Being on the road again takes some time to get used to. Like exercise, if you step away for a while, the first couple of weeks “getting back on the treadmill” takes a lot out of you.
Which is likely why I walked right by Charmyn in the baggage claim of the St. Louis airport.
Just a few days into my first road trip of 2014 after five weeks off, I was exhausted and halfway out the front doors of the airport before I remembered I was supposed to meet a driver at the baggage claim. Spinning back around, I spotted her holding a small sign with my agency’s name on it.
“So who are you that I’m not allowed to put your name on this card?” She asked with a huge smile. “You must be someone who matters.”
“Only to a few people,” I said with a tired grin.
“Ah, I think you’re fibbing to me!” She laughed as she pulled my 40-pound bag out of my hands like it was nothing. “But your secrets are safe with me!”
I tried to explain that my agency often books very high-profile speakers, and they likely prefer their names not be visible before they arrive (I imagine a chauffeur standing in an airport with a sign reading “G. Clooney” might generate a crowd), but she just continued grinning mischievously and telling me, “don’t worry, I won’t let anyone know a big shot has arrived.”
Needless to say, I liked her immediately.
As we pulled out the airport we began chatting, and I discovered my 53-year old chauffeur was a former St. Louis tour guide (“skip the arch, go see the Cathedral Basilica” was her excellent advice), a proud mother of grown twins, and a former track teammate of 6-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
A smile hadn’t left her face the entire time we had been chatting, and I realized that someone who went through life with her infectious energy was exactly the type of “accidental teacher” whose lessons I loved to learn and share. As such, I filled her in on the “Edge of the Bed Advice” concept, and asked her what life advice she’d pass on.
“That’s easy,” she said immediately. “I’d tell them that it takes a lifetime to take care of you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean that you’re never going to be ‘done’.” She replied. “You’re never going to reach a certain age, or a certain weight, or a certain amount of money and feel like you can say, ‘good, I’m here. I’m done. I’m safe.’ It’s a lifetime process taking care of yourself. The sooner we come to grips with the fact that the work of taking care of ourselves never ends, the sooner we can stop feeling like there’s something wrong with us because we don’t feel like we’re where we want to be.”
“Life’s also kinda like driving,” she continued, gesturing to the cars around us on the highway. “I’m in charge of what I do with this car. This car is my life, and I’m going to drive it safely of course. But all of these people around me, they’re a part of my life too, whether I like it or not. On any given day, some of some will cut me off or flip me off, others will slow down and let me in when I need it. I’m not in control of what they do, but I need to be aware that at any moment they could radically impact what I need to do.”
As if to prove her point, she slowed down to allow someone to merge in front of us.
“And you can’t just be aware of what IS happening,” she continued. “You have to be aware of what MIGHT happen at any moment.”
At that moment, her phone rang, and she took a quick glance down.
“Ah, bill collector,” she laughed. “He can wait. I’m teaching the big shot something.”
She hit a button and silenced the phone, looked in the review mirror again and gave me another wink.
“Where was I?” She asked.
“Being aware of what might happen,” I replied.
“Ah yes!” She said, bouncing both hands off the wheel in her excitement to keep going. “I think awareness is so crucial. Of yourself and your surroundings. For instance, I think you should always live your life as if you were walking to your car alone in a parking garage.”
“Life’s like walking to your car in a parking garage?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I know, I know, it’s probably harder for a man to understand,” she said. “But I promise you the women you tell this to will know what I mean. When we walk to our car in a parking garage alone, we need to be aware. We need to pay attention to our surroundings, to be on the lookout for threats. You don’t have to be scared or run or anything like that, but you need to be aware, and you should envision yourself getting out of situations that might happen. Envision yourself being able to deal with whatever might happen. That way, if something does, you can react quickly. You can’t live your life in fear, but you should live it aware and prepared. That allows you to act quickly…to good stuff and bad.”
She locked eye contact with me in the mirror, as if to emphasize that her next point was crucial.
“That’s key – being aware of what might happen in the future can’t mean you live afraid. Don’t forget, your hopes for your future are actually versions of what ‘might’ happen, and they deserve to get as much attention as what might be hiding in the parking garage.”
She gestured again to the cars around us.
“Look, it’s logical for me to be worried that one of these people might crash into me. It’s logical to expect the worst, because that’s safest. But always being logical is totally illogical. Sometimes things that make sense aren’t good ideas. We have to train ourselves to think past the norm sometimes, to think past what could go wrong and make our lives about what will go right. It’s okay to be different. It’s hard to be, but it’s okay. Vision your life past today, and make it happen. We can envision ourselves past things – to cleaner air, to happier times, to a better life. Doing that is just KC!”
“Kansas City?” I asked, perplexed.
“Nah, common sense!” She replied with a laugh. “I don’t know why, but when I was little, I always thought ‘common’ was spelt with a ‘k’, and ‘sense’ with a ‘c’, because that’s the sounds that they made. So using your ‘common sense’ was always just ‘using your KC’ to me.”
She glanced back in the rearview mirror and gave me a wink as we pulled up to my hotel.
“So it’s probably best if you tell people to take my advice, and skip my spelling.”
I was thrilled a day later when I walked into the hotel lobby for my trip back to the airport and found Charmyn and her smile waiting for me.
“You!” She said, running forward to give me a big hug. “You told the people here nice things about me, and they called my boss and told him. You made me all cry and stuff!”
We chatted the entire trip back to the airport, and as I got out of the car I asked her for her last name, so I could make sure to send her a copy of the book in which she was now likely to appear.
“Oh, my name’s easy to remember,” she laughed. “I’m Charmyn like the toilet paper, and Gandy – that sounds like candy.”
She leaned in for a hug and said, “So just remember, like toilet paper and candy, I’m soft and sweet.”
And filled with a whole lot of KC.