There’s a clattering sound that breaks into the still, Sunday afternoon quiet of the lobby lounge. It’s startling, but muted enough that nobody else turns to look. When I do look, I see wooden blocks, scattered over the top of one of the lobby tables, as three young men in t-shirts and shorts settle in for a game of Jenga.
Within seconds, I’m parked in the fourth chair for a round of this tricky, wooden block stacking game. Introductions are made: Michael, Mike and Mikey* all offer up a firm handshake and a slight southern accent. All in from Dallas, Texas, they are here for their 8th year staying at the Pfister for Northwestern Mutual’s annual network representative meeting. Mike and Mikey are killing time waiting for their scheduled massages at WELLspa, and Michael eyes up a nap, as they’re all three heading to the Milwaukee County Zoo later this afternoon for a “garden party” put on by NML as one of the numerous family-friendly events going on around town at any number of our institutions and museums.
“If there’s any way you can get in,” says one of them, “you want to go. It’s so much fun!”
We talk and laugh while taking turns testing a wedged block, then slowly tapping, pushing, pulling until one ekes free, followed by an even slower, more tentative placing of said block on the top of the increasingly unbalanced tower.
We talk about Milwaukee – they like exploring the town when they’re here, heading to nearby watering holes in the evening hours – and they tell me what to check out in Dallas, if I ever go: Barcadia, a bar featuring old-school arcade games, like Tron and Space Invaders, is definitely up my alley.
The three are all equally as similar as they are different. Tall and fair, a little on the soft-spoken side; tall and dark, but warmly gregarious; and frat boy turned father of two who still know show to crack the great jokes. All three are married with kids, and, as we played and chatted, Michael announced that he just heard from his wife the night before that she’s starting a blog, too.
“Too?” I asked.
Yes: “too”. Apparently the wives of the other two already keep blogs—mostly on the domestic side, though the primary focus and purpose is to keep friends and family in the know with their kids’ lives: photos and stories and so forth.
Part of their boyish camaraderie comes from the fact that they work in the same office, started right around the same time, and are all about the same age. They talk easily about how they don’t feel directly in competition with one another (though Mikey did win a recent sales contest that allowed for him and his wife to join 49 other couples for a weekend trip to San Francisco), even as they operate solely on commission and therefore are competing for the same market base. Of course, part of this comes from a low market share in their region, but a bigger part of this comes from that feeling of family you get simply by working with people you like for 40 hours a week in the same physical space.
We applauded poor Mikey for his attempts to goad us into toppling the tower, though ultimately it fell for him. A second round tumbled for Mike. Kudos were given to Michael and I for not losing twice in a row. Mikey went off to get his massage, and the remaining three of us went in for a game of Yahtzee. Having not played in 15 years, they were patient with me as I re-learned the game, from scratch.
While they were only three out of the estimated 10,000 people who came to Milwaukee earlier this week, they reflected what I saw in most of the people passing through the lobby during the days of the conference: warm, polite, friendly, and family-oriented but not without a penchant for some fun. And, thanks to the games shelf now taking up space in the Pfister Cafe, we had a ton of fun.
*Two out of these three names are real. The third, well, we all agreed it would be a lot more fun to just give him a similar moniker as the other two.