Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Archive for May 2010

Tongue-tied and Googly-eyed

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Last Thursday, the NRDC hosted this year’s Going Green Awards at Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant, where I work part-time as a hostess.  About a week before the event, I started to read up on the local business leaders and culinary stars expected to attend and the four individuals the Council was honoring.  When I discovered that Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser were two of the panelists appointed to present at the ceremony, I was ecstatic.  Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a contributor in Food, Inc. (an Academy Award-nominated documentary exposing what we don’t know about the foods we buy at the supermarket), and currently teaches at UC Berkeley’s J-School.  Eric Schlosser is an investigative journalist known for his work as the best-selling author of Reefer Madness, Fast Food Nation, executive producer of There Will Be Blood (spawned by 1927 novel Oil!), as well as co-producer of Food, Inc. He studied history in earlier years and strove to become a playwright, however, happened upon a career in journalism and began to report on a number of industries lacking transparency in their practices.  That said, I would be in the presence of several influential and activist luminaries.

On Thursday night, I showed up to work and made myself useful helping to set up for the event and preparing for guests to arrive.  After the cocktail reception, I was able to catch a few minutes of the actual presentation in the Jazz Club where Schlosser and two other panelists posed multiple-choice questions to the audience regarding agricultural and commercial land use, water resources, and environmental data that were cause for concern.  When everyone walked out of the Jazz Club and into the main restaurant for the dinner portion of the event, I kept looking out of the corner of my eye to see if I could spot Pollan or Schlosser.  For the first hour or so, I only spotted Alice Waters, as well as a few other faces I recognize from reading weekly 7×7 newsletters.  I kept thinking – Did they leave already?  Did I miss the opportunity to meet these people that I’ve come to admire through their progressive work?

Right when I thought I was out of luck, I saw him.  Schlosser was sitting down in the front lounge with another man and a woman and looking distant as the two chatted in hushed voices. I turned to Dickie, my co-host for the night, and said, “There he is.  I want to say hi.  Should I go over there now?”  Dickie, seeing that I was nervous and intimidated, nudged me and reminded me that I had to go over to him now, or else I’d miss my opportunity.  Dickie said, “He looks bored.  Go now!”  So, I walked over.  I think I held my breath during that walk, because when I reached him, I was light headed.  I lowered my face to his, apologized for interrupting, introduced myself, and told him I really admired what he’d done in the last few years.  I asked if he was working on his next book about the American prison system, and he revealed that it wouldn’t be published before his book on nuclear weapons.  He went on to ask about my interest in the topic of prisons, and I told him about a Criminal Justice course I took at UCSB my senior year.  The reason I’d wanted to speak with him, in the first place, was because the professor in that particular class was compelling in shedding light on the problems that exist in our current system and also had personal experience to draw from.  I wanted to suggest that Schlosser reach out to Spearit, the professor, if he was in need of additional resources for his book.  When Schlosser asked me how to spell Spearit’s full name, I completely froze.  I don’t think I’ve ever stuttered or had trouble spelling due to being star struck or in awe of whom I was talking to.    This was definitely an exceptional case in which I could not even speak like a normal person.  We talked for another few minutes, I started to breathe regularly, and finally excused myself to leave.

When I told my manager what happened, he shook his head and said, “We need to teach you how to hustle.  The industry you’re trying to get into – you’re gonna need to hustle and do better than that.  Did you exchange contact information?  Did he give you his card?  Did you invite him back to Yoshi’s for future events?”  I hadn’t even thought that far ahead.   I’d entertained the idea of asking whether he might need another research assistant for his book, but anxiety got the best of me, and I chickened.  I guess the lesson learned is not to psyche yourself out when meeting people of celebrity status who provoke change and galvanize awareness.

Lastly, if any of you are offering Hustling 101, please sign me up.

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