I was eleven years old in 1975. I was also both conceited and insecure.
I’d lived a fairly sheltered life in Great Neck, NY (Wall Street’s wealthy backyard – though I had the honor of living in one of the poorest houses in one of the country’s richest communities)
That all changed in the summer of 1975.
And no, I’m not talking about puberty. That was actually relatively uneventful…with the exception of an incident I won’t go into with a girl nick-named “Big Kim.”
But I digress…
I’m talking about one very frightening drive home from Manhattan to Great Neck with my sister and my Mom. See, Mom had been working in in NYC for a while by the time I was eleven. She was a fledgling psychotherapist (like 17 other people in my family) just starting to see patients in her midtown office. I forget exactly why Laurie and I were with her that day, but I’ll NEVER forget the ride home.
Driving across mid-town Manhattan during a hot summer day’s rush hour is about as thrilling as watching and earthworm cross the street…but slower. That’s why my Mom chose to take a detour through Harlem. It was easier to go straight uptown and head east on 125th street than to try and get anywhere on 57th (around the corner from Mom’s office)
So uptown we went.
And Harlem was quite a site for a spoiled Great Neck kid.
Remember, this was Harlem in 1975… a far cry from what it is today (thanks to the last mayor’s anti-crime efforts and “broken window theory”) As a boy, I’d heard all the stories on TV, the shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, prostitutes, muggers, etc. I had expected to see a veritable prison ward let loose on the streets.
But what greeted us instead was a friendly, busy neighborhood with street vendors, men dressed all sorts of ways. Some wore suits and ties, others donned jeans and a t-shirt, and still others were adorned in a ridiculous amount of bling”, though they didn’t call it that back then.
We even passed a street juggler and a guitar player.
It lit up my eyes with wonder!.
That is, until Mom turned down a side street and the car stalled.
She seemed a little worried, so of course Laurie (my sister) and I were too. But Mom remained calm and said we should just sit there for a moment.
So we did.
And then it happened…
A large, Pink Cadillac (I’m really NOT kidding you) with fuzzy dice pulled up behind us. And two large, lean black men got out and started walking toward our car.
My Mom turned to us both in the back and said “You guys have been great kids and I love you very much. But we’re probably going to die now and I want you to know it’s OK” (At least that’s how I remember it – Mom might have something different to say)
A giant wave of anxiety shot through me. I’d like to say I was planning something macho… but let’s face it, I was eleven and didn’t even shave yet. I’m lucky I didn’t crap myself…
Before I knew it the men were on both sides of the car, motioning for Mom to roll down the window.
She did. I’m not sure she had any other choice.
And then, much to our surprise, the men didn’t take out any guns or knives. Instead, they gently leaned into the car and said to her “Is everything alright, Sistah? Your kids OK?”
She smiled and said yes.
“What’s the matter then, car won’t start?”
The rest of the conversation I can’t remember.
But the two nice men pushed the car (with my Mom, myself, and my sister in it) over a half mile to the garage they were most familiar with. THEN they drove us home in their big Pink Cadillac 35 miles to Great Neck!!!
My Mom offered them $50 for their troubles and gasoline (a lot of money back then), but they utterly refused saying “We’re all brothers on the road.”
Now, you might think these guys would have shown up later on expecting my mother to, um, “work for” them…but they simply took off and we never heard from them again.
That was my first exposure to Harlem.
The people we THOUGHT were our worst enemies in a terrifying situation were actually the ones who saved us!!!
And that’s the moral of the story for we marketers. Because we spend so much time worrying about the competition, we never stop to think how we might work WITH them.
So that’s the question I’ll leave you with …. have you considered how you might work WITH your worst competitor? The one you’re most afraid of? (Howie Jacobson and I, for example, refer people back and forth all the time, even though we compete for the same traffic. Same with Terry Dean. We each have our unique strengths and weaknesses, and dozens of clients buy from all of us)
I’m not saying to make yourself vulnerable. By all means, be careful.
But your worst competitor might just be relieved to think of YOU as a friend instead of an enemy too…it might be worth a conversation.
Food for thought, do you think?
Dr. G 🙂
PS – I’ll be opening my business coaching practice to new clients for the first time in almost three full years on Jan 1st, 2016…for ONE day only. And because I’m getting older and busier, this very well may be the LAST time I ever open for new people… so if you’ve got any interest in working with me personally, now’s the time to sign on. Read the letter and add your name to the priority notifications list. (“He who hesitates is lost”)