It’s a Tuesday night in November. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot going on in Milwaukee. Luckily, there is always a friend to be found at the Pfister. It’s dinnertime, so I pop into Mason Street Grill. A lone man drinking martinis – this must be the traveling businessman.
David Howard is on the road Monday-Friday almost every week selling natural beverages. Reed’s brand ginger beer is the flagship product. “No way, that’s one of my favorites!” I blurt out. He hates being away from his two little kids, but he tries not to focus on it. He pulls out his smartphone to brag, and rightfully so. Two pairs of enormous brown eyes stare back at me from the screen and I gush.
Originally from Detroit, David really likes Milwaukee and passes through a few times a year. This trip he is pushing Kambucha, that funny fermented drink that is taking health food stores by storm. He’s thinking of snow crab tonight. And about the great massage he just got at the Well Spa. Those are comforts a man deserves for a week away from family.
He puts a piece of shrimp on a bread plate and nudged it my way. “You must be Italian,” I say “Well, Israeli” he replied. “Oh yeah, we Mediterraneans love to share food. I come from a long line of food pushers,” I admit. We both crack up at the truth of that statement and reflect on our own families.
David is eager to hit the town and begins grilling me when I tell him I work for a radio station. I give him some suggestions for live music on the East Side and I am on my way. I didn’t want to bother David for a photograph so I am going to plug for his delicious Reed’s Ginger Beer, which aside from its healthful properties, is fantastic mixed with rum or whiskey.
On my way out, I stopped by the lobby bar and a traveling salesman of a whole different caliber stops me in my tracks.
“Oh hi, I saw you earlier. Yes, yes, it was you sitting over there, right? May I join you at the bar?” He didn’t even stop to take a breath and before I had time to respond, he was moving his things to the seat next to me.
Bayard offers me a handshake and a sip from his hearty glass of cognac. One sniff and I feel lightheaded. He drinks it with a side of tea, something I have never seen before.
Bayard sells insurance. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls is one of his big clients so he likes to visit The Pfister when he’s in town. We talk about the opulence of the space and my role as the narrator.”Everyone is a storyteller,” he insists, which certainly is true.
From Conneticut, but born in Beirut, Bayard has a lot of stories to tell. I learn about how his great-great grandfather founded the American University of Beruit in 1861. As his family history unfolds, he peppers it with words in Arabic and brags about how he can haggle with taxi drivers like a true Arab. His family continues to support work in the Middle East, but they are all back here in there states.
As the evening winds down, I bid Bayard adieu and he urges me to keep on telling stories. “It must,” I smirk, “You too – we are all storytellers, right?”