The Atlanta Girls

Before buying the house in Bend, we came very close to moving to the Atlanta area. Specifically up around Roswell or Alpharetta, both of which are about 25 miles north of the city of Atlanta. And while there are many compelling reasons to live in the beautiful state of Georgia, the big “draw” was a few awesome ladies (and their significant others) who I’d met in my years in telecom in the Silicon Valley.

The connection came about via audio conferencing services, which many of you understand, but some may not. Essentially, it’s a way to bridge anywhere from a few to a few hundred callers on a single conference call. In the “early days” it was just audio, but it’s evolved into a very complex business that features document sharing, controlling other users’ desktops, audio, video and web combinations, etc. It’s an incredible tool, and the bigger companies like Premiere Conferencing and WebEx have become huge leaders in the field.
The first of the Atlanta girls was a nice young lady named Stella. I received a “cold call” from her, pitching a new conferencing service that would outperform and undercut anything we were using. I was managing telecom and networks at Pure Software at the time, and by pure coincidence, I needed the service, and I knew we were paying too much for what we’d been using. So we scheduled a meeting, and Stella came into the conference room like a whirlwind, launched into her pitch, undercut the competition while offering better services, no contract or annual commit level – just try the service and we’ll take it from there. Ok? Fine … now let’s go to lunch. My recollection is that we went to the Lion and Compass in Sunnyvale. Stella had done her homework – for a first time visitor to the area, she’d scoped out the restaurants and picked one of the hottest spots for lunchtime networking in the Silicon Valley. Very, very personable, which was something I’d find with all of the Atlanta girls, who I’d meet subsequently.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the “support” group that would answer the phones at Stella’s company would actually become some of my best friends in the next couple of years. As it turns out, the people answering the phones were a few of the founders of the company, and would go on to build and sell off several more similar companies over the years. Names like “Marlene, Karen, and Carolyn” would make recurring appearances on the other end of the phone, but I had no idea that they were the company owners.
I tend to take good vendors with me from company to company, and so it was with Stella’s conferencing services. Pure was bought by Rational, and her account immediately quadrupled. When I moved to Cisco, I brought the service to them as well. Cisco had their own internal conferencing bridges so it wasn’t a huge deal for Stella, but I’m sure it helped pay the bills back in Roswell. She was a single mom, and accounts like Rational Software and Cisco Systems are real nice feathers in your proverbial bonnet.
When I left Cisco and went to work for Network Appliance (now Netapp), I fully intended to bring Stella’s services with me. But a mere week into my tenure there, a co-worker arranged a conference with who she described as a pesty salesperson who’d been bugging them about handling their conferencing business. I agreed to the meeting, fully expecting to listen to the pitch, and send her on her merry way. This was my first meeting with Donna, who was with a newly-formed conference company that had great rates, attractive contract provisions, and they had a secret weapon … they had Donna. We became fast friends, and it wasn’t long until I discovered that this “new company” had the same lineage as Stella’s old company … same founders, same inside support people, only better rates … and Donna.
My main inside contact was a wonderful lady named Marlene. She’s one of the primary reasons that the companies they formed did so well. Customer service is a rare commodity, and Marlene and her “girls” are the best I’ve ever run across, and I deal with a lot of vendors.
Verneata, Karen, Carolyn, Donna, Marlene

About a year into the relationship with Donna, Marlene, Karen, Verneata and Carolyn, they all decided to come out to the west coast for a little trip to the wine country. We arranged to meet them in the gift shop at Silver Oak, one of our favorites. The first meeting with them was magic. It was like we’d been friends for decades. Wonderful women, excellent husbands and significant others, and the day couldn’t have been better. A few of our local friends joined us as well, and it turned out to be a very memorable one. We ended up visiting several wineries, and ended up at Tra Vigne in St. Helena for a late lunch, early dinner. This was the third and last time I’ll eat at this restaurant, which has a huge following and for some mysterious reason, a great reputation. I’ve had three experiences with terrible service, mediocre food, and ridiculous prices. Never again. But spending the day with these ladies and our friends was nothing short of magical.

My job allowed me to visit Atlanta (among other places around the country) several times a year. I’d always time my visits around a weekend, so I could spend time with the Atlanta girls. I managed to attend a couple of their company parties, a phenomenal grand opening of their new office complex (which was a weekend-long event), and always had a phenomenal time. A couple “firsts” on this trip were sweet tea and peach cobbler. You have to go to the south for both of these, to get the real deal. I did, had them many times since, and it represents a couple of the unmistakably southern things that I came to love.
We actually made a couple trips where we spent entire days with realtors, as we were seriously considering a move there. Houses like the one picture here, cost about half what they do in the Silicon Valley. It ended up being a lot farther east than we wanted to venture, but Roswell and Alpharetta are spectacular, and the people we met are some of the nicest I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t get to see these girls too often since we moved to Oregon, and many have left the business and gone on to other successful ventures. We had a rare treat recently when Carolyn (the founder of several of the companies I mentioned) was in California on business. She emailed and asked if we were available. Being “available” was never in question … the only question was what would I cook for her and her co-worker from Phoenix? Carolyn confirmed that they’re both extremely “non-picky” and anything I made would be fine. I’m accustomed to some very picky eaters (all cooks are), so it’s a treat when I get to “play.”

Dinner for Carolyn went like this:
– Loin lamb chops marinated in olive oil, garlic, and fresh rosemary, cooked on the BBQ.
– Alaskan scallops dusted in cornmeal, quick fried, and served with chipotle aioli.
– Risotto with brown Italian mushrooms, arugula, white wine, and parmesan cheese.
– Salad of mixed greens, Mandarin oranges, and a light balsamic vinaigrette.
– And a multitude of great Paso Robles wines, which has become my new fave.
Of course I took advantage of Twitter and Facebook and made all of the Atlanta girls jealous by posting the meal contents. I suspect I’ll see a few more of them in the future!

I adore these women, and keep in contact with several of them, unfortunately not with all of them. I hate losing track of people, and regardless of whether they still see one-another, I need to track the rest of them down. But Carolyn, Marlene, and Donna and I have always stayed in close contact, and I “hear” from several of them via Facebook as well. So I know they’re out there, just involved in their lives and families, which is a good thing. They all know I’m thinking about them, and how much I care about them.

Our friend Trudy asked Carolyn an interesting question at Tra Vigne in St. Helena. Quite simply, she asked “what’s it mean to be a Southern lady?” Carolyn replied, “We are ladies, we say y’all, we say I’m “fixin'” to do something, and we’re proud to be Southern.” Couldn’t say it any better. They’re all ladies, they’re my friends, and I love every one of them.
~~~ And a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY Donna! ~~~
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