Going Live…

I promised endless gushing about the Business Journal’s Book of Lists event, sovaldi and I will deliver. As I mentioned before, a number of things resonated for me in that transformed ballroom, but the importance of human interactions ranks highest.

In my professional and personal life, I spend my time managing a number of social media accounts and projects. I tell friends to email or text me because I hate talking on the phone. What’s worse, cheap something about the technology or the design leaves me completely unable to hear on a cell phone. By canceling my land line and relying solely on the device I can only manage when not using it as it was primarily intended, I’ve cut myself off from people. It’s not what I meant to do, but it is the sad result. I exist in bits and bytes…unless we’re face to face.

I am the embodiment of the cliché, “a people person.” For me, that means I talk to people in the elevator, I smile at strangers, I’ll tell you when there’s something in your teeth. I tell random people on the street or in the halls “I like your shoes” or “Blue is really your color!”

I have grown frustrated when people don’t get it or don’t like this innocuous attempt at interaction. I fear becoming like them. And, since I’ve begun this opportunity at the Pfister, it has completely renewed in me faith that most people can and do interact and a smile and hello is all it takes. In fact, I think the friendly, social people of the world are drawn to the hotel.

Circulating at this business function reminded me of how important this interaction is. Humans are social creatures, but we are spending our days managing Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0, watching for the ROI of our online ads while letting news find us and following resumes on LinkedIn and chasing relatives on Facebook. Sticking with clichés, if I had a nickel for every social media seminar or coaching class being offered…

At the Business Journal event, however, one truly crossed a bridge. Though it was beautiful décor, its metaphor wasn’t lost on me. There was a charm to capturing the Orient in the evening’s theme and the rich quality of a “time back when” and a “different era” seemed to envelop us. What’s more, businesses created engaging booths and interactive displays, as I was told “people don’t just walk up to your business display anymore, they have to be engaged.”

I saw people mingling and engaging booths; laughing and bumping into each other—literally—as we shared this beautiful space with other humans, not avatars. People enjoyed it. People were talking, laughing and sharing stories. In one group I talked to, we learned we were all musicians and joked about starting a band. It was a throw back to another time, where MeetUp was an action, not a website.

We think social media is dynamic because it grows and changes so fast and messages come at us at such high velocities. But it was clear at the Pfister that the paradox of business may be that mastering Facebook is necessary; and skillful face time is an ancient art.

Coordinating Careers with Confucius

My favorite movie of all time is Working Girl. I remember how charmed my mom was by Harrison Ford (especially the scene where he changes shirts in his office) and personally, I love the sage bits of wisdom that fall, in full Jersey accent, out of Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack’s mouths. This more than 20-year old movie has always been my guide and vision for the cutthroat world of business. I often toast, like Griffith does under her breath at a social function, “here’s to the little people” trying to get to the top.

I don’t go to the top that often at the Pfister. I’ve spent much of my time enjoying the crowds in the lobby. I read the register, I know of the many events and gatherings and galas happening on the floors above me, but I’ve found it more entertaining to wait downstairs and guess who’s attending which conference, which wedding, which retirement party.

 This week, however, I braved the world of the special event, Pfister style.

 I think I may never be the same.

This story will surely have to be told in parts, but which part to start with? The incredible attention to detail? The delectable food? A commentary on the crowd and how they behaved? Questions of economic recessions and making do and multi-tasking? Or, the very noticeable fact that men outnumbered women 2 to 1 (and that’s a generous statistic)?

But I haven’t even told you the theme yet, so all that is merely terrible foreshadowing…

I understand that Milwaukee’s Business Journal is the publication to see and be seen (in) if you’re in business in Milwaukee. I learned that quickly. What I didn’t realize, however, was that all the events, networking sessions and awards celebrations the Business Journal hosts are also fully planned and executed by their staff. As someone in journalism, I’m fascinated by the fact that a local publication has not only reporters, writers, editors and photographers, but also a platoon of event coordinators. (Of course, though they perform with the zest, energy and capabilities of a platoon, I was also shocked to learn this division in the magazine is merely three talented, super- human people).

The Asian-inspired event spared no detail. From the amazing dragon fruit that adorned the buffet tables to the signature “Dragon’s Breath” drinks distributed at the many bars within the space, the room embraced the spirit and mystery of Asian cultures.

The event was designed to honor businesses that had made the Journal’s Book of Lists. The Book of Lists provides information on leading buyers, businesses and employers in our area (and other markets as well) and a snapshot of local economies. It’s a Who’s Who of sorts for the I-want-a-corner-office set.

The buzz was amazing, the honorees and invitees were thrilled at the décor, the flavors, the scenes and the energy of the room. I watched networking in action and had to laugh when important conversations about Monday morning business breakfasts and new clients were punctuated by a roaming Confucius telling terribly bad puns shrouded as wisdom. (e.g. “Confucius say man who follows bus gets exhausted”)

Of course there’s more to tell, more to describe, but for now, I rest assured in telling you that Melanie Griffith was right, as was evidenced by the interactions at the Pfister this week, “fringe times are crucial.”

Everything Old is New Again

The Pfister Hotel is never the same place twice…and that’s the best part. Since I have been named the Narrator, I try to bring  different friends into the Pfister to sit and watch and enjoy with me.

There are different kinds of reactions. Some have known the hotel much longer than I (I am only just beginning my fourth year as a Milwaukeean) and their Milwaukee origin stories revolve around the hotel. “I remember we used to…” begin their narratives.

Others are related to the hotel through me. “What will you write about him? Oh! What about her? What’s his name, who have you met, can you give me a tour?”

But for me, my wonderment at each person’s reaction to the hotel is the lesson I’ve learned from strangers that I can now apply to my friends. I’ve become a good listener. I’ve realized many of the travelers and hotel guests I’ve met are more than ready to talk and each of them has the greatest tales to tell.

When I sit with friends, I find I shift my senses from sharing time with a companion I’ve known for a very long time to suddenly experiencing these people as full of unique stories of their own, many I haven’t learned yet.

Two different women friends came with me to two different after-work happy hours recently. My experience was dramatically different with each. The first could barely finish a story without yelping out, gasping and recognizing with joy the tune on the piano. At one point, she confessed she was ready to stand on the table and sing along. For her, the theatrics of the hotel drew out her experience, helped her enjoy the space and her evening. The lobby was her stage, the other guests were her co-stars and she was looking for cues to share with them.

The other woman was a professional at enjoying the lobby. She’d been to the hotel many times before and knew it long before I moved to town. It was comical to think I was showing her the Pfister when in truth the opposite was true.

The passersby and people watching didn’t suit her as much as the space itself. We walked past the amazing art collection which moved her—but not as much as the framed stories of the hotel’s early years and its transformations over time. The architecture, the uses, the pharmacy, the old nooks and crannies and questions of “are they still here?” propelled her through the Pfister. The bones of the place were the foundation of her experience.

In graduate school, I read about the politics and culture of space, studied how theorists turned space into this living, breathing concept that made meaning. I understood those theoretical concepts and reveled in them.

But as I bring friends to tea, to the couches, to the art and to the amazing Gardettos mix in the lobby bar, I don’t just theorize about space. When I bring locals to this place that they already know, but I share it with them for the first time, each person’s experience is a new way to rewrite the hotel. Each person’s reaction is a new way to bring the Pfister to life.  It’s no longer theory; it’s practice.

The Morse Twins on Proper Pfister Behavior

The Pfister is always in motion. One evening this week, order the lobby was punctuated by business travelers all in their black wool coats, deftly rolling their carry on luggage behind them like disobedient children as they purposefully walked to the desk to check in. Crossing past the late arrivals were those already nestled into the hotel returning to the lobby with laptops and papers in hand to sit among those clicking furiously on smart phones, seemingly conducting essential business transactions.

Amid all this dutiful work going on and the rhythm of arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby two little girls darted around oblivious to the mechanisms of work and travel, and even the grandeur of the hotel.

The Morse twins measured the space and their reason for being there quite differently and I think the lessons we learned watching them deserve repeating. What follows is what I’ve derived as the appropriate code of conduct for the Pfister Hotel on a weeknight in winter, as demonstrated by the beautiful young Morse twins.

 1)      The Pfister is a fancy hotel, so you should wear your best flip flops. The pink sparkly ones will do.

2)      Perhaps slightly more formal attire is also required; a tutu isn’t a must (if you have one, of course, wear it), but whatever dress or skirt you’ve donned should be pink.

3)      Skipping is required, otherwise why would the lobby arrange such a broad expanse of soft carpet with little furniture in the way?

4)      Skipping also allows for a healthy rise in competitive spirit and given that the lines in the carpet can serve as natural starting gates and finish lines, you should challenge your sister to a skip-off.

5)      When you recognize you’re losing the skip-off, just dance. Twirls are best, but running and wiggling also suffice.

6)      All competitions, dancing and skipping must be performed at full throttle and as if you’re the best in the world. Smiling with glee helps convince on-lookers that this is true.

7)      Don’t worry about falling or taking a tumble. First of all, the carpet is very soft; second, there are Barbie Band Aids available (the youngest twin finds them most fashionable when you earn one for each knee—they’re pink, they’ll match).

8)      Talk to strangers, especially when they ask you who the oldest of you twins are.  Be humble, it’s ok to say you’re the oldest, but lovely for you to mention your sister arrived second, but more quickly than you. It’s an excellent way to teach us all teamwork.

9)      Do not stop dancing or twirling just because someone is speaking to you; in fact, twirl harder so they can see your moves close up and express their approval.

10)   When in the pool, laugh and giggle loudly so you can hear your voice echo on the 23rd floor.

The finest way to recapture the joy you’re feeling and sharing with those around you is do your best to let it bounce off the walls.

Until we Decorate Again…

I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t taken my Christmas decorations down yet. I just can’t get enough of the holiday and have been a little blue to see the Pfister returned to its pre-holiday state. It is still gorgeous, health of course, sans tree, baubles and wreaths.  

I was there on one of the last days of holiday glamour and had to laugh at the mother whose little girl who had her mind dead set on touching the plaid scarf draped on the neck of one of the lions in the lobby. Watching the little one stretch as far as her toes would take her was almost as good as seeing her mother holding her breath and her hands back, letting the child try it on her own.

The thing about the post holiday lull in our lives is it’s sprinkled with the memories that came during the season. That’s what’s been happening at the Pfister. Families and friends who enjoyed the bedazzled hotel have taken out those moments again now that the hustle and bustle of “regular” life has resumed.

It might be my favorite part of technology and contemporary times that when the impulse strikes you—when your TPS reports flash at you on the computer screen and your mind takes you back to a decorated cookie and a champagne cocktail—you can simply move the cursor to your email and savor the memory by writing about it.

Of course the Pfister is known for its service. The most consistent comment or conversation I have is about how guests and patrons are so well-cared for when within the hallowed halls of the Pfister Hotel.

What I like most, however, is receiving the comments about guest experience after the holidays. This week there have been many and I know it’s in the timing. The decorations are coming down, the work weeks are settling in and the holidays are officially over. To deal with the sadness of coming face to face with your resolutions and with waiting more than 300 days to do it all again, you think of how great it was and try to get other to join you in your festive remembering.

It’s these nostalgic afterthoughts that plant the seeds for next year’s excitement. It’s these afterthoughts that build traditions. I welcome every “I just had to write and tell you how perfect you made our holiday” email you can send. Your nostalgia, your memories, your visions of sugarplums and Santas and holiday parties laced in the history of the hotel are what give me the justification to keep my home holiday décor up just a little bit longer. It sure doesn’t look like the Pfister here, but it does help me remember each and every holiday reveler I met there.

Friday Night Fever

I laugh at the character Charlotte on Sex in the City, here the popular HBO television series. When she’s single, she grows frustrated when she doesn’t have plans on Saturday night. “But it’s date night!” she wails when others suggest things for her to do.

I don’t think date night is solely Saturday night in Milwaukee. Friday night in the Pfister is full of roaming young men, cialis sale wrapped in cashmere scarves and the latest fashions and the slight hint of a few beers warming them to the evening. As the night grows late, a certain drive seems to ignite within them as they hunt for the dates they originally set out to find.

When a friend and I tumbled out of the elevator from the parking garage, prostate we were met by Shay and his entourage. Three mid-20s men, handsomely dressed and alight with energy at the late hour, they had already had drinks in the lobby bar and were headed upstairs to Blu to meet with friends for more. Two women arriving together without any male chaperones lit up the men and we were smothered in attention. Where had we been, where were we going and please join us at Blu was the conversation theme and it made me smile to remember girls’ nights out that are fueled with the same contagious energy.

We felt like we were watching a coming-of-age story when two of the crew cheered on a third as he said he was headed back to Mason Street Grill “talk to that girl again, see if she’s still there.” The hope in his eyes and his friends’ encouraging grins, made slightly raunchy by drink, made us smile.

While we watched so many others crawl into the wee hours together in the lobby bar, conversations stumbling across the bar top and lobby tables, we saw endless streams of young men who could have each been Shay and his posse. All dressed in the latest fashions, braving the scene without coats, hair gelled to perfection and walking as if auditioning for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, packs of young men on the prowl moved through the lobby into the frigid streets.

They weren’t intimidating nor drunk; they seemed, from our vantage point, sleepily ending our evening in girl talk, emboldened and electrified. In some ways, we were flattered and wooed, even though the men weren’t there for us. We happily bore witness to the energy they put in their evening and the John Travolta hitch in their steps. Realizing it was all part of the performance they put together to help them make Friday night date night, to help them capture the attentions and affections of the women they’d meet, we couldn’t help but smile encouragingly and, just as Shay and his friend did, wish them all good luck out there.

Mapping a Model For Us

There are so many songs about the open road, view taking a trip, beginning a journey or getting lost on a deserted highway. The first sunny day of spring, I always choose an Indigo Girls’ song that directs me to “get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down.”

Kit’s family instructed her that exact routine since she was a young girl. One of four daughters, tadalafil Kit professed that she loved when folks would tease her father, “Oh, no, all those women in one house! Four daughters, how awful!” and he would shock the naysayers, replying with excitement that girls were easier to handle—they were willing to try anything.

What they tried most often, buy and what I learned about as I spoke with this retired English teacher as she recanted her holiday adventures, was road trips. “We were Sunday drivers,” Kit said. The entire family would pile in the car and their father would pass the map to one of the girls and insist “Ok, get us out of here. Take us away from Madison.” Not only was it a crash course in geography and map reading, but it was also the consistent adventure and reliance on one another that bonded the siblings.

I spotted Kit across the lobby bar thoughtfully putting pen to paper and occasionally pausing to look up and smile, chewing over what she had just written or was just about to. The prose was about the gathering at her family Christmas celebration—all four girls and their families (now reaching the grandchild generation)—more than 30 people in all. “And we’re all like that,” she said. She meant “close” and willing to travel together, willing to have what she and I agreed may be a-typical holiday gatherings where, as she put it, “we all really want to be together. People think that’s strange, but it’s true.”

What Kit was teaching me (though she proclaimed to be retired, she still performed all the patient speaking and careful listening of a great pedagogue) was that old habits die hard. The girls grew up together, braved the highways together and were trained in adventure. Now, as they’ve grown and begun families of their own, the group simply increases the capacity of the adventure: this year was the family trip to Ireland. Ages 8 to 80, big and small alike all flew together, rented a bus and toured the country of their heritage. More than 150 planned destinations and “things to see” and the group accomplished all but four of them without voting out a single member of the family.  

Packer football dictates that many of the ticket-holding men head north while the women stay home and have their own party in front of one of the wives’ big screen televisions. The cousins, the next generation in the group, now get together on their own, mimicking the bonding, support and adventure that Kit and her sisters charted for them.

Kit’s not done with her journey, or with leading others in the right direction. She was in the lobby letting the artistry of the Pfister inspire her stage design for a local production of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—one which she immediately claimed would be the work of all students involved, not simply her contribution to the process. “Oh, no! We all work on it, we all have to or it doesn’t get done!” Kit, the retired English teacher, still offered the perfect lesson in metaphor. Her family’s model, her delight and pride at their cohesiveness and willingness to forge a trail, clearly provides excellent navigation for teaching…and life.

Ringing in the New

“What are you doing New Year’s, rx New Year’s Eve?” is, as the song dictates, easily the “jackpot question.” And though the Pfister offers an incredible package filled with celebrations and bands and cocktails, so, too, does Milwaukee.

Whenever I run into people at the Pfister (especially the notables with celebrity clout, sales and tell my friends about it) their first question is always “Why? Why were they here?”

I’m on a personal mission to change the question from “Why would they (person of note, importance, fame, celebrity, money, culture, etc.) be in Milwaukee?” to instead “Well, why wouldn’t they be?”

Farggo, a client of the hotel, is more of the evidence I’ve been collecting that Milwaukee is indeed a worthy destination. Originally from South Dakota, he and his friend Kevin know one another in their current hometown, San Diego. Kevin, from the Midwest, was coming to Milwaukee for New Year’s and according to Farrgo, “I wanted to do something big and fun for New Year this year. So I thought, Milwaukee!”

Yup. That’s what I want everyone thinking. His criteria were that things be interesting, lots to see, good food, great adventure and a really great posh hotel. Of course, that’s why I bumped into him at the Pfister. He and his friend have big plans for their stay and have been enjoying all the city has to offer. The Safehouse, Karl Ratzsch’s for dinner, and other downtown picks were part of their agenda. They both admitted, however, that thus far, the lobby bar had been pretty entertaining in and of itself. “We’re having a great time just staying right here!”

It’s worth noting, those of you who are “California dreamin’” that California comes to Milwaukee.

Farrgo and Kevin had the pleasure of seeing a few local notables of the basketball persuasion while at the lobby bar and like me, made estimates about the two groups of rehearsal dinner patrons at the bar—who belonged to which wedding party?

Oh yes, in addition to the New Year’s parties the Pfister is hosting, there are multiple weddings taking place this weekend. What fantasy it must make to have the grandeur of the Pfister, in its impeccable holiday garb, as the backdrop to your wedding.

It’s the backdrop to my New Year—and Farrgo and Kevin’s too. I know what I’ll be doing on New Year’s Eve, and I’m proud to say, I’ll be in Milwaukee doing it.

A Pfister is Born

Here’s the thing about the Pfister: all of its history, thumb its massive holiday decorations, its formally dressed staff and its exquisite service can be intimidating, but in fact, the opposite is true. This morning, while having breakfast in a near-deserted café, I  felt like I was at home. The relaxed feel of a staff that was perhaps overwhelmed leading up to the holiday felt just like the relief I saw in my mother after all the Christmas morning wrapping paper was picked up, treatment the family fed and the naps started. The giant sigh of satisfaction and relaxation has overtaken the hotel and it feels like home.

It turns out the Pfister was indeed home to a handful of stranded travelers. Milwaukee had little snow, but a blizzard in the east held many captive in our area waiting for the chance to return. Many of them were pleasant and accepting of the situation and the idea of settling in for a long winter’s nap at the Pfister is one that felt enough like home to be accommodating.

In fact, The Pfister Hotel has served as a home base to many, including world traveler Mary Peterson. Originally from Beaver Dam, Mary, a producer for Good Morning America, now lives in New York. The nature of news is fast-paced and constantly changing so the rules require those involved must stay within 30 minutes of an airport, poised to leave at a moment’s notice (save for any prohibitive blizzards). Beaver Dam became a location Mary was unable to visit while working because it didn’t meet the rules and left her unable to respond to her job when required.

Like all of us, needing to be “home” prevailed and friends (and a fairly famous news anchor who, I’m thrilled to hear, ranks the Pfister on his top ten list of hotels) recommended the Pfister. Mary arranged to meet her mother there for Easter weekend in 2003 and together they enjoyed one another’s company at the home away from home that is indeed a quick cab ride to the airport.

The experience was so positive, the pair started arranging more visits together. For her mother, it was a quick drive from Beaver Dam for a “staycation;” for Mary, it met all the requirements of her workplace and travel needs. The more they gathered, the more they loved the space and the more it began to anchor their lives.

Easters grew into summer weekends, summer weekends turned into annual birthday celebrations. The convenience of the hotel was tested when we went to war with Iraq and Mary was called to respond and during Hurricane Katrina, Mary found herself flying out of Milwaukee’s airport to follow the breaking news.  

As her now husband courted her, he sent his flowers to…you guessed it, the Pfister. When they were married, more than 30 rooms full of New York friends and guests inhabited the Pfister and enjoyed the dinners and celebrations hosted there.

Anniversaries are now standard for the Petersons at the Pfister. I understand Mary’s story, I think we all do. Sometimes a place is there, waiting for us to give it meaning, to use it as our leaping off point. For the Petersons, the Pfister Hotel is just such a place. Woven into the fabric of their memories and adventures (Mary could mark her weekend stays at the hotel by dates of news events, family birthdays or anniversaries), The Pfister Hotel is a fixture in their lives.

This is true now more than ever, as the Petersons have named their third child Augustine Pfister Peterson. Clearly, home is where the heart is, or near an airport, or in your memories, or, in Mary’s case, at The Pfister Hotel.

Where Grandmas Get Noticed…

What I like the most about public places—the kind that allow for you to slow down and engage, health not the shop-till-you-drop big box stores or the endlessly-in-motion malls—is who you see gathering together there.

I was one of the few (well, that’s a lie, there were many, as I’m sure retailers had hoped) who shopped a bit on Christmas Eve. People were friendly, pills in the spirit, but the lines were long and tedious. People moved through with their carts and packages without noticing one another—I saw three near accidents involving pedestrians and reversing autos.

That’s not the way I prefer to encounter people, ambulance however. I smile at every clerk, I wave through merging traffic and I point out my parking spot to sharking vehicles full of shoppers waiting to disembark. But it’s no way to know someone.

We move so fast, sometimes, we forget to notice one another. As I chat with staff at the Pfister and watch families and office groups gather to celebrate the season, I’ve noticed something very important.

There’s significance to multi-generational gatherings and frankly, there are more of them. Now, I’ve been a part of a multi-generational family, I wouldn’t argue it’s unheard of.  Yet, when I watch groups at the Pfister, I notice that grandparents are younger, more engaged and often—are great-grandparents.

I watched a group of women sit down and enjoy a Christmas cocktail together and of the six of them, it was clear three generations were represented, but it was hard to tell which was a great aunt, which was a mother and which was grandma. The family resemblance in the women was uncanny and together, in their holiday reds and sequins, toasting their champagne cocktails, they were striking—a beautiful representation of women at all stages in life.

Another group of women included a grandmother— made clear as I spoke to them because the mother of the young ones referred to her as “mom.” Never did I hear “grandma” uttered, however. Rather “Gigi” was the term of endearment. Gigi could have been this fantastically stylish woman’s name, but the girls referred to her as a noun “well, OUR Gigi would like that…” It was clear that not only are generations sharing their knowledge and time with one another in slow, thoughtful, celebratory ways at the Pfister, but they’re young at heart, more engaged and less likely to be spotted as “Grandma.”

I mentioned that I often notice multiple generations coming together in the spaces at the Pfister and staff members have agreed with me. There’s some comfort in that perhaps we’re harkening back to a depression-era when families relied on each other and often lived together. And why wouldn’t we? Tough economic times have spurred what researchers call “boomerang kids” who leave the nest, only to return shortly thereafter. Whatever the technical term for enveloping our families in one space, sharing a common set of practices and closeness, it’s clear that there’s no better way to do that than at this historic space built around families and gatherings.