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pride of being a young entrepreneur was muddied by the reality of working
more than 70 hours a week for $200 hundred bucks, take home. Not that I
needed more than that. There
wasn't much to do in Puyallup, Washington.
Puyallup was a Mayberry-esque berg of 8,000 people that would swell
to 100,000 every September when it played host to the Western Washington
State Fair. In fact, one of my
first nightclub jokes was, "How many of you knew that Puyallup is the
Indian word for Scone?" The fair would soon take a back seat to the
most newsworthy event we'd ever seen.
Volcano Got My Attention
the morning of May 18, 1980, my neighbors and me stood on the roofs of our
homes and witnessed a gigantic mushroom cloud fill the sky. Exactly like the
ones you've seen in movies. We were convinced that we were going to be
victims of a full-on nuclear holocaust. Instinctively, we scrambled down
from our ladders for one last beer. We learned later that day that Mt. St
Helens had blown her stack. Actually,
the explosion made sense. But not because the mountain was a suspect. Sixty
miles south of us (in the direction of the cloud) was home to two Nuclear
Power Plants (WPPS) that had been widely criticized for overspending, bad
management, and occasional "accidents."
It was only a matter of time until...you know. We switched on the
local news for confirmation. The broadcasters were clueless. One station
looked to their weatherman for an explanation. Not accustomed to top
billing, he stammered, "We are getting reports of an unspecified
weather condition." Believe me, if you ever do see a life-sized
mushroom cloud you won't mistake it for a cold front.
9:00 o'clock that morning, we watched the entire horizon blacken with what
we assumed was radioactive fallout. It came in the form of floating ash. Ash
that was quietly drifting down like anthracite snow; piling feather-light
flakes six inches deep on the hood of my tan cargo van. I thought to myself,
"Jeez, if this is it...my life has peaked as the manager of a small
town Pet Store!"
prayers were embarrassingly cliché. "God, if I ever get out of this
alive I swear I am going to do something different with my life."
He answered my prayers by simply blowing 1,300 feet off the top of a
mountain and not evaporating my home state.
I looked skyward and vowed to make good on my personal promise.
& their owners drove me crazy
let me get back to the stereo and pet debacle that led up to That Day.
and my buddy, Bill Jones, loved electronics. So we rented a small retail
space and started selling a few high-end stereo systems. You know the kind.
The ones too loud for apartments. Like most start-ups, we barely squeaked
by. The gear sold well during Christmas and Graduation but our little store
was a ghost town from January to June.
We desperately needed a Plan "B." One twelve pack of
Budweiser later, we landed on the pet shop brainstorm. Hmm, pets aren't
seasonal. And we figured what better "draw" than cute little
puppies and kittens? We could
anchor them in the rear of the store so that our customers would have to
walk by the stereo gear, on the way to see the critters. The same basic
strategy grocery stores employ with milk and eggs.
The advertising campaigns wrote themselves. "If you want woofers and tweeters, this is the place."
had a talking parrot who pecked our one legged Cockatiel to death during a
Labor Dale sale.
had an eight-foot boa constrictor that slithered out of his cage and into
the aviary where he devoured seven parakeets - in full view of our customers
- before three of us grown men could wrestle him out of the window!
and there was the time I invited a local third grade class to visit and
watch baby hamsters being born. The kids gathered at the big display case as
the chubby, fuzzy Mommy hamster waddled right up the glass cage and popped
out six bald babies; right on cue. Giggles, Oooohs. Awwws. Then, the Daddy
hamster came over and ATE the newborns! Screams. Crying. Fast thinking. I
tried to convince the kids that the Daddy hamster washes the babies after
they are born and that he will spit them out later when they are clean. I
may go to hell for that lie alone.
didn't take us long to realize it was hard to make a profit when your
inventory is in a constant state of Natural Selection.
surprisingly, the day before Mt. St. Helens blew, I myself, erupted. For 30
minutes, I tried to "net" a specific spotted Goldfish for a
regular (and quite finicky) customer. Not an easy task when you consider
this two-inch freckled carp was in a tank with at least 500 pals. I
attempted dip after dip. But, each time I raised the net, the customer
insisted I had snagged the wrong one. I finally snapped. I grabbed what I
remember to be a Tuna net and drug it through the entire tank - scooping up
at least 60 goldfish. Then, I shouted at the elderly man, "Trust me.
The one you want is in there! The rest are on me!"
what had I done with my life? I hated going to work and I was getting
seriously depressed. All day long, I would watch the clock tick by until it
struck 9pm. Then, I would lock the door on another day and stumble home for
one more microwavable meal. I prayed for Sunday (my day off) where I would
hook up with friends and wash down too much pizza with too much beer. I was
pegging the dial on the bathroom scale and I hid my identity behind a shaggy
beard and shoulder length hair. I avoided mirrors because I resembled a
bloated bear. The highlight of my weeknights was collapsing into my
garage-sale-Lazy Boy recliner to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
I'd forget my day, marvel at the celebrities he'd interview, and howl when
he did impressions in funny costumes. In my mind, Johnny Carson had the
coolest job in the world. Combined with my recent Mt. St. Helens epiphany, I
was determined to quit this mess and get Johnny's job. Six years later I
would be in direct competition with Johnny Carson when I got the job to host
the FOX LATE SHOW; a nightly talk/comedy show that aired every night at 11:30pm.
I was shocked to get a handwritten letter from Johnny congratulating
me. It said, "I heard Rupert Murdoch (who owned FOX) may buy NBC. If
that's the case I'll see you at the Christmas party."
not Make YOUR dreams happen starting today.
Ross Shafer is a six-time Emmy Award winning comedian, writer and producer. He has made over 2000 presentations on customer service, motivation and presentation skills to corporations and associations around the world. His humor is infectious in his workshops and as an after dinner or awards banquet emcee. Contact us for details on Ross' programs and the many ways he can interact with your group for an outstanding event, or to arrange an interview for the media. 352-438-0261 email [email protected] or visit www.ExpertSpeaker.com/Speakers/shafer.htm
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