A Business Venture
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When I decided to open my own business, my advisors -- all men -- suggested I attend a meeting for minorities. Being the smart would-be businesswoman, I checked into it and discovered just such a meeting would take place at a local hotel the very next day. They applauded my enthusiasm and sent me on my way.

Without hesitation, I left my husband and kids to fend for themselves and dressed for the occasion. Halfway there, I realized I'd forgotten the room number. However, I wasn't about to let something as minute as that waylay me from my task. After all, this particular meeting was held regularly, surely someone at Howard Johnson's would be informed. Unfortunately, the hotel attendants were clueless.

Not one to be easily swayed from my mission, I click-clacked up and down the halls. Rooms, rooms everywhere, but not a meeting to be found. That's when it hit me. I wasn't the only one trotting up and down the halls. Surely others searched for the same meeting.

  
 
I watched several women in three-piece suits and briefcases head down a corridor I had just passed up and several African-American individuals as they wound their way down another hall. I debated asking if anyone was headed to a minority's meeting, but after mulling it around in my head, decided instead on a diplomatic approach. I waited until they'd disappeared down the hall then quickly tiptoed after them, clinging to the walls in true spy fashion.

Glancing up through a veil of lashes, I watched as a handsome African-American man entered a room to the right. Before I could make my move, a phone rang in the corridor and I stiffened, embarrassed as a woman's rapid heels clicked from behind. The third ring was silenced as a tall, short-haired women with a black leather briefcase snatched a tiny cell phone from her satchel and held it to her ear.

Her rat-a-tat-tat heels stopped, and with arms akimbo, she gasped. "What? I told him I would. Yes. I'll be at the meeting." With an exaggerated sigh she snapped. "Give me a break, would you? Tell him whatever you want. I'll be there when I get there!" And without further ado, she slapped her cell shut and resumed her hurried strut, disappearing into a room on the opposite side of the hall.

Obviously she was going to a meeting. It could be my meeting. I watched as she sashayed down the hall and decided the African-American gentleman was perhaps a tad bit more approachable. I reached his door in five seconds. Holding my breath, I raised my hand to knock, but the sound of running water reached me through the door. The shower? I couldn't knock if he was in the shower. I pressed my ear against the door. Yup. Faint splashing sounds. Hmmm... not quite the shower. I squeezed my eyes closed and listened intently. The faucet? Suddenly my face burned. The unmistakable sound, similar to that of water falling off a high waterfall and into a deep pond, was none other than the sound of a man going to the toilet!

I stepped back quickly. Alas, not quickly enough.

As soon as my ears were clear of the door, I heard another immediately recognizable sound... the ice machine. Sure enough, a woman stood at the ice machine in an alcove a couple of yards away. A look of total disdain -- credit that to my poor attempt at transforming myself into James Bond's assistant -- complimented her pink fuzzy robe and matching slippers.

She eyed me speculatively. "You lost?"

I was so embarrassed, I couldn't look her in the eye. That was bad, made me look suspicious. Despite the fact that my smile was fake and my best shot at being inconspicuous had failed, I took a deep breath and moved a couple of steps forward. Wrong move. Armed with a bucketful of ice and the knowledge that I did not belong in her hotel, the women morphed into GI Jane and whirled to face me, an ice pick pointed straight at my heart.

I stopped, backed up with my hands in the air. "Sor-ree, lady! I was just late for a meeting," I answered with as much conviction as I could muster. I suspected it was the type of line a well-to-do businesswoman would use all the time. I hurriedly did an about-face, righted myself as one underdeveloped calf muscle buckled, and vacated the east wing like a timid mouse racing from the pussycat's mouth.

What was I doing here, anyway?

I certainly wasn't ready for this stage in the game, was I? I wanted to open an old-fashioned ice cream shop, and I wanted to be able to do it on my own, but this bordered on ridiculous.

I walked back toward the front desk, picturing the safety of my mud-splattered minivan. My escape from the world of businesspeople and minorities who want to open small businesses was almost upon me when another thought flashed through my porous brain.

Actually, an unwanted voice hummed one little word inside my head. The magnitude of that one word hurt my ears as badly as nails scraped across a chalkboard.

Loser.

Just so the voice wasn't right, I decided I would ask the next 'minority-looking individual' I saw if he or she knew anything about this fictitious meeting. Satisfied I'd done all I could, I walked down the first corridor, stepped aside as several children raced by in wet bathing suits, and finally rounded the last corner to the lobby.

The end was in sight, my escape before me... almost. For at just that moment, an elderly gentleman of Asian descent materialized between the double doors. He stood between me and freedom.

I sighed, tightened my resolve and shoved my long red hair over one shoulder. Leaning forward, I offered him my hand and my most pleasant smile. "Are you here, by chance, for the Minorities Meeting?"

The gentleman stopped and looked around the lobby as if wondering himself where all the other minorities had gathered, or perhaps why there wasn't a sign announcing the room number. Turning back to me, he lowered his glasses and gave me an up-and-down appraisal, then took my hand and squeezed it gently. His face lit up, a smile curved his lips, and in slow motion his hand delved into his pocket, his eyes never leaving my face. In one second flat he was waving a keycard and uttering something akin to "Yes!" in Chinese.

No, I don't know Chinese, but I could tell he was elated. He was just as excited as I at having finally found another minority.

"I'm so glad you showed up -- I was just getting ready to leave," I exclaimed. "This is my first meeting, and I have to admit I was starting to lose my nerve. I didn't know where I was supposed to go, who I was supposed to see... I've been wandering the halls for the past half hour."

Having lost much of my nervousness now that I was on the right track, I waved toward the first hallway. "Lead the way." His smile widened, and he quickly moved toward the hallway.

Like an anxious puppy on a leash, I scampered along behind him. Periodically, he turned and flashed me a mouthful of white teeth. In the second corridor, he stopped, read the number on his keycard and pointed excitedly toward a door. He looked at me over the rim of his dark-framed glasses and smiled, handing the card to me and motioning for me to go ahead of him. Thinking it was a cultural thing -- maybe only women open doors in China? -- I accepted the card from his outstretched hand. The door opened with the first swipe.

You can image my surprise when I turned and discovered my would-be rescuer setting his satchel down on the double bed! Where was everyone else? I looked from the bed to his big, inviting smile, and something very much like a huge elbow to the cerebellum hit me. He motioned toward the bed, nodding vigorously as he quickly slid out of his suit coat and began to tug at his belt.

My mouth dropped open like a trap door and I stood there, too stunned to speak, too stupid to move.

He mouthed more foreign words as one hand moved in slow, circular motions in the universal sign for 'come in' and his other hand moved to his zipper. His smile was permanent. He wanted me to come inside, and the reason was painfully clear beneath said zipper.

The heat rose to my face in waves.

Without conscious thought, I bowed, mimicking what I'd seen people of Chinese descent do on TV, then waved my hands out in either direction addressing the room. "Hope you enjoy your stay with us, Sir," I squawked and hightailed it down the hall.

Less than two minutes later, I sat in my minivan, its doors locked against any possible intruders, and cursed my ignorance. I cursed my advisors for letting me go alone. I cursed the fact that I didn't know Chinese. I cursed the fact that this kind of misunderstanding could still occur, and then I stopped cursing and started the van.

I drove to the nearest fast food restaurant and ordered a large Coke, flipped open the glove compartment for the Excedrin, and popped a couple pills in my mouth. Neither did anything positive for the shakes I was experiencing, but they did clear my head a bit, and I needed to rethink what had just happened.

Okay. I screwed up. Big time. But I had also learned an important lesson, and it was one of a business nature, so all was not lost. I realized I had several choices, something I hadn't been aware of prior to this evening. True, I could chastise myself for being a danger to both myself and others and agree that I certainly wasn't adept enough to run a business, or I could push forward, open my business, and acknowledge that if it failed there was one more moneymaking avenue still wide open. That decided, I took a deep breath, returned to the hotel parking lot, and climbed out of the van. With a resounding slam of the van door, I whirled on my heels and returned to the lobby equipped with enough courage and sharp objects to make my way through whatever dangers awaited.

By this time, thank God, someone had had the insight to set out signs.

Just for the record, the helpful Chinese gentleman -- and I use the term loosely -- was not in attendance.

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