(Speak) Easy Opportunities
Meal: Bernheim whisky
Music: “Finally Woken” by Jem
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
Unlike Joanne’s father mine had taught me all the things a girl needed to know in life, like how to shoot whisky and play poker. At an early age I learned the art of gambling, and how taking risks and seizing opportunities were fundamental in to maximize our time on the planet.
In Atlanta I was staying with an old friend Julie, a girl that I had bonded with while decoding the alien mores and layers of etiquette in Tokyo, Japan. I was hoping for a boisterous catch-up dinner with her but she became suddenly ill and my plans for long wine infused conversation morphed into a pot of Nyquil and a down comforter. Once she was satisfactorily comatose in bed, I threw the dice with the rest of my evening and ventured out into the warm night to see what the where the Atlanta stars would lead me to. Naturally, I ended up at a bar. As a traveler, I find bartenders kindred spirits, spectators to all walks of life without judgment. They are especially friendly in the south and I happily told my new friend about my journey and desire for interesting conversation. After looking around cautiously he put his arms down on the bar and leaned into my eardrum. “There is a private place that the owners have here…a old fashioned speakeasy. I do not know if you will get women’s stories but you will get stories.” And with that he scribbled down a phone number. I felt as if I were back in New Orleans on a hunt for the haunted and illegitimate.
Per my instructions, I entered the red phone booth on the corner and slowly rang the number one digit at a time on the old fashioned dial. I watched with awe as the back wall opened and I walked into a smoky haze ripe with the pungent aroma of cigars and bourbon. The bar was filled with pairs of businessmen scheming over puffs of hand rolled stogies and glasses of Old Fashioneds. The bartender poured me a glass of American wheat whisky called Bernheim. It tasted like butterscotch. Impressed with my appreciation of the finer spirits, the men to my left decided engage in conversation with the blond writer that knew how to drink. Walt was a quiet smiling man with a distinguished moustache, impressive suspenders and talent for cooking fine food. Michael was a gregarious businessman who had a tale for every topic. He was a past CNN producer and current investor and consultant in all types of companies. Michael and his wife were currently working with Michelin to improve their travel guides and make them more relevant for a modern traveler. Kismet. “You have to meet my wife,” he said. “Well, call her up!” I encouraged.
Although Susan couldn’t be convinced to come to an ashtray ridden underground saloon, she did invite us all back to their house in the Buckhead hills. I threw the dice again and followed Michael and Walt through the dark windy roads up to their lovely estate with an epic stone driveway that gave the clutch in my car a panic attack.
“Well, Michael, I see you brought another blond back to the house,” Susan joked as we entered a marble hallway. Susan was a petite brunette with a disciplined mouth, soft exotic eyes and generous hands that gracefully offered us beverages and treats.
After walking through a house that seemed designed for entertaining weary travelers, we sat down on the back porch, our faces lit up by the pool lights and short flickering candles. I asked Susan about her time at CNN where she met her husband.
“Oh well Susan is THE woman of news,” said Michael proudly. She worked for CNN during the time when we had to…”
“Thank you but I’ll tell my own story,” interjected Susan. Michael had wanted to give me a documentary of Susan’s life interwoven with the history of broadcasting. Another time.
Walt and Michael were sent off to the corner to drink their nightcaps and Susan nestled in her chair and looked at with me with a smile, now free to talk without the men nearby.
“I didn’t start in broadcasting. My first job was at Dunkin Donuts at age 14,” she said. Before any BBC or CNN Susan was “the girl that made the donuts.”
I was curious how a donut girl ended up so well connected in the world of media and publication. Susan went from understanding the difference between a cruller and a fritter to becoming a woman that invited Ted Turner to her wedding.
“I just followed what I wanted to do, leaping at opportunity, adapting with the times.”
However, Susan didn’t just adapt with the times, she also full heartedly embraced them.
Susan grew up in a traditional Jewish family but her independent spirit resisted conformity and structure. It was the 70’s; there was more to high school than just prep. Thus Susan insisted on going to an alternative high school that had abolished requirements and believed in a more holistic approach to learning. “We had yoga for PE,” remembered Susan. “We also smoked pot with our math teachers….” It was this lust for the 70’s freedom that motivated Susan to follow her dreams and eventually become the freelance writer and producer she is today.
Ah, but the 70’s were the decade to be in. In addition to scholastics experiments and drug supportive faculty, the 70’s were the decade where women made their mark on society. During the 70’s women surpassed men in college enrollment, the proportion of women in state legislatures tripled, and for the first time women were looked to as credible sources to report on the exciting political world.
“It was the era of Barbara Walters!” Susan exclaimed when I asked her why she wanted to follow a career in broadcasting. “I wanted to be a part of that movement. I wanted to be a woman that reported on things that mattered.” Susan even wrote ‘BW’ on her yearbook, hoping that she would one day live up to her icon.
She went to the University of Vermont to purse a degree in Communications. Although many woman in her college were of the waspy sorority type that only aspired to be seen at the country club, Susan continued her passion for media and reporting and landed interships with BBC radio and Boston Maganize. After graduation she promtly landed a job as a producer for Channel 6 (WLNE-TV) in Providence, RI which led to a later producing role at CNN. Susan was living the Barbara Walters dream.
“Newscasting is the perfect blend of glamour, academic thought and creativity,” she said.
But as the times changed, do did Susan. The world stopped turning on the television and started using their computers as sources of information. Susan knew she would need to learn digital communication and thus worked at Digital Equipment Corporation and learned the ins and outs of online information and media. This experience only helped her and Michael start their own company in marketing communication, consulting clients such as Dell, Coca Cola and Michelin.
Together, Michael and Susan have built a marriage that doubles as a partnership. They support each other in each career undertaking and enjoy the fruits of their labor together, such as hosting parties and taking inspiring vacations. Unlike other women that have looked at my frenzy of love affairs in awe, Susan shakes her head as if I had described a plate of overcooked brussels sprouts. Her marriage is described as ‘comfortable continuity,’ a solid foundation that allows her to take risks in other parts of her life. “Plus there is always the famous statement ‘You know what you’ve got, you don’t know what you’re going to get,’” she says laughing. And through the ups and down Susan and Michael continue to build and grow and dream together. The two media moguls are currently planning to spend a year in Europe to revolutionize travel publications, an endeavor that is the envy of all other journalists.
“We just go after what we both love to do,” Susan said simply. The one thing remaining for Susan to do is to write a book. She is working on one about ‘living well in the new economy,’ no doubt speaking to the power of adaptation. “I just need to sit still long enough……” But knowing her motivation and dedication to the written word, I am positive it is a matter of time before we will see a copy in Barnes and Nobles.
After a series of hugs goodbye, and a generous offer from Michael to drive my car back down the daunting driveway, I left the couple with warm thoughts in my heart. I had met a couple that lived how they dreamed. It was new inspiration to make my own opportunities appear. It was time to gamble a bit again….perhaps the road trip won’t end in New York after all.