Co-Conspirator

Co-Conspirator

I’m on a stakeout.  Granted, I’m not disguised as a delivery person or hiding behind a newspaper. There are no binoculars or dark shades involved. No two-way radio tucked into my sleeve.  Although the excitement tickling my gut might suggest that I’m crouched behind a dumpster aiming a telephoto lens, I’m actually perched on a low bench in Blu.  It’s a handsome crowd and most are here to watch the fireworks.  One person is here to rewrite history.

Larry is at a table with his girlfriend, Stephanie. I’ve known her for a while, and Larry has been like a little brother to me for more than 10 years. About a month ago, he called to ask if I could be on hand when he proposed.

“She’s always loved fireworks,” he said. “Last summer, I remember turning to look at her and her face was all lit up with lights and she was smiling like a big kid.  I remember thinking, ‘I absolutely love this woman.’”

Of course, I coo.

“I didn’t tell her in that moment, though,” Larry said, disappointment still lacing his words. “I don’t know what stopped me.  I told her, maybe, the next day. But at the fireworks?  Man, that would’ve been perfect.”

The missed opportunity nagged at him.  When he was ready to propose almost a year later, he was determined to create an unforgettable event.

“If I pull this off,” he said, “History just might smudge away that fact that I dropped the ball that night, and she’ll always associate my ‘I love you’ with fireworks.  Maybe our kids will even retell the story that way.”

A conspiracy in the name of love and posterity? I’m in.

I’m at my post, crammed awkwardly between the bar, a married couple to my right and an adult family of six to my left.  Everyone faces the window, watching the steel-grey sky surrender to nightfall.  I’m making notes in my journal about the crowd, the mood, the floating constellation of lights from boats in the marina and, of course, Larry and Stephanie. Like many other couples, they’re sipping champagne, holding hands, planting kisses, listening to the jazz band, enjoying a romantic evening. I look at my watch. 9:05. My stomach begins to flutter.

The wait staff hustles to and fro delivering champagne and towers of hors d’ouerves to the tables. When a waiter appears beside him, Larry looks alarmed and I imagine his heart thundering beneath his shirt. He’s made arrangements for a custom dessert with “Will You Marry Me” written in chocolate. Not yet. Almost, but not yet.

9:20

The band is back from a mini-break. The singer begins “I Will Always Love You,” and the banquet staff approach Larry and Stephanie with their dessert.  It takes a moment for its true sweetness to register, and Stephanie begins to smile and giggle.  Larry produces the ring box and lowers himself to one knee.  I’m not close enough to hear his actual proposal (should’ve invested in the wire tap kit, after all) but I could hear the whisper rippling around us, “Look, he’s proposing!”

Exactly –seriously- exactly as Larry and Stephanie stand to embrace and kiss, the sky erupts in light and fire.  Larry turns to the crowd and confirms, “She said yes!” The entire lounge cheers.

Later that night, I ask Stephanie if she had any idea.  She said she had none.

“I called her parents and all of her girlfriends to make sure this went off smoothly,” Larry said.  “I even made sure that we were dressed up so all the pictures would look nice.”

“You really covered your bases,” I said.  “When did you start planning?”

Larry recounts how he met with her parents early in the year, requested time off from work back in March, started scouting locations in spring, engaged accomplices in early summer, etc.  All the while, Stephanie is admiring her ring.  Our eyes meet, and she laughs.

“Don’t mind me,” she says.

“So, how’d he do? I ask.

“This was perfect,” Stephanie said, planting another kiss on Larry’s cheek.  “It was everything, and it was perfect.”

Stephanie rested against Larry’s arm, smiling up at him as she draped a wrist over his shoulder. We were all silent, indulging in the gaze. The ring dressed her hand beautifully. Stephanie radiated. Larry beamed. The diamonds winked with fire and light. I am still smiling after we hug goodbye and they have head to the elevators. Smiling, and I have no doubt that their children will long tell love stories about fireworks.

Generations Dance

 

The Pfister specializes in weddings. They seem to happen here every weekend, sometimes a few concurrently. Here’s a poem about something we’ve all seen at weddings: The Generations Dance. You know, the one where all the married couples get up and gradually leave as the number of years they’ve been married are ticked away by the announcer.

 

* If you’d like to hear a spoken recording of this poem, please scroll to the bottom to listen or download *

 

Without further ado…

 

After the bride and groom

danced

their first as

man and wife

the disc jockey invited

all married couples

to the dance floor

 

Ok couples,

please exit the floor

if you’ve been married for…

 

Just One Day!

 

The crowd chuckled and applauded

as the newlyweds retreated

to greet family

and acquaintance alike

 

One year!

 

The groom’s sister

left with her husband

 

Two years!

 

A few young couples walked off

and joined at the bar

for a round of tequila shots

 

Five years!

 

Brought a sea of

first-time parents

and experienced

uncles, aunts, and coworkers

working on their second,

third, or fourth

pair of rings.

 

at

Ten years!

 

There was a mass migration

and children started to applaud

as their parents returned

to the round table.

 

After

Fifteen years!

 

A woman shouted

“Oh no fella-

you’re not going anywhere yet!”

 

By

Twenty years!

 

Their kids were off paying

nervous attention to their dates,

trying to disregard

that their parents were

“Oh My Gosh I can’t believe

my mom and dad are out

on the dance floor doing that.”

 

The folks at thirty years

left the dance floor

with more deliberation,

searching to place their feet

beyond the exact place

the parquet floor ended

and the carpet began

 

at thirty five years

the couples walked off

pressing their weight

against one another’s

clasped hands.

 

By the time

 

Forty years!

 

Rolled around

four couples remained

and they weren’t paying attention

to anything except

the sway of the song

and the partner in their hands

 

When

 

Fifty years,

ladies and gentlemen!

 

arrived

two couples remained

and they shared

sidelong chuckling glances at

their competition

 

Finally after

 

51 years

 

52 years

 

53 years

 

54 years

 

ladies and gentlemen

only one couple remained on the floor

and the husband then took hold of his wife

in the most deliberate

and delicately graceful

dance lead

I’ve ever seen,

 

his grasp so absolute

her response

near telepathic

I wondered

if anyone

could know anything

as well as they knew

one another

Experiencing UW-Milwaukee’s 2012 Women Leaders Conference

Gloria Steinem signing books following her speech kicking off the day. While I snapped this photo she said these exact words, “Well- rebellion keeps us young, right?”

To my dismay I realized that the UW-Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference scheduled to take place at the Pfister Friday, March 30th was sold out. I’d hoped there was a possibility to watch from the perimeter and take in a little of the conference.

Thursday evening I was in the lobby lounge speaking with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander regarding a Pfister blog I’ve been working on about the man. There was a woman seated at the table closest Jeffrey and the three of us talked for a bit. In conversation I asked if she was local or from out of town. She explained that she was involved with Friday’s conference. My new acquaintance then asked what I was getting into at the hotel and I explained the Narrator position and how I had hoped to cover the conference in some capacity. It turned out I was sitting with Jan Allen, UW-Milwaukee’s Director of Business, Engineering & Technology in the school’s Continuing Education Department. Completely by mistake (does serendipity make mistakes?) I ended up being invited to check out Friday’s activities. You never know who you’re going to meet at this hotel…

By 8am Friday morning, like countless times before, the Pfister’s 7th floor ballrooms were transformed to fit the needs of the event. A banquet spread of breakfast foods and coffee cakes, teas, coffee, and soft drinks welcomed conference-goers on their way into the Grand Ballroom.

Kicking off the day’s events was keynote speaker Gloria Steinem. I tread lightly in suggesting I can introduce you to Ms. Steinem as there is little need for introduction. She is a journalist, publisher, and activist (and a wearer of many other hats). Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and has worked for over half a century toward the changes she’d like to see in the world. I encourage reading this March 16th New York Times article about Ms. Steinem’s long career. Steinem’s speech, “The Longest Revolution,” included her Top 10 list of priorities and conclusions to keep in mind moving forward. Following her speech there were a few minutes for questions and lucky participants were able to ask the questions they’ve always wondered of the longtime lightning rod. Having Gloria Steinem speak injected the day with a feeling which reminded me of the phrase, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (line from a poem by June Jordan which can [and should!] be read here).

After Gloria’s speech there were several sessions which ran concurrent. It was difficult to choose which one to listen to but what caught my eye was Lora Hyler’s Where Are the Women? Taking a Seat At the Board: How Women Directors Impact Company Success. Ms. Hyler detailed the positive impacts companies have seen when women are in high positions. She charted breakdowns by gender and race of who leads the world’s companies. She explained methods women can use to break into leadership groups which can resemble an old boy’s club. Hyler stressed that the key was to find ways to communicate effectively with superiors and colleagues, regardless if that communication takes place in boardrooms or on the golf course. Ms. Hyler also explained that after one woman is admitted to a board of directors it is generally easier for women to follow in her steps. Before the session was over participants shared experiences and strategies of how to grow in their careers and climb above the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaker Chris Heeter out for a break with canine companion Tuu Weh.

Before lunch I was able to see Chris Heeter speak on a few different topics. Ms. Heeter founded The Wild Institute and has decades of experience guiding outdoor groups.  Her speech was titled You girls out here all alone? The Wild Side of Leadership. With a bittersweet chuckle she explained that she couldn’t recall how many times a solitary man had asked their group of women that silly question whether out on the trail or paddling. Chris also has a great deal of experience working with sled dogs and explained how communication between dogs and the human guiding the sled could be a useful analogy for the working world. For an immediate understanding of her perception of the leader’s role she began by explaining that with a dogsled the leader guides from an observational post behind the dogs. Chris speaks with a wisdom and exuberance that is difficult to convey in mere typed words. Both she and her canine companion Tuu Weh left an indelible impression on attendees.

Between the lunch and afternoon sessions I was in the elevator and a woman looked over to me. She leaned in while her whole face smiled and she asked,  “What do you think of the conference so far?”

Beyond asking my impression it was clear that she wanted to make sure to engage me and encourage the idea that- even though I happen to be a guy- it was okay for me to have an opinion.

“Well…” I weighed the day’s experiences up to that point… “There has been a lot of great information and valuable things I’ve heard, but most of it hasn’t been gender specific. It seems unfortunate that there exists a need to term it a Women’s Conference for this information to be disseminated from one place.”

“Exactly,” she laughed as we exited the elevator, “that’s the point! If only we could help the entire world arrive at that conclusion. We’re getting there…”

The Work Behind the Wine

Heather doing what she does best: offering the right bottle of wine.

What is the meaning of life? I do not know and I’m quite sure many people are closer to having a conclusion than myself. The best I’ve managed to piece together is finding something you love and devising a way to make it pay your bills. Individuals who have successfully accomplished that have always fascinated me.

As an example I offer the sommelier. Their job is to become a walking wine database. How does one do this? Naturally, drinking wine is a large part of the job. But one can’t just become a lush and start wearing the expert cap. Uncountable hours of studying wine history and culture go into understanding not only wine but the very important aspect of pairing it with cuisine.

Heather Kanter-Kowal is Mason Street Grill’s in-house sommelier and assistant manager. For her wine is a way of life and a way of work. Last week Heather had a few minutes to sit down by the Mason Street Grill’s fireplace and tell me about the work behind the wine, her years getting to know the grape, and some of the exciting wines waiting for you at Mason Street. Click to listen below now or download for later.
The Work Behind the Wine by Ed Makowski

The Weekend of Promise Rings

Saturday afternoon I was hanging out in Shelby’s studio watching her work on a painting of the Milwaukee Art Museum. She was searching to find her way through the piece. A stroke here, a stroke there. Step back, consider. Wipe with a moist towel, then determine another stroke. Having this rare intersection between a writer and a painter makes me feel like we’re living inside of Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not a Painter.

While I was seated on the couch a guy in his twenties walked in to the studio for a closer look at Shelby’s works on the wall. He announced that a painting based on a porch concert with a jazz 3 piece was his favorite. Shelby explained that it was from a series of three and brought out the other two to complete the set. The young man explained that he played guitar, bass, and drums.

Shelby's front porch series.

We exchanged names and handshakes. His name was Stefan and he went on to tell us that he was visiting from Ohio. One of his favorite bands is from Milwaukee and they’d played a reunion show the previous night at Turner Hall Ballroom. I had to chuckle that he was staying at the Pfister to see a Milwaukee band called The Promise Ring, when the next day the hotel was hosting it’s annual Milwaukee’s Magnificent Bride show. Stefan had a full plate of plans, after touring Shelby’s gallery he planned to go across the street for dinner at the German restaurant Karl Ratzsch’s. After that it was off to see To Kill a Mockingbird at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Stefan took off for his night’s festivities and I roamed the halls for a little while. The 7th floor was poised to serve a wedding and reception for 400 guests. The entire floor was the quiet calm of glass drying, garnish preparation, finishing details of table settings. On the other side The Imperial Room was already prepared for the following day’s bridal show. Booths stood quiet and lit only by the wintertime windows of Wisconsin Avenue.

A few hours ago there was a 400 guest wedding in this ballroom. Now there's an Excalibur hanging around and dozens of other wedding-related sales booths.

I wandered up to the 23rd floor Blu and, while drinking a raspberry ginger mojito, listened to the flamenco guitar of Evan Christian. As things wound down in Mason Street Grill and the Jonathan Wade Trio played their last songs patrons started to find their way to the top floor lounge. The feel of the the room was like a big cushy adult playground looking out at the sparkling skyline. The night sky was so much a part of the ambience it may as well have been Evan’s backing band. After the wedding ended around midnight guests in suits, gowns, and tuxedos found their way up to the top. It was rather interesting to see several different parties taking place concurrently, spilling over into one another. Formal and informal. The young and the experienced. Nuzzling couples neighboring groomsmen. Jazz aficionados focusing intently next to country girls gulping shots of tequila. From my one bar stool I ended up conversing with a tango instructor, a jeweler with inventor aspirations, an over-the-road truck driver, a software engineer, and a history teacher.

Fred Astaire dance studios can choreograph a couple's first dance.

 

By Sunday morning the 7th floor was completely transformed. I walked around the bridal show in astonishment. Less than a dozen hours earlier 400 people enjoyed a lavish meal with drinks to match. For hours after dinner a DJ taught the dance floor How it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, and The way you look tonight. By morning there were dozens of purveyors, musicians, automobiles even, in place of where there had been a huge party just a few hours earlier. I walked downstairs and told the concierge, Roc, about how I couldn’t believe how quick this space had been completely transformed. It was like the wedding the night before had never even happened. “Oh, sure,” Roc explained, swatting gently at the air with his open palm, “We host events like that on a regular basis.” He chuckled, amused with my sophomore astonishment. “I’ve witnessed four weddings take place here simultaneously. That, my friend, is what we do at the Pfister.”

This was my favorite dress but I'm not sure if it's the right one for me.

The Good Life in Blu (is a cocktail too)

Patrons enjoy Afternoon Tea on a Friday near dusk. Your table waits in the foreground...

Last night I was able to listen to a concert with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander. The good doctor plays every first Thursday of the month on the 23rd floor at Blu, the cocktail lounge which looks east over Lake Michigan. Patrons sat at tables which radiated from the piano. Couples sat close to one another in a piano-dangled warm quiet until the last few songs, at which point I began looking for a singer who appeared to my ears from of the middle of nowhere. I looked around the room to find someone now accompanying the piano. I then realized there wasn’t a singer who was sharing the floor with Jeffrey. The entire room had joined in song for the last few numbers in a way that happens often in black and white movies but rarely in color ones.

While listening to the concert I ended up speaking with a gentleman named Bill. Evidenced, I suppose, by his being seated next to me, Bill remarked that he preferred to enjoy a *ding-time* 6pm workday whistle cocktail in Blu. I asked where he was in town from and he chuckled that he worked a few blocks away and this was his nightly cool-down. No traveler was Bill at the moment, this was his customary place to relax once the office turned dim before heading home.

Prior to this position I’d never considered spending time in a hotel in my city (or any other city for that matter). I traveled for business when I was younger and that traveling amounted to seeing an airport, freeway, hotel, and identically designed retail location. Wash, rinse, repeat the process for 55-70 hours per week for a few years. The corporation who employed me had a very cost-conscious mindset so many of the hotels (er…often motels) I slept at were not the type of place one felt incredibly welcomed. After the first few trips I didn’t bother to pack a swimsuit and brought a book to read instead of assuming there might be cable television. The definition I’d learned a hotel to be was a bed and shower acting as the peanut butter and jelly sandwiched between 13 hour workdays.

Mary Keppeler's harp accompanies Friday Afternoon Tea

I thought about the hotels I’d stayed at for business and they were never like this. Sitting in one’s room with a book felt like being sequestered in a hospital room. I’d walk downstairs to the lobby and they might have a couch but not the type of couch you’d ever sit on because you wanted to. The type of a couch you’d only sit on only if you were stuck waiting. I’d walk across the street, or a few blocks away, or to the other end of the strip mall where there was a chain restaurant and the meal tasted boringly identical to the meal they’d serve in Birmingham, or Seattle, or Hoboken. I’d try to strike up a conversation with the staff or neighboring patron but all of the 14 sports games on 72 televisions commanded the room’s entire attention. The staff seemed confused as to why you would want to engage them in conversation. They had no idea I’d come from Milwaukee to Brick Town, NJ, for four days and wanted to ask about their town. Aside from that, I’m a human and we’re social animals.

There are many reasons to like this bar: calming ambience, incredible view, the free concerts. But all that aside Bill said it was the people who attracted him to Blu. Both the clientele and the staff. The bartenders are social and their conversation stretches far beyond the weather. If there’s a game you’d like to watch they’ll turn on the TV but it’s not the mouth-gape focus of all the room’s energy. Neighboring patrons don’t find it strange when you ask how their day went, or if there’s a museum in walking distance, or what book you’re reading at the moment.

The Good Life at Blu is all a-glitter once the sun goes down.

The funny thing is I started this blog post to write about the cocktail I had in Blu. The drink is called The Good Life. It’s an exquisitely simple combination of fresh lime, cucumber, mint, raw suger, and Veev Acai Berry Liquor. The sipper tastes every flavor all at once in an even, balanced manner. None of the flavors shout for your attention in a way that would seem obnoxious or out of place. Jason, the vested and Windsor knot necktied bartender, suggested I try this as my invitation to the drink menu. Then I had another one, which I suppose that’s the ultimate endorsement. But that cocktail is just one detail, seemingly unimportant by comparison, to the candlelight speckled chandelier city glow surrounding the miles around me.

This really is a preferable way to travel- even if you’re just a tourist in your own town. Bill is right. The drinks are well-poured, yes, the food is as advertised and requested, he says this and shrugs. Those are all great but it’s the people and the experience which resonate in one’s memory. It’s Milwaukee, you can have a drink nearly anywhere. Where else can one relax while the golden coast touching Lake Michigan gradually turns to a shimmering tapestry and the bartender asks if you’d like your usual? It’s that intangible combination of service, location, and amenities which combines to create this brilliant ambience.

I was about to click the Publish button on this blog entry but then there was a sudden bit of “ooohs” and “aaahhhhs” and brief applause which distracted me from the current task. I asked the bartender what had happened. Jason leaned in and explained that a man three tables over asked the woman sitting to his right if she’d marry him. I look over and the woman’s head is on the man’s shoulder. Her fingers take turns tracing the lashes underneath her eyes. She’s giggling and sniffling all at once. How can I write about just a cocktail?

Generations of Serendipity Swirl Through the Pfister

It’s not every day a person informs you the place you work probably had a hand in their family escaping the Holocaust.

This past weekend the Pfister was blessed to host the wedding of Mr. Wiley Norden and Ms. Marissa Mullen. Marissa recently followed her career to Chicago but left her heart in Milwaukee. With the man willing she decided not only to marry in Milwaukee but wanted their big day to contain components specific to the city. Area beer, wines, and cheeses were par for their course and Marissa wanted them to be encompassed within a prominent Milwaukee landmark. When looking at potential locations the Pfister surfaced as a viable option and once dates were nailed down schedules meshed. But Marissa had yet to discover the deep connection her family had with the Pfister Hotel.

The postcard Marissa's great-grandfather sent home in 1938. The Mason Street tower behind the 1893 structure wasn't added until the 1960's.

In the interim Marissa’s mother, Sharon, inherited a treasure trove of family letters and correspondence, some of which were sent to and from the “Old Country.” In their case Sharon’s family were German speakers native to Czechoslovakia. Sharon has yet to learn German so the text itself didn’t tell much of a story. Except, however, one postcard contained an old photograph of the Pfister Hotel, dated 1938. This immediately piqued Sharon’s curiosity, given that her daughter had decided to hold her wedding at the Pfister.

Sharon’s grandfather, Ernest Prager, (therefore the bride’s great-grandfather) owned a wool coat and glove lining company in Czechoslovakia and in the 1930’s began branching the family business beyond Europe. No one is certain why he was in Milwaukee but at the time Milwaukee created more leather garments than anywhere else in the world. It’s likely Mr. Prager was meeting with the Pfister and Vogel Tanning Company to discuss business and stayed in Charles Pfister’s flagship hotel.

As history has revealed the 1930’s in Europe was shaping up to be a bad time and place for those of Jewish heritage to continue to safely raise their families. Mr. Prager could foresee the political winds and started looking for a place to relocate his family. Ernest came to the United States to establish business contacts and begin the process of gradually moving his family to the States. They ended up moving to Gloversville in Upstate New York, and, yes, the town’s name is quite literal. The Prager family moved to where there was an ample supply of gloves requiring imported leather, which became Ernest’s new line of business.

Charles Prager, son of Ernest and Valerie, met his wife Harriet in Gloversville. After marrying in 1947 the couple moved to Milwaukee where they gave birth to three lovely daughters; Sharon (Marissa’s mother), Renee, and Diane. No one quite knows whether Charles realized his father had spent time in our city.

The Pfister of 2011, complete with the rear tower and parking structure installed in the 1960's. The Milwaukee Club sits across Jefferson and behind the photographer is the Federal Building.

So…fast forward to 2011. Ernest Prager’s great-grand daughter Marissa meets Wiley. Wiley is an absolutely suitable suitor and the two decide to marry. Wiley and Marissa choose the Pfister Hotel for the place to invite their families to join together. But they make the decision without being aware that her great-grandfather stayed here decades previous to moving to the U.S. while beginning the process toward citizenship.

Before I get too mired in kismet let me say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

L’Chaim!

Thanks to Wiley Norden and Marissa Mullen for allowing us to share in their special day and to Sharon Mullen for telling us her family’s connection with the Grand Dame of the West. Please give a listen on the player below to hear Sharon Mullen tell her family’s story.

 

Serendipity swirls around the Pfister by Ed Makowski

Something borrowed, something blue

Summers in Milwaukee are made for weddings, with blue skies, light lake breezes and sunshine peering through drifting white, fluffy clouds.  Any picturesque historic locale books up far in advance, even in a mid-size city like Milwaukee.  There’s a lot of competition  options for weddings in this town: Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum, Lake Park, The Grain Exchange, Renaissance Place, Milwaukee Art Museum, and I’ve been lucky to attend weddings at several of these gorgeous places.  One place where I’ve seen numerous weddings, but haven’t known a single person getting married, is here at the Pfister.  Boasting over 6,000 weddings throughout its 115-year history, that’s over 12,000 people celebrating their new life together with nearly 3,000,000 guests.

One recent Saturday, in less than two hours and preceded by guests stopping at the concierge desk to inquire after their intended reception’s location, no less than four brides passed through the lobby.  Swimming through formally dressed guests are brass luggage carts, pushed and pulled by the bellhops, loaded with packages from Crate & Barrel and lavishly beribboned gifts.  From the bright sapphire blue to deeper shades of royal, and even the whimsical teal, there is an abundance of blue with the dresses of the ladies attending the receptions, possibly inspired by summer skies.

The first bride, in her strapless gown, train draped over an arm, bends down to pet the head of a very happy dog passing through the lobby.  A second bride and groom arrive to a much emptier lobby as guests have made their way to the ballrooms on the seventh floor, many with drinks in hand.  A photographer trails behind them, documenting each pause, every point of the finger to the ornate ceiling as they keep the fingers of their other hands intertwined.

A mother rushes by, coaxing along two little flower girls in matching dresses of ballerina-tulled skirts, with lavender ties around their waist, ending in a bright, big bow at the back.  Shortly after, comes the arrival of an entire wedding party.  The bride is in a full, white lace skirt with a ribbon around her waist as well; her bridesmaids sport purple dresses that complement the lavender of the flowergirls.

As this group gathers for photos on the second floor, a fourth bride and her wedding party stream through the front doors.  Her strapless, beaded gown is reminiscent of a prima ballerina.  Her hair curled into a bun at the crown of her head, the veil streaming down behind.  When brides at the Pfister, dressed in such lavish gowns, pose on the marble steps of the grand staircase, flanked by colorful bridesmaids, it’s clear how such an ornate place could inspire the desire for a little girl’s wedding dreams to be brought to life.

Beyond the romantic images and celebratory color, there’s a quieter, more necessary life that goes undocumented.  The bride that must borrow a cell phone from the photographer in order to reach her betrothed for coordination of photos upstairs in Blu.  Or, the young lady that comes up from the salon with her hair done, veil set perfectly in place, but is dressed in jeans and a zippered sweater and is accompanied by just one woman – one “of a certain age” who is likely mom, aunt or future mother-in-law.  And, meanwhile, on the seventh floor: The ballroom doors are flung open, chairs covered and tied, tables arrayed with wedding favors, namecards awaiting their inevitable plucking and replacing, flowers adorning and complementing every available surface, crystals on chandeliers and votives appear especially bright, sparkling and white: everything waiting, silently, in utter anticipation

It Really Is a Small World After All

The lobby is packed with people. It’s prom season and dozens of couples have appeared to pose for photos together, even though the dance is being held elsewhere. Their dresses are brightly colored: sunny yellows, crisp greens, rich pinks and deep purples – embellished with crystalline drops or lacy embroidery. The bubbly nature of youth is contagious, and all are smiling. Suddenly, appearing at the entrance to grand applause, is a woman in the grandest gown of all: a bodice of pure white, encrusted with pearls, and billowing skirt clutched in one hand while her other hand grips a bouquet of white and purple irises. Rightfully so, a bride has stolen the show.

To my left, at one of the lobby tables just outside the lounge area, an elegantly beautiful woman in a black dress and pearls sits captivated by the parade of dresses. I catch her eye and we start conversing about the various styles, about the young men whose arms sport garters a la 1920s gangsters, and about our own reminiscences of proms 30 held years apart. We discover that we share a common love for ballroom dance, but before we can talk much more, a handsome gentleman appears and whisks her away for dinner elsewhere.

I move on, making my way through the crowd.

As I’m about to pass the bride, she reaches out and grabs my arm – “Hey! You’re Stacie, right?” She points towards the sign that bears my name and a photo, “You’re the narrator person?” Still a little thrown by this new approach to the position, I respond, “Yes” but don’t get any further than that before the bride says, “You know Lauren *****!?” The name sounds vaguely familiar, but it doesn’t register. My face is blank, so she repeats, “Lauren *****! She says she knows you – you guys worked at a camp or something?” and it clicks – ah, yes! I do know this person! Four years ago we worked at an all-girls summer camp together. I then become quite excited. The bride tugs me over to a group of young women in matching purple dresses and – sure enough – there she is, this wonderful person with whom I’d lost touch several years ago. We embrace. It turns out that she’s up from Indiana to be a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding and recognized my picture. We catch up briefly before she takes off for the reception – promises are made to keep in touch.

Not more than a few minutes have gone by when I run into someone I recognize from my other job working for a local bookstore. Eyes get bright, and the question “What are you doing here?” is answered by both parties. She’s here with her sisters for a belated Christmas gift from one sister to the others: a weekend at the Pfister complete with massages at WellSpa (“Incredible! It was so relaxing I almost fell asleep, but I didn’t because I wanted to enjoy it.”), dinner at Mason Street Grill, and drinks at Blu. We chat for a few minutes, connecting on a more personal level than we previously had in our other world of knowing one another.

Both of these re-connections then remind me of earlier in the week when, in Racine for a sporting team practice, I discovered one of my teammates had been the person who won the Pfister diamond necklace, given away by the hotel, earlier in the year. Throw in the fact that an artist friend I had lunch with this same day happens to know Shelby Keefe well – and it was as if the fates were simply waiting around the Pfister, intent on placing people directly into my path.

Rainy Milwaukee Night
Rainy Wisconsin Ave

A little later into the evening, while eying up the miserable November-like weather outside, I practically run right into the couple I met earlier while watching the crowd of prom-goers. We pick up talking as though we’d all three gone to dinner together, then make our way up to Blu for a cocktail or two. Anybody watching would have thought we’d known each other for years. As it happens, the Pfister “Pfates” aren’t simply trying to re-connect me, they’re trying to simply connect me. After making new friends this evening, I can’t wait to see who gets put in my path next.

YOUR TURN: What connections or re-connections have you made at the Pfister?

The Inner Circle

So, drugstore I got to meet her: my replacement. There are so many lessons in life out there waiting for you and only a few you’re fortunate enough to catch. I am lucky enough to have started a project and to have the opportunity to hand it off. I’m not the CEO of some big company (yet), not an entrepreneur (yet) and not any of the other typically tenured folks in high ranking positions who perform very public changings of the guards. I’m no Tony Soprano, sitting at the head of the table, handing out orders.

But I was (am! Still am!) the first Pfister Narrator and I truly cannot decide which part has of the entire role has yielded the best life lessons. Right now, I’m realizing how completely unprepared  I was  for the process of watching other writers talk about writing and process and how they’d do it differently. I read other writers all the time, but I don’t often have breakfast with them.

Stacie Williams cannot be contained. After she was chosen, one of the persons who coordinated the interviews leaned in close in the hall and said knowingly, “Oh, you’ll like her, Julie.”

And I do.

 Even when sitting, listening, she’s the most active listener you’ll meet, though not in that disconnected Aunt Susie “mmhmm…mmhmmm..” kind of way. She buzzes and receives every word.

I felt like we were planning world domination when the hotel manager, PR director and Stacie and I huddled in a corner of the newly remodeled café. Our table seemed very VIP and in a very non-narrator, non feng shui move, my last-to-arrive status had me with my back to the room. So this is what the end feels like—my back to the room. In all my watching, and listening and talking at the Pfister, I’ve never seated myself with my back to the room.

Repeat after me: Change is good. Change is good. Change is good.

What offered the most comfort is, each time I opened my mouth to speak, Stacie had my words. I suspect Joe Kurth, our hotel manager, was really having déjà vu when she asked, in nearly the exact same phrasing, the same questions I did when I started. It wasn’t just asking about the rules or the limits. The morning was full of questions about possibilities. I wanted to point out the things I’d learned—stop by this corner on Tuesdays to see so and so. Make sure to eat the oatmeal. Ride the elevator in the opposite direction than you intend so you can ride it longer and chat with more people. Then, I realized, as I watched Stacie’s eyes constantly watching, her body positioned to see the entire café: she was already working; she’s already slipped right into the job.

Suddenly I felt like I was at Tony Soprano’s table, but instead of handing out orders, our inner circle of news, policies, information and process was much more ordinary. There aren’t a lot of rules. There’s one big general framework that we’ve been following and hopefully, been wrapping you—the blog readers—into. You create the stories, the feeling, the character. You have drinks here, you get married here, you stumble in after an amazing night on the town and wind down in the lobby here and you meet with clients right here on our couches. The best part of my role is realizing that the inner circle at the Pfister is you.