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The Price of Higher Education

I have long stated I learned just as much in college from the people I met, extra-curricular activities and debating with my professors. As a free thinker, that turned out to be fairly often. I took full advantage of what the university had to offer. Even though it would take me almost 150 semester hours to earn a business degree. If you’re doing the math, that’s FIVE years allotted for a four-year bachelor’s degree. I should have been awarded a master’s degree, but it was all about money for the institution.

I t appeared to me then what a racket the school was running in the name of higher education. Turns out, that was pretty much par for the course with most institutions of higher learning in America. But it didn’t stop at tuition, there were all sorts of little administrative fees. In my sophomore year, there was a push for students to give consent for the State to build a new recreational building. The marketing group hit the club circuit collecting signatures. “You want a new facility, don’t you?” Abject outrage is how I would describe the student body’s attitude two years later, when the gym was built and we all saw an additional $75 a semester to pay for it in our tuition bills. But, there was a shiny new building on campus that was plastered on the front of all the marketing brochures. Again, it was about money.

Ideally, private institutions, many which are older than our nation, would confer degrees as a matter of prestige. State colleges would create graduates to increase the overall expertise within the region by turning out quality workers who0902181247[1] would later be taxed. Now, college IS the tax!

The perception of a college degree is losing its prestige. Increasingly, high school graduates are doing what the university has been suggesting for years: Look at the return on investment (ROI).   There are thousands of millionaires, primarily in technology who made there money and never finished… or even started college. Vo-techs and other institutions which were once considered less of an education, are now looking pretty good. Electricians for instance, make about $55,000 a year and it is a well respected occupation. They also don’t have near the debt as a college grad once they earn their certificate. Tuition for a 4 year institution has TRIPLED over the past 2 decades. So the colleges have definitely figured out their own ROI.

Universities have themselves to blame. Only when they abandon the notions of being the biggest, having the most enrolled, newest buildings, or best sports programs (yeah, I went there) can they ever get back to what is most important: turning out quality young professionals. But I don’t think that will happen any time soon. In the meantime, all I can recommend is for America’s young people to take off the Guy Fox masks, stop complaining about their feelings and get their butts to a legitimate class. Otherwise, they are accomplishing NOTHING other than building debt.

 

 

 

SHOW Them You Mean Business!

Sales can be a fickle thing. Fickle because professional salesperson has to deal with other human beings. With that, comes all the thoughts, feelings, miscommunication and paranoia of those prospective clients. Throw a new home in the mix and you have a recipe for disaster!

In any industry, the onus to explain the process of how a customer can take advantage of a product or service falls to the sales professional. Ethically, this should include all the caveats of finalizing the agreement and disclosures any unforeseen liabilities. In real estate, this is a part of an agent’s fiduciary (financial) responsibility. A Realtor may market well and give sound advice when an offer comes in, but what about the period in between?

This is the time where clients, especially sellers, have the most anxiety and need a little bit of hand-holding. Yes, dealing with someone else’s emotions and frustrations is part of the job.  If one becomes a real estate agent because he loves beautiful homes, but dislikes dealing with people and their problems, then he is in exactly the WRONG industry. At the risk of sounding cliche, it really IS a people business. The best way take the temperature of your client and avoid a potential melt down is with good communication. That means preparing them from the very beginning.

People want to be led through the real estate process. They want to know what to expect. There are hundreds of things that may go wrong, and many of them are out of the Realtor’s control. What is in the control of the pro is how hard he or she will work on behalf of their clients. Over a decade ago, I developed a marketing plan detailing what I will do in the first 30 days I have a home listed. It was a way of actually showing what I would do. This is a small part of what I share in my Improved Communications for Real Estate Professionals” seminars. However, it is an important one. If I am going head-to-head against another professional for a client’s business yet they do not have a marketing plan, who do you think the prospect will choose?

Marketing Plan

Note, this 30 Day New Listing Marketing Plan does NOT guarantee I will SELL their home in 30 days. It simply reiterates what I am doing to get the home sold while I have it listed. Part of which, is good communication.  Having a frank conversation about what you will… or will not do to represent the client is not only sound business, but it will prevent miscommunication down the road. There is nothing new here. In truth, this is a culmination of several ideas I gathered along the way. A Realtor… or any other industry professional should have an explanation of serviced they can readily share with their prospects.

Keep watching for my latest “Improved Communications for Sales” workshop.

http://MomentumSeminars.com

Do You Want Fries with that Degree?

In my senior year of high school, there was a young lady who subbed for a study hall I had. She was working for a few weeks before her next semester began at college. I heard she attended a university and proceeded to ask her questions about her field of study. Not because I was interested in academia so much as how cute I thought she looked with her brunette hair in a bob cut.

“So, what’s your major?” I asked as smoothly as a pimple faced seventeen-year-old boy in combat boots and a T shirt with a skull on it could ask. Her reply: “History.” “Oh, so you want to teach” I asked. “No, I’m just working on a Liberal Arts degree. Unless you are entering a specialized field, employers don’t really care what your major is so long as you prove you have the gumption to actually complete four years of college. A degree tells a company you have the necessary skills to pick up new tasks.” That statement permeated my mind as well as her perfume or deep brown eyes. Hey, I was seventeen.

That comment, however, really stuck with me when I entered college myself. I have long stated I learned just as much in college from the people I met, extra-curricular activities and debating with my professors. As a free thinker, that turned out to be fairly often.

In the not so distant past, more and more schools began offering online classes. Ideally for people who needed to finish out their degree or do some graduate work. Online classes are now the norm, not the exception. My own kid has five of her six classes online. One would think online would be cheaper, but her classes cost MORE than physical classroom instruction. What’s this movement all about? You guessed it, money.

Without the personal interaction, there is no meeting other people, no joining clubs and sadly, no arguing with professors! The whole process becomes one big, giant thought funnel. Open mind and insert beer bong of… whatever one-way thought. I am reminded of the finale episode of Psych, where the main character’s father, a retired cop, begins teaching at the local community college. His opening remarks to his tiny classroom was; “I just don’t believe you can effectively teach criminal forensics online.” To which a student replied, “Then why am I making all A’s?” Why was he making all A’s indeed? Was it the curriculum has been so dumbed down that EVERY class is a crib? I certainly hope American colleges are not sacrificing quality for quantity, but some of the evidence doesn’t look good.

gradsAcross the country, there are such ridiculous classes as; the “study” of Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse and, God help us all; Lady Gaga and Her Fame. Princeton even has a class on how to get dressed. Princeton!!! No wonder the Chinese are kicking our ass on trade. Even where I live, there is an online “walking” course being offered. Walking… online. I guess the convenience is you never have to leave your bed to receive a passing grade these days. Perhaps they should include a few sections on the “The Art of Panhandling” to prepare graduates. Students may have fun, sail through college and never really have to think, but once they enter the real world, they will fail and fail miserably. Without responsible faculty and students being in close proximity, where will be the reasoning, the debate, the collaboration? Where will come the exposure to new thought? Where will teenage boys hit on girls?

Increasingly, the perception of a college degree is losing its prestige. Recently, an old college buddy of mine, presented to a group of high school student leaders. He essentially told the young crowd college is not all it’s cracked up to be and they should scrutinize the return on investment for four years. I heard about his candor because my own kid was in the audience. Of course, I set her straight by telling her that was complete nonsense. I want my children to have as many options in life as possible. Sadly however, I must agree with my friend. Though I don’t think he will be making any presentations at that school again.

Fortunately, there is hope. In 2017, I was conducting a management seminar in Louisville, Kentucky. At my hotel, I came across a group of students and instructors who were participating in a vocational / technical event put on by SkillsUSA. It was a big deal, even Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame was in town. In a national interview, Rowe stated there were 600,000 IMMEDIATE openings for American jobs in the technical field. These are plumbers, LPN’s, electricians, welders and even paramedics. You won’t study Chaucer at a vo-tech, but you will learn real world skills. Ironically, I appreciate one of Chaucer’s quotes; “The greatest scholars are not usually the wisest people.” Just having a bachelor’s degree does not make one smart. That is especially true today.

 

 

 

 

What is Your Elevator Speech?

Imagine hopping into an elevator to meet with an existing client on the 14th floor. You overhear the lady next to you state to a coworker she needs to purchase a new Acme model no. 5, extra-large green widget for the downtown office. Wait a minute; YOU sell Acme no. 5, extra-large green widgets! It’s time to spring into action, but you have less than a minute before the elevator reaches the 14th floor and your new prospect gets away. No time for the Power Point, just enough information to pique curiosity, and set an appointment. That’s an “elevator speech”.

Of course, it need not be in an elevator, escalator, or restroom stall. For those of us in sales, we might have this prepared already. But have you practiced it lately? For those of us not in sales, it’s a good idea to develop one for your church, civic club or next job interview.

According to Mindtools.com, there is a simple six-step formula for creating your own “sales pitch on the fly”.

1 – Identify your goal. What is it you wish to accomplish? To set up a sales presentation or get the name of the decision maker?  just to find out if the strangers organization is hiring or do you actually want to set an interview? At this stage of the game it is probably best to tread lightly and simply get the contact information.

2 – Explain what you do. What do you want your new found friend to remember most about what you say?

3 – Communicate your uniqueness. What makes you different from all the other salespeople? Is it your experience or an innovative approach?

4 – Engage with a question. Take the “temperature” of the receiver rather than trying to convince them of something. “Does that sound like something your company needs?”

5 – Put it all together. Make it informative, yet very concise. Always include an initial “ask” that isn’t too pushy.

6 – Practice. Louis Pasteur stated; “Chance favors the prepared mind”, so be ready! Remember, a “sales pitch” is a SPEECH. All great speakers and actors have to know their lines. You have to practice it, if it is to be effective.

http://MomentumSeminars.com

 

 

Four Conflict Styles of Communication

Most people hate conflict and will do what they can to avoid it. However, when we interact with others, there will be disagreements from time to time. Our words are our weapons of choice. Use them sparingly and we may be taken advantage by other coworkers. Use them too quick or often and we run the chance of being viewed as a workplace bully. We have the right to defend ourselves but it’s a delicate balance between ignoring a rude remark and speaking up.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communicators think win-win. They will pursue what is due them but not at the exclusion of anyone else. The assertive individual understands all co-workers have rights and are to be treated with respect. They are generally easy to get along with, yet will maintain organizational policies and standards. This type of positive communication style is good for the overall morale of the group and is generally expected of those in leadership positions.

Aggressive Communication

In short, an aggressive communicator is a bully. They consider their wants above the needs of others and look for those to exploit. However, their tactics may not be overt and more manipulative in nature. They are fine to take advantage of others if it will make their own jobs easier.

A bully only respects one thing: strength. If you are correct and have a right to something, be willing to confront them. Address their behavior as unacceptable. This

Angry Woman Bezel Case Office Secretariat

may seem obvious but on a deeper level it is a show of strength. Of course, it is always necessary to assess the total damage of kicking over the euphemistic beehive in the workplace. What will be the repercussions of standing up to an aggressive communicator if that person is your boss? Once they know you will stand up to them, bullies will generally leave you for other prey elsewhere.

Passive Communication

The passive communicator is a perpetual people-pleaser. They get along by going along, never wanting to upset the apple cart. Though they view themselves as the salt of the earth, others will see them as weak and mark them for exploitation. They are often made a victim because they will not voice their opinions stand up for themselves.

Passives generally have issues with setting priorities. They are often busy putting out other people’s fires because they can never say “no”. They need encouragement. The positive words you give them may be the only confidence builders in their lives. Ask them for opinions and solutions on team matters. However, it is important to ensure they understand job requirements and how their part affects the team. If in management, set the priorities for them.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

business_man_beautiful_man_business_business_men_man_young_male_businessman-625568.jpg!dYes, there are those who manage to be both passive AND aggressive at the same time. They will stand up to others… but behind their backs. They have an “I’ll show you” mentality and will carry a grudge. They love to play the victim, yelling one minute and then crying the next if yelling doesn’t work.

Understand the game the passive-aggressive plays but do not play it yourself. To do so would only enable them. Stay focused on what is fact and relevant. Once they realize emotional outbursts do not work, they might come to their senses. When dealing with this personality, ensure everyone is in agreement and there won’t be any “misunderstandings” later. It may be prudent to write a summary in and email to them after a conversation.

In one of my workshops, we go deep into what makes a person behave in such ways. Find out more at: http://MomentumSeminars.com

Mandatory Meetings!

Meetings in the business world are like cellphones and opioids. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. But is every formal get-together really necessary? Most people NOT presiding over one would say “no”. Maybe they have a point. When was the last time you heard a group of people leaving a conference room and collectively say; “Now, that was productive”. If anything, they rush back to their workstations to return missed calls and make up for the LOST time.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings have their usefulness. It is an opportunity for the boss to show his face and thereby get an instant read on where everyone on the team is with the latest project. It also shows the boss’ support of his subordinates. By maintaining the flow of information, management may prevent certain members from secluding themselves… and doing God knows what.  The team may discover mistakes being made and get the project back on track. Too, there is something to be said for synergy and collaboration.  It also provides much needed face time for building team camaraderie (psst… Millennials, that’s REALLY important). But these are perhaps the most grand ideals for having a meeting in the first place.

Here are some quick pointers on how to have a more effective meeting time:

Is it necessity or habit? If there is a “standing meeting”, perhaps Wednesdays mornings for the sales force, consider whether you really have to meet THIS week. If sales are good this quarter, keep your people in the field and OUT of the office. Actually, that applies to poor sales as well.

Select a time frame (like an appointment?) and stick to it. Keep a “huddle” to just that., short, sweet and to the point. If you call a meeting at 11:30 and lunch begins at Noon, you have exactly 30 minutes. Going over time and ordering everybody food is NOT OK. The occasional overage due to an unforeseen emergency will be forgiven. Make it a habit and your team will grow to resent you. After all you are not respecting their time or tSurvivedAnotherMeetinghe productivity they bring to the company during it.

It’s alright to have empty seats. Should everyone in the department be present for a meeting just because they are in the department? People not assigned to the latest projects and other specialist would much rather be doing their own work.  Veterans who have been “down that road before” should only be asked to attend due to the expertise they can provide or to understand how the work will be distributed.

I have a love/hate relationship with agendas. Granted, the boss is paying the employees so he or she gets to ramble on as long as they want. However, irritated and underutilized employees tend to find work elsewhere. It may seem too formal to have a list of topics but being too casual can pull the discussion down a rabbit trail. Before you know it, people are looking at their watches. Select the points you think most imperative to discuss and stick with it. Don’t keep it a surprise! Email copies of the agenda to all participants BEFORE the meeting so people will know what to expect… oh and to be prepared too.

Perhaps the most productive meetings I have attended are where the participants are independent contractors or volunteers rather than employees. And therein lies the rub. They WANT to be there. If you are calling a meeting, you need to ask yourself what the attendees will get out of it. If your people do not grow in some way or become more efficient, the meeting may not be necessary at all.

Over 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. Millions of business people have  read it and liken business to war itself. Personally, I do not like that analogy because at the end of the day, no one has died and hopefully, no property was destroyed. However, Sun Tzu did have a wonderful grasp of how groups are effected by leadership, be it good or bad. He stated an army (company or other group) did NOT exist for waging war (or simply to come to work each day). Rather, an army exists for VICTORY (productivity or increasing market share).  Holding meetings may seem like a very managerial thing to do, but is it a good use of everyone’s time when an email would have done just as well.

Blaine Little

 

Are you a Fraud?

When I first became a Realtor fifteen years ago, I was excited about the prospect of helping so many consumers realize the “American Dream”. But, as I actually began to approach prospective clients, a terrible sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach. I had begun to question everything that had brought me to that point. Was I really trying to help others achieve a lofty ideal, or was I just trying to make a quick buck? Was I good enough? What if a client knows more about the situation than I know?   Believe me, there’s nothing quick about making money in real estate, but these questions often enter a new agents mind… veterans too! These are normal anxieties that most people experience at one time or another in their lives. It just means you’re human.

A magician will take the stage, with the intent of dazzling his audience. He makes sure his first effect is a big hit to quickly win his audience over with his demonstration of skill. After a few minutes, even the most hardnosed skeptics stop trying to catch the performer commit an error, and simply sit back and enjoy the show. The magician is delighted to know he has the audience in the palm of his hand. However, delight eventually turns to guilt. “These people actually believe I can perform miracles” the illusionist will think to himself. “My entire show is built on lies, deception and optical illusions. I’m a fraud”! It’s what magicians call the Impostor Syndrome.

The Impostor Syndrome is something often attributed to over achievers, as well as novices. An actress makes a few movies that are well received, and the performer is in high demand. She now has the means to purchase a large home with all the furnishings, as well as that fancy sports car she always wanted. Then when she considers all those other people who are without the extravagant creature comforts, she feels guilty for her success. To alleviate the negativity, she offers to work FOR a worthy charity. This is a wonderful way to channel the energy into a positive. She then receives worldwide acclaim for her good works, and again, feels guilty for receiving the notoriety. She then rationalizes in order to find peace; she needs to lash out AGAINST something… anything. This explains why we have so much social commentary from the Hollywood elite these days.

What the magician’s audience doesn’t see is the countless hours researching, studying, and practicing in front of a mirror to get each and every effect just right. He will also experiment with different methods, and ask for guidance from other professionals. Similarly, a brand new real estate agent devotes themselves to their craft. Consider the hundred hours of formal training one must attend in order to achieve his or her license. Respect the fact most people would not endure sitting through the classes, studying for the test, taking the test (maybe more than once) and subscribe to an code of ethics in order to call themselves; Realtor. Yet, we feel ashamed if a member of the general public states information they found on Zillow or Trulia that they say is contrary to our research and professional opinion. One should never question their own abilities when confronted by those who are not willing to put in the hard work.

The magician is not paid to perform “miracles”, he’s paid to ENTERTAIN, which is what he does. Similarly, an agent is not compensated for “knowing everything”, but rather to research a specific situation to help the clients achieve their goals. Still, there are some things we can do to overcome a fraud complex. First, understand by being committed to your industry, you already know a lot more than you may think. Second, when someone pays you a compliment, accept it. “Thank you” is an appropriate response. Also, fresh knowledge by way of continual training and keeping up with current industry issues is a good way to kill off the “impostor” inside. When it all said and done, you are a professional with a conscience. After all, a true con artist never has an issue with integrity, or the lack thereof. So, remind yourself, you are there to help consumers realize the “American Dream”.

http://MomentumSeminars.com

The 8 Most Common Mistakes of New Managers

Recently, I was speaking to a group of business owners. It was a luncheon, and I was brought in as the guest speaker. The topic that day was on turning new managers into effective ones. It was a portion of my one day management seminar I conducted the month before. Entrepreneurs want to know how to get their management team up and running as quick as possible.

Almost as important as what to do, it to know what NOT to do. With so many people, procedures and other considerations in any organization, mistakes are sometimes made.  It is not enough for a leader to continue to develop his or her skills. The boss must also be mindful to avoid potential obstacles that could derail an otherwise positive environment.

1) Leading all members of a team in the same manner.

One size does not fit all when it comes to dealing with human beings. And if you’re in management, THAT is the job; dealing with human beings. Everyone responds different to the chief motivators of pain or pleasure. To uncover what motivates a person, a manager must first have an individual relationship with all members of the team.

2) Offensive, obnoxious, rude or abusive behavior.

Being offensive simply isn’t acceptable in the 21st century workplace. Truth is, it wasn’t acceptable in the 20th century or any other. Being loud or issuing threats will simply repel good employees. For those who are motivated by achieving pleasure and reward, this tactic provides neither.

3) Failing to show appreciation when it is deserved.

One thing that keeps good employees in place for years when perhaps the title wasn’t as glamorous or money wasn’t as good compared to somewhere else, is a sense of satisfaction. Simply Receiving a paycheck isn’t enough for someone to take pride in their work. Employees need validation from the boss.

4) An inability to gather or give information due to poor communication  skills.

If you don’t have a TEAM, you are not really a manager. You are a specialist. A siloed technician can get away with not speaking much or constructing emails in bullet points devoid of adjectives, a manger cannot. Issuing edicts like a monarch doesn’t work in the American culture. People need to know what, how and even why.

5) Not being a role model or leading by example.

It is not necessary for managers to DO everything alongside the rest of the team every day. However, it is necessary illustrate that the manager CAN. This is not only good for esprit de corps but it also allows the boss an opportunity to exhibit what the standard of work is to be.

6) Blurring the lines of management and being too friendly.

Managing friends and former co-workers is always tough. But if the position has shifted, so should the relationship. Notice, I did not say there is no relationship, it has simply transformed. Those who will call on the loyalties of “friends” in their new corporate rung will always fail. It better to establish what the new relationship is on the front end.

7) Being absent or otherwise detached from the organization.

A good boss has to be present in mind and body. Yes the mice will play, so it is imperative they physically see a manager. Though it is not just a matter of work ethic, but teams need to know they have the support of management. Support given from a distance may not be perceived as support at all. Morale, whether good or bad, stems from leadership.

8) Micro-managing; not delegating responsibilities or trusting the team.

I could go deep here, but the bottom line is: nobody likes a control freak! If the boss is hovering over the collective shoulder of the team, the team will essentially give up. Why should they try so hard if everything is to be critiqued and modified later? It also teaches employees to not engage their own ingenuity.

The relationship between employer and employee is just that, a relationship. As such, it must be cultivated by both parties. Proper interaction is a must to achieving organizational goals.

 

Time for Faith

A local dining favorite is about to close it’s doors in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Peter D’s American Southern Bistro will close it’s doors on 4/18/2018. It’s named for Peter Demos, a prominent businessman in Tennessee.  It was said to be “Upscale, casual dining”. I’m not sure what that means, but the food was pretty good.  My  family and I went there several times since it opened about four years ago. You could find things on the menu there that were  hard to find elsewhere. Things like candied ribs and a quinoa salad. The foodpeter-d-s was good, the service was good and so was the atmosphere.

When you first walked into the restaurant, you could not help but notice the THOUSANDS of copper pennies inlaid into the floor of the foyer. I once asked the owner exactly how many coins there were and he told me. I have since forgotten that number but I was struck that he knew it down to the penny. The interior was rustic with rock walls and bourbon casks. But one thing in the decor that really fascinated me was all the “broken” clocks hanging in the waiting area. It looked like a scene from American Pickers.

The first time we visited, I didn’t ask about the odd timepieces as I was just taking it all in. When we went back, curiosity got the better of me. When I finally asked the hostess; “What’s with the clocks”, I was expecting to get some philosophical response about how time is money, the mortality of man or even the restaurants hours of operation. What I got instead was a little card that explained the meaning of each and every clock. The “times” correspond to a different bible reference.

The first clock was set to 6:33. This represented Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I thought this was pretty bold, especially in a day and age when it is not politically correct to be a Christian, let alone a Christian business. 3:05 was Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  I was amazed to see such a witness in a time when there are those who grossly misinterpret the United States Constitution to read as a separation of church and… well, EVERYTHING.

Peter Ds ClocksYeah, this guy is a radical alright. In fact he even went so far as to remain closed on Sundays, so the employees could go to church that day.  A couple of years ago, I heard Mr. Demos’ testimony one Good Friday at a function sponsored by another public speaker in town, Coach Micheal Burt. He related how difficult it was to open this particular restaurant though he had been a restaurateur for decades. Nonetheless, God showed him the way. A way which would ultimately bring glory to the Lord if for no other reason than to share his story. That’s appropriate as it is a part of the restaurants purpose statement.

According to the Daily News Journal, which shot the main photo of this post, the Demos’ received an offer from a national deli chain to lease the property which was too good to turn down. The Peter D’s name will go on as the family’s catering business. Already, Peter has his sights on his next venture this Summer in Nashville. I’m sure my family and I will visit one of his many establishments for years to come, but I will personally remember how bold the Demos family is in their faith.

Blaine Little

http://MomentumSeminars.com

For the entire DNJ article, visit; https://www.dnj.com/story/money/business/2018/04/14/peter-ds-closing-murfreesboro-demos-restaurant/517178002/

The NASHVILLE TORNADO; How Dr. Pepper Saved My Life

Having lived over a decade of my life in the Mid-West, I had heard all sorts of stories about the odd happenings during a tornado; the “freight train”, whole houses lifted intact and sat back down, playing cards splicing half way into light poles, etc. So, when my family moved back to Tennessee, I just thought that was all behind me, we were no longer in “Tornado Alley”.

Twenty years ago today, I recall I left a little early to make it to a per-marrital counseling session with my pastor and fiancé, now my wife, Hannah. As I left the State office building in Nashville where I worked, I noticed how gray and bleak the skies were. I didn’t think much of it, because it wasn’t raining… how bad can it be? You will realize in this story, just how slow on the uptake I was that day.

Nashville-TN-Tornado-4-16-1998I got in my car, put in a CD, and left the State parking lot on Charlotte Avenue to make my way back to Murfreesboro. As I pulled under the I-40 overpass, I noticed the red light was swinging violently in the wind. The idea of a tornado never crossed my mind; after all, it was Tennessee! As I sat there, I noticed several other cars lining up behind me as we waited for the light to change. Then I watched as a plastic box fly by which was followed by a tree branch about four feet long. I still had no idea what was happening but remember thinking; “Wow, this is going to be a really bad wind storm, I better protect my car”. Realizing other motorist would like the relative safety of being under an overpass; I ran the red light, bypassed the on-ramp, and gunned it to the gas station across the street. No way was I going to have flying debris hit my car on the interstate. I would go to the convenient store, get a Dr Pepper and just wait it out.

I parked near the carport to protect my car from this “wind storm”. As I opened the car door, I was struck by how hard it was to open my door. I STILL didn’t understand this was a pressure issue, I just thought it was heavy wind pushing against my car but when I got out, I was stunned at how little wind there actually was. I noticed there was a lady who was apparently trapped in her car next to me. I went over to her and pulled on the door handle as she pushed. Together we were able to get her out. I stated “I don’t blame you for waiting out this storm”. Apparently, she was actually listening to the news on the car radio, because she gave me a funny look.

We went in the gas station and there was a man who appeared to be of Indian decent ushering us into the back storeroom. I asked him, “Do you think it’s going to be that bad and can I get a Dr Pepper first?” To which he replied in a thick accent; “Get in the storeroom!” I had stopped here for a soft drink several times before and this reaction was very uncharacteristic for him, so I responded “Okay”. After all, I didn’t want to upset him more than he was already. I guessed his fear was broken glass from tree branches and other debris hitting the windows.

The shopkeeper and I were the last to enter the narrow cinder block room, where to my surprise there were about half a dozen other people all facing forward. I guess a lot of other people had the same idea I had. It was deathly quiet in the tiny space, except for me humming and rolling back and forth on the balls of my feet, waiting this thing out. It was a lot like being in an elevator with strangers waiting for the doors to open. Then the lady I helped out of the car asked “Did anyone hear WHERE the tornado was on the radio?” Several people shook their heads in silence. “Tornado, where?” I thought. This was Tennessee, we don’t HAVE tornadoes. “There’s a tornado in the area” I asked her. She nodded in silence.

Then out of the silence, I heard a hum NOT from me. Roarrrr, roarrrrr, roarrrrrrrr. It’s a cliché, but I could hear the whistle of a freight train blowing in the distance at different intervals. Having a better understanding of the gravity of the situation from those who were listening to the news a few minutes before I made a profound announcement; “I hope the tornado doesn’t hit that train.” Two or three people looked over their shoulder to me and gave me a look as if to say; “You moron!”

Once the “train” had moved on, we all made our way out of the small storage space. As I041698map stepped into the main room of the filling station, I could see all the chip bags, candy bars and aspirin bottles had leaped from the shelves and were now on the floor. The windows however, were still intact. No explanations for that other than odd happenings occur in a tornado. I realized the poor store clerk would be cleaning up this mess for hours, so I felt it was a bad time to ask for a Dr. Pepper.

Fortunately, my car was not hit by any of the storm debris but the shop across the street was a mess. As I drove up the interstate on-ramp, I looked over to the other side and saw not one, but two semi trucks knocked over on their sides. Several other cars were pushed into the ditch. It was complete mayhem. That’s the point at which it finally stuck me; I was actually IN the tornado! Had I not been in that little storeroom, I could have been killed.

Each year on this day, I run the scenario over again. Though my car and a soft drink were the only things on my mind, I behaved pretty well. I did at least have consideration for other motorist behind me, I helped a lady into the store and had empathy for the shopkeeper. I’m not patting myself on the back; all I wanted was a Dr Pepper to wait out a storm. But what if I had listened to the weather report instead of the Stone Temple Pilots that day? How would I (or any of us) have reacted if the exact same conditions were under the banner of “natural disaster”? Labels can make people react in funny ways. Would I have told the shopkeeper “Don’t tell me what to do”? Would I have helped the woman out of her car? Would I have taken the attitude of “I was here first” for the cars not under the overpass? I guess in my situation, ignorance is bliss.