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June 27, 2010

Test drive your Yaris?

Pernstein, a D.C. friend, emailed me Monday to say he was in town for work, and would I like to have dinner?

Mr. A and I took him to one of our favorite restaurants (Urban Solace), and at the end of the night the conversation turned to his rental car.

"How are you liking it?" I asked.

"I think it's nice."

"Is the engine peppy enough?"

"Depends what you mean by peppy, but yes, it's fine. I kind of like it, actually."

"Really!? Because I've been toying with the idea of getting a Yaris, when my car dies, but the one drawback is that I think it's really slow to accelerate."

"It's not."

"What model did you rent, the sedan or the hatchback?"

"The sedan."

"So a hatchback would be even faster... could I try it out? After dinner?"

"You want to test drive my rental car?"


"Was that whole conversation just a build-up so you could ask me to try my car?"

"No, first I wanted your opinion, and then I wanted to try it, in that order," I answered.

"I'm kind of tired..." Pernstein, whose pseudonym is a mashup of his real name and Bernstein, as in the legendary Washington Post Watergate reporter, was in town for some important business. He was also on east coast time, which means that by the time we were done with dessert it was way past his bedtime. I didn't want to stand between him and his deadline, so I left it at that.

But on the way out of the restaurant, he changed his mind.

"You can take it for a spin."

And that's how I learned that

1) When you hit the gas, a Yaris sedan with two people in it has considerable pep, but the acceleration tapers off after about 7 seconds.

2) It did quite well on the highway, keeping up with traffic and even passing some slowpokes.

3) I could get used to this!

4) Or could I?

Question, gentle reader: Do you drive, or have you ever driven, a Yaris? Especially a hatchback? What's your take? Thanks!

Meet me to work on your project?

The next morning, I had to get to work. It was a Sunday, and not the way I expected to spend the morning after a crazy party and a exhilarating weekend. But a few days earlier I had taken a quick turnaround project for a new client, and she needed the finished product by late Monday morning.

I did the necessary research, made some preliminary sketches, bounced some ideas off Mr. A, and eventually I realized that the only way to get the results I needed was to talk to the client again -- ask her 3 questions to clarify her goals. And because of the nature of the project, that was best done in person.

I sent an email to this effect: "Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but can we meet? I'm about 75% there, but if I could ask you a few questions and show you what I've come up with so far, I think you'd be a lot happier with the result."

Would she think I was unprofessional for emailing her for more info instead of getting the work done, pronto? Or would she be pleased that I was involving her instead of stumbling in the dark on my own?

She called within 3 minutes to say she'd be thrilled to answer my questions at a cafe between her house and mine.

We met, talked, and she left satisfied. I know this because two days later, she emailed me saying there's more work coming this way. Yay.

June 25, 2010

The asker gets asked

[image credit]

And then,

In the middle of party prep, on Friday night toward Saturday morning,

Mr. A stole me away for the evening, took me out on the town and asked me to spend my life with him.

Yes, dear reader. The Asker got asked.

I threw my arms around him and whispered, "Yes!"

Two weeks have passed and I've been dying to tell you, but I had to catch up first on the older blog posts. There will be much more to write: about wedding prep, negotiations with vendors, reflections on certain rituals, keeping costs down, figuring out how to reconcile different people's schedules with various needs and desires... all while working full time to launch a business... and plan a future... and ask daily...

But for now I am simply thanking the stars for Mr. A, who asked me to dance five years ago and again that early Saturday morning.

The rest, as they say, is future.

June 24, 2010

Dear neighbor, can I borrow a dash of baking soda?

About a year ago, someone lovely moved in next door. We've been morning coffee/afternoon walk/evening wine buddies ever since. She's my age, a talented baker (Actually, she's currently taking a cake decorating class -- Mr. A and I offered to help her unload any surplus. Just doing our part...) and happy pup owner. She also works in education, helping little kids with speech problems.

One of the many advantages to having a cool neighbor who bakes and has a summer vacation is that you can ask her for baking soda on a Friday afternoon and get it.

That is precisely what I did. Around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I popped in to say hi and ask for a critical ingredient for the Mici production.



"I'm making something that needs baking soda, and I can't find any in my kitchen. Do you have any lying around?"

"Why yes I do. Let me get it."

"Thanks, neighbor!"

With one day to go, party prep was on track. Until...

Dang, Django!

When I was in Boston, I went to a friend's graduation party. She is thee party diva, and of course when I heard the music she was playing I made a note to ask her what it was.

So on Thursday, two days before the bbq, I emailed her to ask who or what she'd been playing.

She was on her way to Europe so I wasn't sure she' get the message in time. But yes -- she did. And this is what she replied:
soundtrack was Sweet and Lowdown...if you're looking for music in that style, look around for "gypsy jazz" or any music by the guitarist Django Reinhardt... that's how we found the band for our wedding!! :)
Added to Pandora. Party prep almost done.

Moving on --->

June 22, 2010

I'm taking this class, and you should too

I realize that if I'm going to ever get back up to speed, I need to start publishing four posts per day. But between those updates, I want to alert you about an online course about negotiation I think you, gentle reader, should take. Because I'm taking it, too!

It's a class called She Negotiates, and it's taught by Vickie Pynchon, who is a lawyer, mediator, an expert negotiator, a contributor to more publications than I can count on all my fingers and toes, and, on top of it all, a very nice person.

Here's a link to the course page. In short: it's 4 weeks long, online, it promises to pay for itself. Here's a summery of what will be covered:
This transformational negotiation course examines the way you value yourself, your services, your salary, your bonuses and your products, and gives you the tools necessary to recalibrate your market value. You will learn the basics of both distributive and interest-based negotiation strategies, and explore the primary tactics used to negotiate the best deals for yourselves, your clients and your family.
I want to sign up because while I'm an experienced asker, negotiation is a different ballgame. I've just started this writing business and I know this education will help me make sure I'm getting compensated fairly. I missed the last seminar because I was traveling, but this one is perfect timing! It starts July 19.

So here's my idea: What if a bunch of us got together, took the class, then tracked our progress on this blog? We could trade ideas and learn from one another. Would anyone be interested in joining me on this educational adventure? We can claim lockers next to each other and gossip about the AP Econ teacher's date with the French substitute teacher. Good times!

If you're employed, you should ask your boss to pay for it. If you're like me -- self employed or not working -- I hope you'll find that the investment is well worth it. You know I never endorse stuff on this blog. At most I give a merchant a thumbs up after he or she says yes to my asking. But Vickie and I have traded emails and tweets, which is how I know she's awesome, and from what I've read on her blog and articles I am sure I have a lot to learn from her.

If you do decide to take the course, let me know!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled asking updates...

Please give me the secret family recipe?

Armed with a new gas grill, I was ready to host a BBQ for friends and family to celebrate the graduation. I'm usually pretty chill about these things -- haven't had a birthday "PARTY" in years and I normally opt for the simple and low key -- but this was the perfect excuse to assemble everyone I've cared about and feed them.

But in order to have a kicking party, I needed to make mici. Mici, pronounced "meech," are these tiny scrumptious meaty things made in my family. I've attached a picture, and disregarding any visual associations that may be a turnoff, I invite you to simply imagine the most delicious grilled ground beef morsel you've ever had, double the
deliciousness. Behold mici. Or if you are vegetarian, take the most scrumptious grilled veggies you've ever had, double the deliciousness, replace the veggies with meat. Behold mici.

I've never attempted cooking them before, since rumor has it they involve two or three kinds of meat, about 20 spices, and some animal products I don't want to think about.

So I called my aunt, G-whiz, and asked her for the recipe.

Not only did she agree to give me the recipe. She said we'll go ingredient shopping together and
she'll help me prepare them and she'll throw in the meech-making-machine her dad, my great uncle, invented!


So: barbecue menu set, invitations were next. Party date: June 5.

Discount on a gas bbq grill? (Part Three)

And now, the conclusion of the grill miniseries.

From Ace Hardware, we were about to drive to Home Depot when Mr. A remembered there is a Lowe's not too far.

We made the short detour, walked to their outdoor department and noticed a similar Weber for the same price. I asked if they could do any kind of discount or had any promotions going on, and the sales man said no. Unlike the Home Depot model, the Lowe's grill was made of slightly inferior material. So that was that. It was Home Depot, round two, or bust.

From the parking lot we spotted them: rows and rows of metallic barbecues on display in front of the store, glimmering in the sunlight like a pack of alluring sardines. Hard, hot sardines that don't swim. But definitely glimmering, and very alluring. Yeah.

We found the model we wanted and I accosted a salesman.



"I have a question about this grill. We were just at your other Home Depot, and we were about to buy this grill when they told us that they ran out of butane. So we ran over here as fast as we could to get this exact model, since it's exactly what I've been looking for."

[Note: I forgot to mention that at the first Home Depot, before the manager arrived, the cashier informed us they ran out of butane. One more reason to pass on that one. Also this is an important reminder to you, gentle reader, that everything I state here is a product of my memory and far from perfect. I don't voice-record these interactions since under California law I'd have to get consent from the other party. And that would kind of blow my cover.

I try my best to report things accurately, but especially with these less recent askings, I may miss something occasionally. Once I catch up and write about things the day they happen, this should be less of a problem. Onward:]

"Ok, great. So do you want me to ring this up for you?"

"Well, here's the question. We were going to buy the floor model and open a credit card, so they gave us a discount of 10 percent for the floor model, and another discount for the credit card. Do you think you can do the same thing, here? Basically, can you give us a better price?"

"These are already assembled, so I can't give you the floor model discount. You can open a card if you want..."

"Really?" [pained expression...] "Argh. They had given us such a great deal, since we were buying a ton of stuff--the grill, the cover, some tools -- Is there nothing you can do? You do have butane, right?"

"Yeah, it's inside. Ok, here's what I'm going to do. Let me talk to my manager."

"Awesome! Thanks for asking!!"

He came back 10 minutes later with this answer: Since we went to Home Depot to conclude our purchase, instead of to a different retailer, the manager was giving us a coupon for $50 off. "That's better than 20 percent, because he wanted to tell you thanks for your loyalty."

Just. Like. That.

So! Next time someone tells you "I can't give you a discount," remember that might just mean, "I don't want to." It's up to you to determine this. Is it a mom n' pop? Are they barely making ends meet? Or are they a powerful national chain where 10% off is a drop in the bucket?




Ask again.

Ask until you get what you want... need... deserve.

And then pig out!!!!!!!

June 21, 2010

Discount on a gas bbq grill? (Part Two)

As we drove out of the Home Depot parking lot, I shot Mr. A a sheepish glance.

It's one thing to pursue your principles when you're a lone crusader, but it's another thing when it means you end up dragging an innocent bystander across the city. In search of a gas grill at ground bottom prices, after a long plane ride, on Memorial Day, no less.

"If you want to go back and get it, we still can. Maybe it would have been more practical to just give in and be done with it... it's just a grill," I offered, but heard myself shifting mid-sentence, "but I still think he had the power to help us and didn't want to. But I can drop you off, and keep looking on my own. I don't want to drag you around the city in search of a gas grill at ground bottom prices, after a long plane ride, on Memorial Day, no less."

"No, I get why you held your ground. I mean, yes, it would have been easier. We'd have an grill and we could be making dinner in 20 minutes. But didn't you say there's an Ace Hardware close to home? Let's try it."
"Really!? You want to come?"

"Of course. I love that you're committed to this. I want to see you get a real deal, now."

Lone crusader no longer, I high-tailed it to Ace with Mr. A, where we headed for the grills and asked: Do you have any barbecues besides this tiny camping one?

The answer was no.

"Now what?" I sighed.

Mr. A had an idea. There was another Home Depot about 10 minutes away. Why not give it one more shot? If it didn't work we could always crawl back to the first guys.

Last stop: Check back tomorrow!

[image credit]

Discount on a gas bbq grill? (Part One)

The next three posts, about one day's asks, are on the long side, but here's what I hope you'll get out of reading them: a story about perseverance, negotiation, exasperation, wins and losses, patience and ground beef. In that order.

For my birthday last year, my dad and sister gave me some cash destined for a barbecue. My small house has a small backyard, but it's just big enough for a grill. Most people, given a few hundred bucks for a BBQ, might go to the store, find one within that budget and start grilling asap.

Not the asker.

For almost a year, I searched at hardware and department stores and I scoured Craigslist. I scanned sale circulars in the mail and waited for the best possible value. I got tons of advice. Gift or not, I didn't want their money to be spent on something more expensive than it had to be.

But all year, I was stunned to find that barbecues never go on sale. Like, NEVER. Not in winter, when I was sure they'd be on clearance. Not on Labor Day. I guess that's a drawback of living in permasummery San Diego.

Memorial Day, Mr. A and I flew back from Boston and our first stop (after dropping off the suitcases) was Home Depot. We spotted a Weber Grill with excellent reviews for $399. Once again, no promos or holiday sale, so I asked an employee, and eventually a manger, if we could get a better price.

Here are some of the phrases I used:

"I love the grill, but $400 is above my budget. I was looking to spent $300, because then I have to add in the butane, the tools, the cover. I could go up a little, but $400, plus taxes, plus the butane, it's just too much. Is there anything you can do?"

"Sometimes I know managers have special powers... do you think you could help us bring this price to where we could afford it?"

"If I take the floor model, what kind of discount could you give me?"

"Thanks for helping! You're totally making our summer!"

"A Home Depot credit Card? Sure, if you're willing to go down on the total price by 20%, then I'd consider opening one."

After about 10 minutes of this back and forth (me asking, her checking, me asking, her thinking, me asking, her agreeing), the manager of the grill department set us up with a reasonable deal. The grill was 10% off since we bought the (unblemished!) floor model, plus we'd get 20% off if we opened a Home Depot Card, plus she would give us free butane. We added a grill cover (and some weedkiller) and the total came out to around $450.

Considering just the grill would have been around $450 including tax, that was a fine deal. All the accessories, free, basically.

Only when we got to the register, the store manager told us the new credit card discount is 10%, not 20% and there was no way he could override that. I asked if he had any coupons behind the register and he said no. I asked for the overall store manager, who came after a short wait looking none too pleased.

"Hi," I said and smiled.

"Hi. How can I help you?"

"We would like to buy this grill and all these accessories. I was about to make the purchase when I got some bad news. Robert [the cashier] told us the discount your floor manager promised for opening a credit card isn't 20%, but 10%. That puts this grill out of my price range. So could you please come down on the price, or apply 20% off the whole purchase if we do open a card?"

"Can't do that."

"Oh really? Well is there something else you could to to help us buy this grill? It's a big purchase, and if you could help make it more affordable then I'd be happy to take the grill."

"So you don't want it anymore?"

"Not with just 10% off. We're getting a grill, a cover, all this stuff. It really adds up."

"I can't change the price. I'm not allowed to do that. They check the logs and believe me, at the end of the month I'd get it."

"That's such a pity. Because if you could knock off that 10 percent I would walk out of here with almost $500 in merchandise, I'm sure you'd get a good manager award."

"There's nothing I can do."

Mr. A had been listening in. He's not usually the quiet type -- far from it -- but when it comes to retail activities he backs off because a) I love doing the talking b) I have practice getting discounts c) he realized it's blog material.

But now he pulled me aside and we consulted.

"It's a lot of money, but it's a good grill. We're not going to get a much better deal anywhere else."

"I know, but now it's just the principle. I know he can give us a break. He just doesn't want to. I've been to Best Buy and other big ticket stores, and when you're buying $500 they work with you. They can always do something. Please believe me."

"Ok, no problem, then let's leave it," he said, in a tone that wailed, "Please just buy the damn grill and let's make some burgers!"

"Thank you. Sorry to drag this on, but I know there's a grill out there for us. I just can't reward the manager's behavior with a purchase," I answered, and told the manager coolly that we'd pass.

Part II, coming up next.

[image credit]

June 20, 2010

Tell me about this painting?

Saturday, it was pouring. Perfect museum weather!

Mr. A and I met up with my dad, stepmom and La Sorella for a visit to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

My dad is an architect. I've written about his passion for beauty and his penchant for architectural gossip here and here.

Thus my asking for the day is nothing ambitious, nothing that shatters glass ceilings or threatens the status quo. On the contrary, it's one of the oldest, most familiar and most comfortable kinds of questions I know. I asked my dad to tell me about the art we were looking at.

Which he would have done anyway. ;)

image credit: MFA

June 17, 2010

Where is Paradiso?

"You have to try Caffe Paradiso," I told my mom, aunt and Mr. A in Boston's North End, where we for a stroll the afternoon after Commencement. "They used to have a location in Cambridge, too, but that closed a few years ago. Tragic."

I owe my caffeine addiction to my mom. For years, when I was growing up, coffee was our Sunday morning ritual, until the pediatrician told her to stick to milk at least until my first tooth came in. More recently, we picked it up again, until I moved in with Mr. A.

These days we steal away after work or during lunch breaks, trading updates about our mornings between comments about the current coffee experience. Like: "I think the barista has a crush on you, mom," followed by her scoffing giggle: denial.

So of course when I mentioned this place she perked up and exclaimed, "I think you told me about it!"

"Yes, that's the one! With the perfectly foamed cappuccinos and soccer matches. If we hang a left it should be right here... here... maybe just half a block down... wait, where is it!?"

Had the second location also shut down, which would be real loss for the cultural and culinary landscape of Boston and one more twisted tribute to this crushing recession, or was I just not remembering things right? I could see its corner location. Plenty of windows, the stack of cannoli in the glass case which I always passed over for the imported delicacies. Berry torte. Tiramisu.

This was my first Friday as a non-student, and as the dust settled I began to realize something rather unsettling: Facts were slipping away. Back on campus, I knew exactly which building had the bathroom on the ground floor when my family needed to make a pitstop, but when I started telling them what room I'd taught in, I stopped cold. I glanced at a few of the empty rooms and they all looked so... identical.

Then there were Cambridge's side streets, which I used to navigated on car, bike and foot under snow and sunshine. Now when I needed to get back to campus, I made more wrong turns than Lindsay Lohan on the way to sobriety.

After leaving Boston in 2008, I'd been back just twice. I was traipsing around like a tourguide, but could I really call this town my own?

I ducked into another cafe and anxiously asked the men at the counter -- men who looked like the owned not just the cafe but the neighborhood -- where I could find Paradiso.

It was two doors down. We'd walked right past it. We all down, inhaled the coffee steam and smiled.

Lost, now found.

Here are a few of the pictures Mr. A snapped that day.

June 16, 2010

Commencement magic?

Commencement tickets are notoriously hard to come by, and Monday morning, a few days from the big event, I was still short a few. Every student gets two, so my parents were definitely in, but what about La Sorella and Mr. A? I checked with my advisor and tried the alumni office, but no go.

In a last ditch effort, I sent an email to my department's logistical guru, Wanda.
Hi Wanda!
Greetings feom Maryland/Washington DC, where I came to decompress now that I'm done!
I saw [Advisor], who gave me a tip on getting commencement tickets, since I
was unsuccessful with the alumni office. She said that sometimes professors have
extras. Do you think you could ask around, or send an email to the faculty, to
see if anyone has 1 extra ticket?
[Redacted.] If not no tragedy, but maybe last minute miracles do happen? :)
Thanks, and take care! See you soon!
La Roxy
The next day she answered:
I have one extra ticket for the commencement ceremony. I will set it in your mailbox here for you to pick-up.
Tuesday afternoon, I spotted a friend on Facebook saying he "has tix for the morning exercises to give away. Will have them tomorrow."

I quickly replied, "Could I claim one from you, if you still have it?"

Six hours later, he answered that the extra ticket was mine.

So Mom, Dad, Sis and Sweetheart all got to fit at the ceremony, and the rest of my family who generously made the trek to celebrate this moment with me watched from large screens nearby. It was a magical, wonderful, and unspeakably happy day. One I will never forget.

Thanks to all for coming, and thanks to Wanda, Professor Thornber and Nathan for helping my family fit. Thanks also to Beth for offering her robe so I wouldn't have to rent or buy one -- and I didn't even have to ask! And to Nicole and Brandon, for being the hosts with da most. And to everyone else who made that day so special.

With affection and gratitude,

La Roxy

June 08, 2010

An asker and a reader walk into a store...

Saturday morning, (May 22, that is. Still catching up with these reports.) I met up with a reader of this blog. We've traded emails and even had an asking-related phone call when she negotiated her first salary after college. She got wind of my whereabouts and suggested coffee.

Her name, by the way, is Priya, and she rocks.

An hour into our get together, we discovered we have a lot in common: both love Spain, both love writing, both care about the future of journalism, both appreciate a well made cup of joe. I also discovered that Priya is comfortable asking for anything -- a better salary, better opportunities at work, input from colleagues and mentors -- anything except a discount.

"Do you have to be somewhere after this?" I inquired.

"Not immediately, no," she answered.

Fatal last words.

"Well then! Let's ask! You and me, a retail extravaganza. Let's just see what happens. We'll try a few places around here, ask for discounts in a bunch of different ways and then I'll blog about the results. What do you think?"

"Let's do it!"

We established our aim before setting out: I wanted to show Priya how fun asking is and that there's nothing to be afraid of, including rejection. And she was game to try anything as long as it improved her asking skills. And maybe scored some deals!

Here is how our adventure unfolded, as I remember it three weeks later.

STOP ONE: Tourist trap across from Ford's Theater, filled with figurines, flags and flimsy plastic memorabilia.

Target: I spotted a Lincoln Monument replica for $7. It would make a great addition to that pile of crap in the back seat of my car. I have ancient magazines, an extra pair of shoes, an emergency bottle of wine, but no Lincoln Monument figurine!

Approach: Round down a sum. If a book is $5.50, ask if they'll take $5. If it's $43, shoot for an even $40.

Build up: Before we approached the counter, Priya confessed she was nervous. By then I suspected we looked like potential shoplifters. We'd been roaming the tiny store looking for something cheap. We stopped occasionally to exchange hushed comments about strategy, darting our eyes left and right to make sure the cashier couldn't hear us.

"Ok, let me try this first round," I offered. "Just stand next to me and watch. Remember, you have nothing to lose by asking. Even when people say no, they're super nice."

We approached the register and I set Lincoln on the counter.

"Hi! I found a souvenir I like, but I was wondering if I could have this for $5?"

"It's $7," the cashier replied.

"Yes, I saw that, but $5 is more in line with my budget. Would you take $5?"

"No!" she repeated, stupefied.


"Seven dollars!!"

We turned on our heels as the cashier glared at us like the shoplifters we weren't.

Post-game analysis: Well then ---- not how I was envisioning my first asking tutorial to go. What would Priya think? Fortunately, there was an almost identical merchant a few doors down. Time to try a different strategy.

STOP TWO: The Bigger Better Tourist Trap, on a corner. Large, glitsy, with prices to match.

Target: Priya saw a display of towels with White House, Air Force 1 and military logos. "Actually, we need a dish towel!" she exclaimed.

Approach: It was Priya's turn to ask for a discount and forge a bold pathway to success, nerves (and sorry precedent) be damned.

"Hi!" she said with a smile.

"Hi," replied the cashier.

"I'm interested in buying this towel, but there's no price tag. How much is it?"

The cashier rang it up.


"Can I give you $9?"


"Yes, $9," Priya said, voice perfectly steady. Fantastic!

"But the pricetag says $18."

"I have $9 cash and that's what my budget is. Can you give it to me for that, please?"

"It's eighteen! No!"

Stifling our laughs we ran outside.

Slow-mo instant replay:
"Itz eiiiii-teen... nooooooooo!"

And Team Asker is 0-2. Gotta step up. Gotta rally! Outside, I congratulated Priya. Her first retail asking! Then I noted that requesting half off right off the bat was a bit drastic, but it was still great she tried. Opening your mouth is half the battle. My year of requests resulted in a 73 percent success rate, and there was no reason she couldn't average that over time, too.

STOP THREE: Luxury lingerie boutique a block away.

Target: A lace thong for our imaginary friend.

Approach: State a budget, state a reason for the purchase, be nice and see if the sales person will accommodate. And stretch Priya's comfort zone by asking in a fancy boutique, this time around.

Build up: Almost everything in the store was silk and the prices were correspondingly sumptuous. To avoid blowing our cover as we found the right item to ask about, we pretended to be shopping for a bachelorette party.

"Do you think she will like this?" Priya asked.

"Yes! Or what do you think about this lavender number?"

"Oh, totally! That is going to drive her guy wild!"

"Great! But hmm, I wonder if it's in line with what we wanted to spend."

"Gee, I don't know! It's on sale, but I think it's still a little pricey," Priya continued.

"I agree!"

"I wonder if I should talk to the cashier."


Execution: We brought the panties from the sale rack to the counter. They were around $30.

"Hi. We're shopping for a friend's bachelorette party and found these, which I think she'd like. But they're still a little more than what we wanted to spend. Is there anything you can do to help us on this price?" Priya asked.

Elegant. Great form. What a pro!

The saleswoman smiled and thought about it for a moment.

"They're already on sale, so I can't go lower, but how much did you want to spend?"

"Around $20."

"Well, we have something similar over here, and they're a lot more affordable. Have you heard of Spanx? These are only $16 and every bride should have a pair. Or let me know if you want other suggestions."

We pretended to inspect the Spanx, but meanwhile I whispered to Priya that this was a good beginning if we wanted to negotiate more. We had the saleswoman helping us, on our side.

Normally -- if I really wanted to buy something out of my price range and really wanted that particular item -- I'd shift strategies here. I'd explain why that object is particularly special, or why I really like that one and is there any way they could make it work. I'd build rapport, ask if we could knock off the sales tax, see if there was something I could offer in exchange (buying more items at the lower price, for example), or shooting for a cash discount.

But since there was no bachelorette party, and no Spanx on the horizon for either of us, I didn't want to persuade the sales woman only to turn on our heels.

We thanked her and left.

Post-game analysis: Three attempts, three failures. And I call myself the Daily Asker? I apologized to Priya, who was very gracious about it all. But then I remembered what this was about -- what this whole Daily Asker experiment was about -- trying, taking risks, pushing personal boundaries and the boundaries of what's socially acceptable. The means, not the end... the journey not the destination... yeehaw!

"Let's shoot for two more -- make it an even five!" I cried.

Priya agreed.

STOP FOUR: Zola Wine and Kitchen, a purveyor of fine wines.

Target: A bottle of white for under $10.

Approach: Triple. First, build rapport with the salesperson. Second, see if you can score a discount by paying cash. Third, clearly exhibit a spending limit and encourage new ally on sales floor to try to help.

Build-up: Outside, we pooled our bills and saw we had around $7. Inside, we went straight for the under $10 white wines section -- a special display, in fact. We selected one and went up to the counter. I noticed that the saleswoman had a cool bracelet, so I complimented it. Not strategic -- an honest compliment. Believe it or not.

Then we got to work.

Execution: "Hi!" Priya said.

"Hi," the woman replied.

"How are you?"

"Good you?"

"Good, thanks! So I have a question for you... We'd like to get this bottle of wine but we only have around $7 between the two of us. Is there any kind of sale going on that we don't know about, or can you be flexible on the price?" Priya asked.

"Let me see... Well, I can give you 20 percent off with this neighborhood card. That brings it to $8.50." [I forgot the exact percentage but it was in that ballpark.] "It's a good thing you asked. You have to try, right?"

"I'm a big believer in asking," I answered. "This means a lot to us. Thank you."

We pooled our bills and some loose change and had barely enough.

All smiles, we left the store. I handed Priya the bottle: She had earned it.

By the way, if you're ever needing some wine in D.C., the store is on 9th, near Chinatown. Thanks, wine merchant! You made our day!!!

Post-game analysis: Priya made a personal connection and took the time to make eye contact and converse. She didn't ask for a huge discount and made sure to be appreciative of her generosity. And by asking to pay cash, she demonstrated a very clear limit on what we could afford. Interestingly, the saleswoman didn't ask us if we had credit cards. (I saw the card reader, so that would have been a payment option.) I think she was genuinely pleased to make our day.
If you do get that kind of reaction from someone, I recommend using it wisely, not abusively. But: YAY!

After stopping in a mix of boutiques and mom n' pops, I suggested we try the ultimate challenge: a large chain store.


Target: A $2.69 box of tissues for Priya's apartment.

Approach: Do whatever it takes to get some kind of discount on those tissues. It would be hard, but not impossible. Aim for greatness.

Build-up: I reminded Priya that sometimes all it takes is asking at the cash register if they have any unadvertised sales. If that didn't work, she should try anything else we'd practiced: asking for a cash discount, trying to round down the sum, building up personal rapport, stating a budget, giving a compelling reason for the purchase.

Execution: Priya brought the tissues to the counter and asked right off the bat: "Are these on sale, because they're a little more than what I wanted to spend."

The saleswoman looked a bit incredulous but rang them up.

"They are not on sale, sorry."

"Oh!" Priya said. "It's just that I don't have enough cash on me and I really need these tissues. Is there anything you can do to help?"

The saleswoman bounced her gaze between Priya and me -- checking for a hidden camera? Were we about to Punk her? -- saw how earnest we were, then relaxed.

"Let me see. I think there was some sale, but I don't know if it was this week or last week. Just a second..."

She left the cash register and started looking through the tissue display. Meanwhile a line was forming, but she was now committed to helping Priya.

We exchanged guilty-thrilled looks. The man behind us mumbled something about this being "the worst day of my life for reasons you can't even imagine, and what the hell is taking so long?" and I turned around and said something to appease him.

A minute later our new friend returned.

"I have something! These are on sale! And it is not marked!" The box was 88 cents -- a huge discount compared to the one on the counter.

"Really!?" Priya almost squealed. "Thank you!!"

Sure, she only saved $1.81. But that's also more than 70 percent.

Post-game analysis: Since the first dud was mine, on her four askings Priya had a 50 percent success rate. For a first-day crash course, that is fantastic! I'm so proud of her, and I can't wait to hear about her next victories.

June 07, 2010

To bribe or not to bribe?

A lot has happened these past two weeks.

A lot.

I'm finally catching my breath, which means I'm back to blogging. You know, by now, how things go. Write write write, then disappear for a bit and live. Then write again. Last time I blogged, I was telling you about Thursday, May 20. Theater tix. Moving on to Friday, May 21...

There is a bar in D.C. called The Gibson, and it's what's known as a faux-speakeasy. Not actually breaking any laws in 1928, but sure as hell looking like it could. A nondescript facade with nary a sign or nameplate. Out back, a moonlit patio glimmering in a constellation of candles. Prohibition era cocktails. Vintage clad waitstaff. Antique furniture here and there, and tipplers tipplers everywhere.

The club is so secretive, in fact, that if you don't know how to open the door and end up knocking, the bouncer will scoff to anyone who will listen, "If they can't figure out the door then they should definitely not be let in." At least, that's what happened when I was standing next to said bouncer and some people outside couldn't figure out how to work the handle. Losers.

But the Gibson has a very modern reservation system: You give the bouncer your name and phone number and when a table opens up, he'll call you. Like, on your cell phone. That way there's no waiting in line or carrying around one of those hideous restaurant pagers that always give me a heart attack when they start buzzing.

So that is what we did. I was out with Pernstein and Mojojo, friends from college and high school respectively, and after waiting half an hour or so in another cafe, Pernstein's phone rang.

We were in.

We were escorted to our table, where we inspected the interesting drink menu and placed our orders. Just as we were settling in, we got word that a few more friends wanted to join us.

We asked the waitress if we could fit more people at our table and were told it's against house rules. We asked for a different table and she said no. We asked her if we could switch places with the couple canoodling at the large table next to ours, and the waitress said fine -- but the couple answered they're waiting for friends.

Bottom line, the waitress explained, the Gibson was incredibly busy -- and couldn't possibly risk overcrowding -- and there was nothing we could do but wait and see if a table opened up later. She apologized and left.

One member of trio suggested we get to the point by other means.

"You mean a bribe?" La Roxy asked, suddenly invigorated. "Wow! I've never bribed anyone before, except for a carton of cigarettes my parents made me give that customs official when I was visiting Eastern Europe in 1991. So that's how things are done in D.C."

"It's not a bribe, it's a tip," quoth Mojojo. "And it's not about D.C. It's everywhere."

"I almost want to bribe the bouncer, just to be able to say I did."

But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed like a good reason to part with $20.

Instead we just kept asking various waiters and finally the bouncer himself if they would let us move to a bigger table or attach more chairs or switch tables with another group or anything!! Because all we wanted to do was invite a few more patrons to their bar, consume their alcohol and add currency to their coffers. And our friends were 10 minutes away. We couldn't wait an hour.

The bouncer repeated: No, sorry, no can do. You have to wait your turn, or leave.

Well, guess what.

The moment the others showed up, our group was invited upstairs, to a private room, with chairs to spare. A cozy, elegantly decorated salon where we could really hear each other talk, and conveniently located a few steps away from the upstairs bartender.


Half of that floor was empty, in fact, so apparently all those concerns about overcrowding were posturing.

Which makes me happy I didn't bribe them. And even happier I asked.

[credits: first image; second image]