Once upon a time, in a land far away, I went to a Toyota Motor Corporation banquet.
I was the guest speaker.
Don’t ask me why I was invited to speak — in Japanese, no less — you wouldn’t believe me anyway. You’d only say I was making stuff up. (“Tony, you lie!” “Don’t play, be serious!”)
This extravagant event was held at Toyota’s World Headquarters in, where else, Toyota, Japan. Gathered in this enormous and ornate banquet center, were all of Toyota’s corporate executives and their wives. More than a thousand people. And it was a very very formal affair. When the Japanese do formal, they eclipse any European potentate or aristocracy. Formal in Japan means FORMAL.
In attendance at this banquet was Mr. Toyota himself. (Yes, there is such a man.) The city is named after his family … his family is responsible for the company. He is a third generation car man, about 73 years old.
If I were asked to speak in English at such a banquet it would have been nerve-wracking enough, but doing it in JAPANESE?!! What was I thinking??
I was supposed to speak after the meal but I could barely eat anything at all because I was so nervous. So instead of eating, I decided to drink the wine. On an empty stomach. Not my best decision.
If you know me very well, you know that I’m a cheap drunk. Two, maybe, three beers, and that’s about it. Yes, I know, I drink like a teenaged girl. Whatever. I’ve heard it all before. Let’s move on.
The glass of wine I drank not only settled my nerves, but probably made my Japanese a little comical. Hopefully the jokes I had in my speech would work better this way. Or not.
The program began. My part came. I gave my speech. Everyone laughed at the right times. I got applause. I sat down. I nearly passed out. People came up to me afterwards and were very very nice. “Oh, Tony-san, your Japanese is so … so … interesting.” they said.
The most important thing that happened that night wasn’t anything about what I’ve just told you. That was just the back story.
No, the most important thing was what happened when I was standing back stage waiting for my turn in the program. While the MC was conducting other parts of the program, giving out awards and whatnot, I was back stage with others who would have a part in the program too. Including Mr. and Mrs. Toyota!
I was standing off to one side by myself, reading over my speech, trying to prepare myself, when THEY came over to ME! Oh lord! Mr. and Mrs. Toyota!!! Mr. Toyota’s personal assistant led the way and proceeded to make the introductions. OMG! OMG! OMG! MR. TOYOTA AND HIS WIFE!!!
They were the preeminent picture of Japanese grace and elegance. On the other hand, my socks were FULL of sweat. I could literally feel, and hear, the sound of my soaked feet in my soaked shoes. And I just knew the wine was going to totally screw up my Japanese and I was going to sound like a buffoon. Stupid wine.
Introductions in Japan are extremely important and very complicated. Who is introduced first? Who bows first? Who bows lowest? How many times do we bow? Who quits bowing first? Who looks at whom? Who hands their business card first? What is the proper way to receive the business card? How long do you look at the business card before putting it away? How do I properly put the card away? And on and on it goes. It’s very choreographed, rooted in Japanese culture and tradition, and based on who is considered the “superior” and who is considered the “inferior.”
There was NO question as to who the inferior was.
I somehow managed to survive this minefield of cultural exchanges and introductions without sounding like a goober and without embarrassing myself. And then there we were … standing around making small talk. Mr. and Mrs. Toyota were asking ME questions about myself!?? They asked the usual kinds of questions that most Japanese would ask me. Where are you from? What do you do? Do you miss America? Why did you choose to come to Japan? Do you realize that your nose is enormous? Stuff like that. (By the way, big noses are considered attractive there … explains my interest in Japan, huh!?)
And then this happened.
We were just chatting along casually when I mentioned, very off the cuff and without any agenda whatsoever and just trying to make conversation, that my brother-in-law owned a Toyota truck. When I said that, both of them, Mr. and Mrs. Toyota … the head of Toyota Motor Corporation and his wife … bowed to me … low … low … low … and remained bowed … and said, while bowing, in the most formal and polite Japanese, “Thank you very very much, most Honorable Mr. Ludlow sir, for your most honorable family’s support of our most meager company and for your most honorable trust in our most inferior products.”
Didn’t they know my family is from Arkansas? That my brother-in-law hauls around deer carcasses in the back of his Toyota truck? That the car that brought them to the banquet cost more than the house I grew up in? That the personal assistant standing in front of me makes more in a year than my father made in a decade?
And they remained bowed for so long that I was embarrassed. People were staring. Those back stage saw the head of their company, AND his wife, honoring me as if I were the most important person at the banquet. The fact was, THEY were the most important people there! He was one of the most important people in the world! And the treatment they gave me was the kind of thing the lowest worker on the Toyota assembly line would show to them! The honor they gave me was so embarrassingly respectful that I returned their bow to them, time and time again, and then started begging them, in whispered and respectful Japanese, to please stop, that I was unworthy of such an honor.
When we finally stood up straight, I had tears in my eyes. I’d never been treated that way in my life. I didn’t know what to say or do.
I’ve never forgotten the lesson they taught me that night. Never have I seen such class and elegance … such humility and kindness … all extended to a hillbilly from Fort Smith, Arkansas … from one of the most powerful men in the world.
Ask me how everyone treated me the rest of the night.
When I returned to my seat from giving my speech, and it was evident that I hadn’t had a chance to eat before hand, and that my food was now cold, two waiters came quickly and brought me hot food. One of them stood just a few feet away from me for the rest of the evening to ensure that I was completely taken care of. I was entirely and completely humbled and embarrassed by the preferential treatment I was shown.
What was I taught that night?
Mr. and Mrs. Toyota taught me that everyone is important. Everyone matters.
Everyone is important. Everyone matters.
That’s why I remember your name.
Let me take this opportunity to tell you, those who come to Boot Camp, who make this program possible by your support, who have stood by me through thick and thin, who have been more friend than client — and even to you who are in your very first month of Boot Camp — thank you … thank you so very very much for your honorable trust in my meager and inferior efforts to serve you. I will continue to work hard for you and will, to the best of my ability, abuse you with enthusiasm and humiliate you — most honorable Boot Campers — with humor and great affection!
APRIL IS OUR ANNUAL “BRING A FRIEND TO BOOT CAMP MONTH”
My friend Tom Farrar was a great guy and an excellent CPA.
Former Air Force vet and a numbers genius, but an overweight, hyper-type-A personality that concerned me from the time day I met him.
I worried that Tom was a walking time bomb … a heart attack just waiting to happen. Tom was my CPA and I badgered him, sweetly invited him, tried to shame him, and attempted to humiliate him over the years in an effort to get him to take care of himself and get in shape. I tried everything.
“Tom, you need to come to Boot Camp … I promise not to kill you.” But he would always laugh it off and promise me that he’d come “one of these days.”
Tom ran out of days in April 2007. Unnecessarily. Completely preventable.
He never came to Boot Camp. He never let me help him.
Tom walked out to pick up his morning paper and had a heart attack. He died in his front yard.
In honor of my friend Tom, I made April our “Bring a Friend to Boot Camp Month!”
You can bring a friend to Boot Camp during April for a FREE DAY! No strings attached.
What’s in it for you?
The Boot Camper who brings the most friends in April will get $100!! US Legal Tender. Not 100 Dollars in Boot Camp Bucks! Real money!!
Here are the only rules:
1. Your visiting friends must be prospects for membership, so no out of town visitors will count toward your total number of friends for the contest.
2. Repeat visitors don’t count beyond their first visit – so you can’t bring your friend Bob 15 times during April and count it as 15 friends! (You get that John Winford?!)
3. Friends who join are counted twice!
In addition, your friends can join USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP for only $90 in April! Only your friends and family can take advantage of this deal. New recruits taking advantage of this special discount MUST have a sponsoring friend who IS a Boot Camper in good standing. It’s for our friends and family only.
OFFICE SPACE IN EAST MEMPHIS!
668 Colonial (Across the street from Target). Two awesome spaces available.
Office Suite #1 is 2,400 square feet.
Office Suite #2 is 1,600 square feet with 4 dental operatories. Perfect dental office or even solon space.
Call Boot Camper Kim Mullins at 901-283-5913
AWESOME Boot Camp Service Project! — Organized by Anne Emmerth
Boot Campers are coming together to help Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that provides shoes for people in need in the United States and around the world. Shoe companies, retailers, and individuals can donate footwear (both new and used).
Soles4Souls is a 501(c)(3) recognized by the IRS. Soles4Souls distributes shoes internationally and in the US (they’ve served over 30 US states, including Tennessee). The web site is: http://www.soles4souls.org/.
For the next two weeks we’ll collect your used athletic shoes at Boot Camp then we’ll ship them in bulk to the distribution center. Take a moment to look in your closet – if you’re replacing shoes as often as Sergeant Tony recommends, you should have some spares. Tie the laces together and bring them to Boot Camp on these days:
Friday, April 3
Monday, April 6
Friday, April 10
Monday, April 13 (last day!)
SPRING HALF MARATHON TRAINING AT THE U OF M
Half Marathon (13.1 miles) Training for the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville on April 25, 2009 (or the Louisville Half Marathon or St. Louis Half Marathon) will continue at 0800 this coming Saturday, 4 April!
We’ll meet at 0800 in front of the parking garage on Zach Curlin at the U of M. We’ll be going 1hr 10 min.
The training schedule is posted on the blog page of our website: http://usmcfitnessbootcamp.com/blog/
THESE TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES
I try to promote and patronize Boot Campers in their businesses. I am also a member of a business networking group (BNI – Business Networking International) that meets weekly to promote one another’s businesses.
Every week I’ll be introducing you to three businesses, either owned by one of you guys or one of my BNI buddies. Maybe you’re not a business owner, but you work on commission and would like to be mentioned, please send me your info!
Today’s Big Three are:
1. Ande Demetriou (BNI) Gemini Media Transfer Service — Transferring video imagery from different media to DVD, 901-584-0010.
2. Tom Dorian (Boot Camper, BNI) American National Insurance Co.– Multiple line insurance company specializing in the personal market. Claim free benefits. 901-328-5858×151
3. Lloyd Caldemeyer (BNI) Alliance Services — Health Insurance. 901-338-2501
Everyone is important. Everyone matters.
To your continued good health and fitness,
Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow
USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP, Commanding
4888 Southern Ave
Memphis, TN 38117