Small Business

The Road Most Traveled


By Lisa Bergson "Slay 'em," your husband calls, as he does most mornings. You disappear down the garage steps, hit the automatic door opener, and load your two heavy book bags, lunch bag, purse, and aluminum coffee mug into the car. You pull out of the garage, neglecting to admire the serene view out your backyard, and roll down the driveway onto Windy Bush Road.

It's an August Monday. The families are at the shore, the school buses in the shop. You're on your way to work, a 25-minute drive under optimal conditions, like these. You consider whether to listen to NPR's Morning Report before succumbing to the joys of the Grateful Dead and Bruce on the alternative rock station. It's too early to get serious.

LIFE'S HIGHWAY. For the moment, your only concern is bracing your coffee cup with one hand, while you maneuver twisty, up-and-down, exhilarating Penn's Park Road from Windy Bush to Quarry Road. You have a few minutes to call the plant and start to get acclimated before the gully cuts off all hope of connecting, a welcome respite. You decide to wait until the signal is restored on Route 263, where the road straightens and widens, and the housing developments and strip malls start to proliferate.

Back in the '70s, when Keith Haring's grim graffiti ushered you through the Gimbel's subway tunnel en route to your windowless Midtown office, you swore that one day your life would be different. Today, it is. You commute to work in a reinforced, turbo-powered car, sweeping past towering rows of corn, fruit orchards, and horses feeding in green pastures. Only the occasional crop of McMansions mars the bucolic setting.

Savoring your coffee, relishing the countryside hazy in the morning sun, you switch to a tape of Isabel Allende reading My Invented Country. You imagine traveling in Chile. "I wish my life could be different" still whispers in your ear. You are barely aware of driving, as the car seems to guide its self around the cantankerous corners that trace neighboring farms.

You revert to music, cranking the radio up as though the sound could envelope and suspend you out here among the trees. You picture yourself dancing through the fields, swathed in white chiffon, a modern-day Isadora. But your windows are rolled up, the air conditioner on. Your spirit cannot escape.

As you approach the second stop light, other thoughts start to encroach upon your reverie. You didn't touch any of the papers you brought home for the weekend. Instead, you hosted your husband's family reunion. "I still don't understand what you do," fretted your fourteen-year-old niece. She's been to the plant, but it just didn't sink in. You didn't try to enlighten her. None of the grown-ups understood either, although they feigned interest. "We still haven't seen your factory," said your sweet cousin by marriage. You would have arranged a trip, but a rainy day visit to Doylestown's Michener and Mercer Museums seemed more appropriate, less self-serving.

You used to spend your weekends at the plant. "A plant rat," your husband once called you, after you'd been dating for a while. Marriage changed that. A solid Saturday afternoon is the extent you might put in. But not this weekend or this summer -- not even the rain drove you to unlock that heavy metal door and pull the gleaming steel handle, smooth from decades of use.

Now business is slow. You need to work harder. You find yourself holding the cell phone, waiting for Marci, the unflappable sales associate, to pick up. You want to take the time to be friendly and caring. Instead, you glide through the niceties and ask, "How's it going?"

"Well, we got an extended warranty and a parts order."

"No equipment orders?" you ask, trying not to sound desperate.

"Not yet."

"We've got a pretty good pipeline."

"Yes," she agrees.

THE LONG HAUL. "I'll see you soon," you close. She's used to your preliminary assault. Only when orders revive do you sense how much pressure you endured. You've been through so many cycles. You wonder how much longer you can stand it.

But, you're no quitter. Anyone who underestimates your will had better look out. Not now, not after all this. You're on the final lap, heading down Street Road to cut across the new shopping mall with the new Target store. You grip the wheel, enjoying the power of your car on this last straightaway. When it comes to business, you're going to get out on top or not at all.

You pass the old candy-striped strip joint across the street from the new strip mall and ride down Titus Avenue. Yours was the first plant in the Warrington Industrial Park back in 1962. It still looks modern with its sleek new fa?de. You spot a clear plastic bag wrapped around the tree planted in your father's memory. You will not tolerate litter.

You pull into the parking lot where you're proud not to have a designated parking spot. Lugging your bags and clutching the half -full coffee mug, you march with dainty heels across the soft tar and pull the gleaming metal handle. Lisa Bergson is President and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at www.meeco.com and www.tigeroptics.com, or contact her at lbergson@meeco.com


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