As a four-year-old boy in South Central Pennsylvania, summertime was about adventure. Twice a month, my grandfather would make the long 3-hour drive from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to Ocean City, Maryland. The sole purpose of these trips was for 2 reasons: to share recipes with local restaurateurs and to restock my grandfather’s restaurant, Hotty’s Cottage with the absolute freshest seafood.
That's me on the left with my cousin April sandwiched between Pap. Everybody called my grandfather "Hotty" (his nickname from the big band days). While onstage, some friends commented that he thought he was hot stuff. So the nickname “Hotty” stuck. I just called him Pap.
I was learning to run a business, but more importantly, lessons
in life that wouldn't become apparent until 30 years later.
After lunch it was time to head to the docks where seafood was bought raw and very much alive. Pap stopped the car and put down the backseat so our 1963 Chevrolet white station wagon with a red leather interior, would become a flatbed inside. He then quickly spread out a large sheet of plastic in the back to keep it dry on our return trip home.
Now, the first time I saw a crab was on a plate when I was probably 2 years old. I love eating crab cakes, shelled, un-shelled, it didn’t matter. If it was crab, I ate it. So I was looking forward to seeing the crabs.
There were large clear plastic strips that hung down from the main entrance to the asphalt as we entered the warehouse. As soon as we crossed the barrier, the temperature dropped to a brisk 36 degrees. It was winter inside! An entire cold storage room filled with 55-gallon drums was laid out before me. The smell hit me with the site of hundreds of crabs in each barrel fighting to get out. I had always thought crabs were red. But these crabs, stuffed to the op of each barrel were blue and very much alive!
“Pap…they’re blue!?” I was scared and he knew it. After all I was clinging to his pant leg for dear life.
“Nothing to worry about Bucky.” Since I was the first male grandson, I became the new young buck, my family nickname. I stood there frozen, staring at the hundreds and hundreds of Maryland crabs staring back at me. In my little 4-year-old mind, they were going to get me.
“I’ll take three bushels of the Maryland blue crabs and 40 pounds of the Alaskan King Crab legs. How are your oysters?” After Jimmy answered Pap turned his attention back to me. “Crabs turn red when you boil them. It’s a sign that they are dead and ready to eat.” His raspy voice tried to comfort me.
As Pap walked away I just stood frozen. “Hey Jimmy, don’t forget the clams and oysters you just tossed in the back.”
“You got it Hotty…” Jimmy headed for his office to finish up my grandfather’s transaction, chatting and laughing to each other the whole way.
“Stay here Buddy, I’ll be right back.” He followed the owner into the main office ten feet away, but it might as well have been a mile away. I just stared at the spectacle before me. I was equidistant between the office and the main entrance to the outside world. If I just ran a little bit through the plastic barrier between the entrance and the cold frosty warehouse, I could wait in the sunlight. But, although terrified, something drew me in closer.
I drew in a deep breath to calm myself. I could
never understand why no one was guarding
these crabs to make sure none of them escaped.
The sounds of the dock outside, with the forklifts and loud conversation faded, and a sound I hadn’t focused on before arose until it was all I could hear. The sound of barrel after barrel of crabs fighting each other was growing louder. The cacophony of clicking and claws scraping against other claws and shells became the only sound in the room.
I realized I was staring at the same barrel for the past 5 minutes and noticed something strange…no matter how hard another crab worked to make it to the top of the barrel, he could never escape because the other crabs wouldn’t let anybody go. That was the sound.
Many times a larger more aggressive crab would get right to the edge, about to emancipate himself only to be grabbed suddenly by three others, using his body as leverage to climb over him to get out. But before those three could climb over the first one, another group would grab hold of those three attempting the same maneuver. They were interfering with the efforts of another unaware of the bigger picture. The frustration of seeing one crab unable to escape because of the efforts of his colleagues was disheartening. I was no longer afraid but annoyed that the entire room was filled with this scenario. Thousands of crabs interfering with the freedom of a few, fighting to keep each other in the barrels.
Each worked so hard to keep that one from
escaping. If only they worked as a team.
The sound was everywhere. The clicking and shuffled movement was the only sound in the room. The ice in each barrel slowed them down but their will to fight was greater. The sound was as if hundreds and hundreds of people were tiptoeing over a floor covered with empty peanut shells.
And then I noticed each had their eyes trained on me. They were scared, and frustrated. Empathically I wondered if I was sensing their fear or was it my imagination? In that moment, I realized that each crab understood that they were to be eaten. Life in the sea was about survival. Getting killed by another species was easy, quick and done. But man made them sit on the dock for days, then a few more days at a tank in a restaurant, and then they would be killed. A slow anticipated death. But when? It was as if they were criminals of war being tortured until the final day would come when they would be cooked and eaten.
I was mesmerized by the scene before me. Their eyes looking at me and my eyes looking at them. I was hypnotized by the sight, sounds and emotions.
“Time to go Bucky.”
Pap broke the illusion and I turned to follow him, leaving the cold room and heading outside into the warmth of the midday sun. I kept looking back at the haunting sounds, and forward into the sunshine beating down and back to the car. The warmth brought me back to this world and the sound of everything happening at once returned.
“See ya Hotty!” Everybody lined up to shake my grandfather’s hand and tousled my blonde hair. Even the forklift driver pulled up and hopped from his protective cage. It seemed to be an act of good luck or something to tussle my blond hair. “You take care Bradley.” I was beaming and so was my grandfather.
Pap turned the station wagon towards the long road and over the bridge that led us into town earlier that day. The familiar red interior comforted me as the smell of seafood coming from the back filled the interior—yes it was pungent, but my need for sleep was greater. I began to drift off, all the while I couldn’t help but peak into the back expecting a crab to make his way out of the basket and somehow get to the front seat and pinch me. A part of me knew this would never happen. I had seen why one could never escape in their world, but the scared little boy in me kept one eye open just in case.
When we returned home, I was sound asleep and Pap carried me into the house and put me to bed. A very long day for a little boy. That image of the crabs stayed in my thoughts for days.
No one was guarding the crabs
because no one needed to.
The nature of the group wouldn’t let a single one escape, so the dockworkers never had to watch them. EVER.
Why was this image so powerfully illuminated in my little brain? It meant something but I just couldn’t grasp it. Sounds strange doesn’t it? It wasn’t until many years later in adulthood that I would realize the meaning of this moment. It was as if the universe was trying to tell me loud and clear, “pay attention to this scene! It has a deeper meaning”
As a leader, it is up to you to create an environment of trust. Pay people well, and ask them what kind of company would they like to work for. Then let them create it. When people feel as if they are a part of creating their future, they stop destroying each other and start focusing on the work.
And as we enter the 21st Century in full swing, don't you think it is time to set the example of better leadership? One that shows others around you that they don't need to destroy each other to get ahead.
Thanks for reading,
Brad is the award winning, international bestselling author of Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia: Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing The Way We Run Things ISBN-13: 978-1608320554
As a Baby Boomer, Brad grew up watching the original Star Trek series, secretly wishing he would be commanding a Constitution Class Starship in the not too distant future. Since that would take a while, Brad became a technology driven, creative director who co-founded one of the very first Internet Development Agencies during the Dot Com Boom—K2 Design. As a Web Pioneer, Brad was forced to invent a new management model that engaged the first wave of Digital Workers. Today, Brad helps Fortune 500 Companies close the Digital Divide by understanding it as a cultural divide—created by a new tech-savvy worker...and customer.