Suddenly the phone rang, and my mother-in-law Anne (who handles much of our sales calls) answered the line. It was a guy who wanted to cruise that night.
My wife flipped open her laptop and my father-in-law rolled his eyes - he'd seen this a few times before.
It was 7:30pm.
On the phone, Anne was telling him that "yes, we can arrange a cruise for you tonight".
Next I start to get the look from her that says "you're on".
I shove what's left on my plate into my mouth and chew like mad.
"Oh, you're going to propose! Well, no wonder you want to cruise tonight" she says.
I drink a few more gulps of my Diet Coke.
My wife is rapidly entering information into her computer.
"Sure, we can get you out soon, in fact..." Anne checks her watch, it's 7:34, "oh, I'm not sure about eight o'clock".
I shake my head vigorously with a "no thank-you" look on my face.
"How about eight thirty?" she says.
"Well, eight fifteen might work", she looks at me with a "Come on, you can do it" look, I concede, after all, this is my Sicillian mother-in-law here.
We pay the bill and shuffle out the door, dragging leftovers along for later.
I drive fast, warn the family when I'm about to take a corner hard, and pull up to the house.
It's 7:45 and I charge upstairs to change, muttering something like "I can't believe I got talked into an 8:15".
By 7:50 I've changed and thrown my gondolier's bag into the car.
I kiss my wife and run out the door.
At 7:55 I'm zipping down towards the office with the stereo blasting.
I turn off Metallica to warm up my singing voice.
Some jackass pulls out into traffic right in front of me and I hit the breaks, waving my hands in the air like a good Italian.
At 8pm I've parked the car and am hurrying down to the docks, keeping in mind that my passengers may already be there watching me fiddle with my keys and make funny faces.
First order of business: uncover the gondola and make sure there are no surprises.
Boat is uncovered, clean, and everything is in order.
I set up the seat with pillows and blankets, place my boombox and bag on the back, and go for serviceware.
At 8:10 I've placed a bucket of ice with a bottle of sparkling cider on the port bancheta, complete with glasses, chocolates, and electric candles. As was requested by the client, I spread rose petals on the gondola and put my makeshift running-lights in place.
Standing by my gondola at 8:15, I smile as my passengers arrive with Starbucks cups un hand.
At 9:40, after much rowing and singing, I've created the perfect environment for what's about to happen.
9:41, the gentleman in my boat scoots off the seat, hits one knee, and asks his girlfriend to be his bride.
To provide this guy with such an opportunity makes all that hurrying and stress worthwhile.
He pulls out a ridiculously sparkly ring, puts it on her finger, she says yes, and for the three of us on the gondola, all is right with the universe.
Such is the life of a gondola operator.
This post is dedicated to Tim, Sean, Megan, Matt, Sarah, Angelino, John, Debbie & Dave, and the list goes on (you know who you are). A list of people who know exactly what I'm talking about here. I have yet to go for a workout row with Tim at Sunset Gondola without his phone ringing with a client on the line. I always say that such inerruptions are a good problem to have. Truth is that when the phone stops ringing, that's when we really get stressed.
As a business owner, I learned a long time ago, that:
"There are two kinds of people - business owners, and those who get to clock out at the end of the day."
But when you're standing on the back of a 36-foot gondola, rowing towards the horizon just after sunset, with the sky painted in radiant colors, with a cool breeze in your face and passengers who are more relaxed than ever - you love your job and life is great.Really great.