It was a wicked Wednesday and it all started with the pantyhose

I’m not a fatalist by nature, but the pantyhose should have been the big warning sign. A great lover of the business pantsuit, I don’t often jam myself into ‘nylon stockings’ but this morning, in honour of the funeral of the mother of my friend Bob, I donned a skirt and the compulsory pantyhose.

With a few meetings before the funeral, I sat down at my desk at 8:15 am and felt the stockins begin to run, from the waistband DOWN to the toes. When did stockings start to run ‘down’? No amount of clear nail polish was going to bail me out of this one! A quick call to friend Janet and she arrived for the drive to the funeral, an extra pair of hose stuffed into her pocket.

So what? you might ask. So what? is right. You be the judge.

Some desk work after the funeral, many of the coordination activities that occur in my “day job” of running the federal government’s small business start-up program for this region. An interview at 2 o’clock, phone calls, emails, concerns, questions from small business clients who are grappling with issues like estimating hours for projects, collecting bills that people are avoiding. On and on.

And, if you’re starting a business in Barrie and you’re connected to the Self Employment Assistance Program, then Wednesday nights are training nights, the nights when we devote four or five or six hours to helping people learn the hundreds of things so important when people start to manage and plan for growth of their own companies. And this was Wednesday, so the workday that began at 8 am would end at 11:30 pm and go non stop in between.

This Wednesday we’d packed the training with three speakers and three topics, simply because we’re out of Wednesdays in our training lineup. My Trusty Sidekick, Simone, who juggles the schedules, the topics and the self employed people who give their expertise to new startups was quite clear. “We need to be at our training space by 5, have the coffee perking by 5:15, move around tables and chairs and have everyone coffee’d up and appointments made and in chairs ready to go by 6:30 sharp. Even earlier.

Because we hold our training sessions in a large room downtown, away from our small office, we lug a portable file box with place cards, database lists, speakers notes, everything we need. We also put the key in that box. Usually. We also lug a two-litre carton of milk (for the coffee), a laptop for notetaking… well, it’s a big pile of stuff.

So, when you consider the pantyhose, the fact that we arrived with the file box but no key should come as no surprise. And after we went back to retrieve the key, it should come as no surprise that we were both on the outside of the door, setting up the table for coffee, when we looked up to see the training room door, smooth as glass, slide over and latch itself. Coat and keys inside.

Now I’ve been learning to move from seeing disaster as disaster to an enlightened state of mind where disaster is really opportunity. Ghandi was really good at this. And Wednesday night we gave Ghandi pretty good competition.

“I know,” I exclaimed to Trusty Sidekick. “I’ll go back to our office, and grab the key to friend Bob’s office, and we’ll squeeze everyone in there. It’s our small group, only 16 people, so we should be okay. I’ll head over; you send them all along, speakers too, as they arrive, and we shouldn’t lose too much time at all.”

I threw T.S. a jacket, a set of car keys (hers were inside with her coat), and with a client (the one who’d just turned her car over to T.S.) headed off.

And here’s the magic of the wonderful people that I get to work with. In seconds it seemed, my little office was jammed with clients all trying to help. Someone grabbed our spare large coffee pot, coffee, milk and sugar and headed off to make coffee. Someone else grabbed the table in my office and started down the hall to Bob’s 12’ by 12’ space. Another pair grabbed a table from an adjoining office to mine, and the chairs as well. Very quickly we converted Bob’s space from a table for four to an expanded meeting area for 16. Tight fit.

Our overhead scurried down the hall. I believe even the kettle and tea pot made it down there. I perched on a stool with my laptop to take notes; the first speaker arrived and we settled in, just 10 minutes late.

Costing ourselves and figuring out how to price was topic one. Looking at disability and critical illness insurance was topic two. Getting commercial and business insurance was topic three. In between topics one and two, T.S. arrived having been rescued by the creative problem solving of another client and the generous nature of a second.

I was feeling pretty good about all this until a fellow whose face was unknown to me stuck his head into Bob’s office door and said “Is this the Toastmasters meeting?”

“There’s a toastmasters meeting here tonight?” I asked. I felt my pantyhose tighten. “Well, how be you use what’s left of my office,” I proffered. And so there he sat, waiting for his comrades, in a strange office at a tiny table with stools and chairs. And actually as his fellow Toasters arrived, they got into the spirit of disaster recovery and made it all work quite well.

Topic three completed, my wonderful clients restored everything to everywhere, made a donation to Bob for rent, and took their marvellou, energy off into the night.

It was 11:30. P.M.

What made this noteworthy? Well, it was the spirit with which everyone greeted the problem. It was the kindness of speakers who drove long distances only to be detoured into a much tinier space and did it with grace.

It was T.S. who was marooned in a lonely hallway and made the best of it. It was the energy generated by a shared solution. It was Lorraine who abandoned her kitchen and flew down to unlock a door. It was Ian who grabbed his cell phone and palm pilot to find Lorraine in the first place. It was Bob who generously grinned when he saw his office crammed with people. It was the cooperative group of Toastmasters who likely didn’t know where they were.

It was the pantyhose!