I am in life by not asking the tough questions.”

“Fine,” I said.  “I’ll ask them for their pricing.  They’re going to say no.”

“And if they say no, we just won’t do business with them.”

I went back to my office and called them, and asked them for their pricing.  They wouldn’t give it to me.  And because they wouldn’t, Fred refused to do business with them.

And if it sounds like my company deliberately walked away from a three million dollar deal for no logical reason, well, that’s exactly what happened.

~ by Al on November 5, 2009.

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