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Conference Call at Bunny's

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In more than a decade of working with collaborators and partners over meals, I have experienced the whole range of business dining experiences, but the conference call at Bunny's is sure always to stand out.

Not all business meals are expensive affairs where elegance makes for the fabric that holds the experience together. Plenty of these meals have been less about finalizing a deal or maintaining a personal human contact with an important partner; many have instead been more about talking through the details of some technical issue to be addressed. Having spent some time addressing such issues at The Ohio State University™, I have seen my fair share of the campus bar/restaurant scene. More than a few late night food runs would take my compatriots and me to Tommy's for pizza and beer. Even so, the last trip to Tommy's was probably five years ago and the details have started to become hazy.

Recently, I was called to northern New Jersey on short notice for a series of meetings. Not only did I have less than three days' notice for a series of meetings in the area, but I had so little time while there that I didn't even have the luxury of as much as a drink with some friends of mine with whom I survived an early round of the dot-com crash.

After arriving at the C concourse of Newark Liberty International Airport, I made contact with my client with my mobile phone. To avoid the chaos of finding me in a huge crowd, he suggested that I head up to the passenger drop-off area. The number of people being picked up there will be much smaller and we all stand a much better chance of being able to identify each other. Never having met before, we could use any possible advantage.

Sure enough, we found each other with ease and were soon on our way to our first set of meetings. By about eight-thirty in the evening, we were all assembled with associates both remote and local, and were able to talk through most of the issues that we needed to address. We had a conference call that we needed still to make, but that wouldn't be until ten, so we opted to head out for a bite to eat.

One of the locals suggested a place, noting that they've got good pizza and good beer available. I did note that I tend to be more keen on wine than beer, I am ready for a good brew now and again, particularly if I can get a good stout. On the way there, I was advised that (“oh, by the way”) we were quite close to Seton Hall and that the place would reflect that much of the clientele would come from the local student population. Someone else added that with my experience at The Ohio State University™, I should find the place comfortably familiar.

Our party of four was made up of two locals who knew the place well, and two from out of town (one from California and myself). Someone opened a door and we entered, single-file, a place called “Bunny's”. It was a Sunday night, and the place was not busy: as we walked by the bar, we passed four people sitting at the bar including a lady of some maturity whom I shall describe merely as not petite, dressed in such a way that we would be allowed to see plenty of her. In addition to the four, a barman stood behind the bar, greeting us as we walked by. The lady sitting at the far end of the bar also greeted us as we filed past her.

We entered a back room that had more traditional Italian-American restaurant seating: square tables to seat four arranged in the center, with booths around the edges. If the tabletops weren't covered in red and white checks, they easily could have been. All of the seats there were empty, and televisions were on showing some sporting event or other. Another lady appeared to take drink orders and a pitcher of a beer called “Ying-Ling” was ordered.

Whilst we waited for the beer, I learned that the name of the place is, in fact, a play on the name of the owner. The name apparently translates from Italian to English as “Rabbit,” hence, the place is “Bunny's.” I was immediately disposed to approve of the name. I do like a good pun constructed in translation.

The beer came as promised, and we were told that it is a local favorite and apparently cheaper than the dreadful Budweiser that one has such a hard time escaping. Although not generally a big fan of lager, I did like it, though I really couldn't tell you why. Perhaps it was something to do with expectations. I quickly got myself into the mode of visiting a campus bar and restaurant, so it seemed just to fit. Asking for a half-bottle of Grenache at such a time would be utterly ridiculous and I daresay that I would not have enjoyed it as much as I would in an atmosphere where it would actually fit..

By this time, comparison to the many late-night food runs made to Tommy's while working as a programmer (excuse me, “Senior Systems Engineer/Developer”) at The Ohio State University™ was inevitable. I half-expected to see Rowland to wander in and initiate a conversation about bootstrapping an operating system or something similar. In any case, I found myself wishing that Ying-Ling had been available at Tommy's, where the decision on which beer to get would typically boil down to the question of which type we hated the least.

Our server came back around to get our orders. She commented that with as dead as the place was, the kitchen was likely to close early. I ordered a pizza, topped only with sausage. (Not especially daring, I grant you, but it did come particularly recommended.) Others ordered various sandwiches and hamburger variations. Around this time, the lady at the end of the bar got up and headed out, opting to go through the back door, which took her by our table in the process, giving her another opportunity to greet us. After she made her exit, one of our local associates explained that he is a regular and that it was “Bunny” herself who had just wished us a good evening. So much for my theory that we were an irresistibly charming party of gentlemen; we just had the good sense to go someplace run by someone who makes sure her guests feel welcome.

The hour of ten approached and the time came for our call. One of our party had a speaker feature built into his mobile telephone and as the place was so nearly deserted that we thought that we might be able just to place the phone in the middle of the table and commence our meeting. The phone call was placed, the discussion began, and all was proceeding generally according to plan.

Oddly enough, people began filtering into the bar, both through the front door, and through the back door, passing by us in the process. About twenty minutes into our telephone discussion, someone wandered up to the jukebox and selected Tesla's “Love Song.” The volume was not set to be especially low. It was, in fact, rather loud, as was the crowd that assembled during the time that we were on the phone. The battle to hear what was being said by our telephonically-linked associate and to say coherent things in return turned before long into a battle of wills.

There we were, three attorneys and a bow-tie-clad consulting technical expert huddled in a booth. One attorney held a mobile telephone in his hand. A second technical expert was on the phone discussing various details of some computer systems. The bar, nearly deserted at our arrival, managed to achieve the quorum necessary for a proper bar crowd, and noise levels escalated accordingly. Words spoken though the speakerphone became difficult to make out. Some of our party occasionally looked back to the bar (what we were hoping to see escaped me). Only when we were in the middle of an important discussion did it become abundantly evident that placing the call from just that location wasn't the most brilliant move that could have been taken. Somehow or other, we managed to plow through and to finish the agenda. Fortunately, we were close to the conclusion by the time that the jukebox began to give us flashbacks to late eighties rock music. In any case, I believe that our entire party was quite relieved when the call finally ended.

I do hope that the lesson has been learned and that there are at least five people who will know how not to conduct a late conference call.

Not long afterward, we settled the account and made our way back to hotels and homes. All things considered, the trip was productive and helpful. But more than anything else, I suspect that I'm most likely to remember the utterly bizarre experience of the conference call at Bunny's.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-11-28 08:54 AM
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