Monday, March 06, 2006

Walkin' In Memphis

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy – won’t you look down over me
Yeah I got a first class ticket
But I’m as blue as a boy can be

Then I’m walkin’ in Memphis
Walkin’ with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walkin in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered ‘round his tomb
But there’s a pretty little thing
Waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room

Then I’m walkin’ in Memphis
Walkin’ with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walkin in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel?

They’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven’t got a prayer
But boy you’ve got a prayer in Memphis

Now Mureil plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would –
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said –
“Tell me are you a Christian child?”
And I said “Ma’am I am tonight”

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain

Words by Marc Cohen

That was my week last week … really – all of it.

I boarded a plane, left North Carolina and touched down in the land of the Delta Blues.  
I was as blue as a girl could be when I left NC. I had a mental health breakdown on Sunday.  On the Mental Health Scale, if 100 is lithium and a restraining jacket, and 1 is no care in the world that can’t be solved? My MH# was somewhere around 90.  Remarkably, by the time I sat in that first class seat, I had regained my composure and had an improved perspective on life.  (How can 24 hours with cause such a radical change in emotional stability?)

I went down to (the) Hollywood (a bad part of town) to see a customer.  I was expecting a grueling meeting centering on their expectations and the inability of my company to meet them.  Instead I walked into a warm welcome and some nice compliments.  I was allowed out on the weigh-line, which is as good as any gospel choir at any A.M.E. church.  

I didn’t walk Beale, only because I knew I’d end up with a hangover, but I did walk down Front Street and reminisced about the glory days of Cotton.  Walked past the Memphis Cotton Exchange (now the Cotton History Museum), had a drink with clients in the Peabody on Union, ate at Gus’s (also on Front), and went to a lovely cocktail party over on 2nd and Monroe.

The whole time, Marc was playing in my head.  

If you’re in cotton, you go to Memphis – at least once a year.  It’s the epicenter of the cotton industry.  Last week was the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.  It’s held at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis.  It’s a two day extravaganza of Cotton Pickers, Cotton Seed Companies, Cotton Marketing Cooperatives, Chemical Companies, Insurance Companies and Software Vendors.

I am a weirdo, but I LOVE going to this particular trade show.  This year was extra enjoyable for two reasons – first I didn’t get to go last year, and secondly, it’s now been two years since the last merger our company went through.

Not attending the show last year was difficult for me.  I missed seeing our old customers who normally stop by our booth to say “Hi”.  This show is also a chance to put a face with the name of new customers I’ve been on the phone with for ’05 season.  Last year our representative from N.C, at the Farm Show, was a new employee, “Old Retired Guy”.  He’d only been with the company 6 months, and quite frankly didn’t know crap about our software or our industry.  I cringed every time I met someone while I was on the road last summer and heard the phrase, “ORG told me the new program could do that, JUST LIKE THE OLD PROGRAM.”  It was my job to correct this impression – and usually not a very popular task at that.

The best part about this year were all the customers who WANTED to stop by.  Now that the merger is behind us, it was like attending a class reunion.  No customers were worried about being drawn into the whirlpool of “are you staying” or “are you jumping ship”.  With the 90% market share we now command, almost everyone is “ours” and they like us!  Once again, what a treat.

Of course, there are still the last  3rd of our customer base who will be converting to a windows product, this year.  They are the skeptics and complainers.  It takes finesse and knowledge to convince customers that change is good.  I was glad I was there – to talk to people who I’ve been trying to convince since 2001 to make the switch. (Because I am perverse, and I secretly take great pleasure in being overly nice to those who told me, “You’ll have to pry this program out of my cold dead hands before I’ll switch”).

There were also some good things that happened that we not related to the trade show.  I have one colleague in the Memphis office that I greatly admire.  Truth be told, I think it’s a mutual admiration.  He’s smart, knows our industry, is hard working, dedicated, funny, well-traveled,  kind, thoughtful, and just as at home in the outdoors as in a fine social setting.  I met him for the first time last year as I traveled Louisiana the week Katrina hit.  Later this October he came to the N.C. office.  I invited he and one of my co-worker to dinner.  It was one of the perfect evenings.  Great food, great wine, great friends and conversation.

On Tuesday, the Shrimp, set up a round of customers for me to visit.  In all, it was going to be a 300 mile day, calling on 1 grumpy customer who has switched to our new products, but still wants to manage the database the “old way”; and 3 of the “cold, dead-hands” crowd. (ugh)

Luckily, “Mr. Perfect Colleague”, wanted to go with me.  After much convincing, the Shrimp agreed.  The day I dreaded turned out to be a wonderful day.  Since Mr. PC is a local boy, most of the customers knew who he was.  He was great about jumping in when I described the changes they’d be facing, sympathizing with their fears, in a way I never could.  He was funny after we left each customer, often jumping in before I could, expressing his amazement at their antiquated processes, and laughing with me about their personal mannerisms.  For lunch, we met a cotton broker, I’d traded many a bale with, and his lovely wife, at the “local hot-plate lunch place” that happened to be serving pig-feet that day. (And yes, I declined to partake.)  

These are some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.  After-all, how many southern people will let a fast-talking “western-girl” into their house, spend the weekend, use their laundry room, take her to church, and over-all make me feel like “one-of-the-family”?  It was nice to see them, surprising to hear their oldest will be at UT-Martin next year, and the youngest is a rising sophomore!

I was forced to spend time in our Memphis office, *aurggh*!  They wanted me to “review” a system they’re getting ready to go live with.  Of course, I doubted they really wanted my opinion … but since they asked … O.M.G.  What a piece of …… over-cooked hush puppy! I was leery from the start about this project.  They told me to block out TWO days to learn this system.  TWO days, because although I was “smart”, they didn’t think I knew, “All there is to know about non-fungible commodities and the associated transactions”. Well, that might be true, I may not “know all”, but after 13 years, I know an awful darn lot.  What surprised me, was that my co-workers were encouraging me to keep track of all the poor programming.  The comment was, “We’ve tried to tell them, and they ignore us, but if you say something, you won’t let it drop, and they’ll have to listen.”  

I spent the first day with a co-worker who is second-tier in knowledge.  It was a fun, easy, time to be with him.  It was refreshing to hear him express doubts and say, “I don’t know”, or “I didn’t think that was right, either”.  He also opened up, and expressed some of the same feelings I frequently experience about our company.  Validation is always nice.  The next time I sat down to look at the program, I was with “The Man”.  This is the co-worker, the Shrimp told me, “who’d forgotten more about cotton, than most people knew”.  Personally, I don’t think that’s such a high compliment.  Anyway, I was really dreading this session.  I sat down, opened up my spread-sheet that listed a benchmarking comparison breakdown.  Each procedure, between three-programs, the number of steps to complete each task, and all discovered bugs in the new processor.  It pretty much shut his mouth.  He managed to croak out, “Wow, that’s organized, we don’t have anything that well documented in this office”.  (No duh, I wanted to respond, but managed to keep my mouth shut.)

I guess it was more impressive than I knew.  The Shrimp pulled me aside at the Trade Show to tell me “The Man” had complimented me.  Although “they” knew I was smart, “they” had no idea I had such “in-depth” knowledge about “our industry”.

There’s much more about the trip, but I think that’s all for tonight …

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