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The late Charles Talbot was a legend. Like many other hugely successful entrepreneurs, he’d weathered the perilous swings of fortune that took him from rags to riches several times. But unlike many others, he had a wicked sense of humor.
Much has been written about his remarkable life. Less well known was Charles’ deeply felt humility. He seldom revealed this side of him, or his wonderfully playful sense of humor that occasionally transformed his normally dour demeanor. One evening a few years before he died, Charles told some friends a revealing story:
It was about how his family came almost accidentally to own a luxury resort on the island of Maui in Hawaii. The resort began as their winter get-away. Not surprising, their vacation home became popular with family and friends, and in time also with their married children and grandchildren and of all their friends. A few guest cottages were built, and then more and more. The whole thing was getting out of hand. Something had to be done. Finally, Charles and his wife decided the property should be turned into an upscale resort. A pool would be necessary. So, he rounded up two sons staying there at the time. They helped him retrieve an old US Army surplus D-9 bulldozer he’d found abandoned in nearby underbrush. They spent months restoring the bulldozer and then used it to build a magnificent swimming pool in the shape of the island. And in typical entrepreneurial fashion, once he no longer needed the refurbished D-9 Charles sold it to a local construction company for a tidy profit.
The resort flourished. As the years passed, Charles and his wife began spending more and more time there. By then the Talbot’s had become quite wealthy. Few people knew Charles was an avid gardener. In Maui, he could thoroughly enjoy pursuing his hobby.
One day, Charles was outside as usual, hose in hand, watering a flowerbed. And he was dressed as usual . . . shirtless, an old floppy straw hat covering his scraggly mane of silver/gray hair, stained old shorts, and beat-up sandals. His gardening revere was interrupted when an expensive new sports car, top down, pulled up behind him. A horn beeped.
“Boy!” he heard a woman’s voice call out.
“Boy!” the haughty voice repeated almost immediately. “Come here!”
Charles turned around. The driver was an elegantly dressed matron in her late 50s. It was obvious from her manner she was accustomed to issuing orders and being obeyed. Charles, by then in his early 70’s, pointed to himself, gesturing, ‘Me?’ The woman nodded impatiently, waving her hand for him to hurry up and get over to where she was sitting in her flashy new white car.
Charles turned off the garden hose and calmly walked over.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” the well-tanned six-foot resort owner asked politely.
“Yes you certainly can!” she replied, by now even more impatient. “I’m a guest here, you know. You can earn yourself five bucks by washing my car.”
Charles concealed his surprise and amusement.
“Of course, ma’am,” Charles replied, keeping a straight face. A plan was taking shape in a devious corner of this brilliant man’s mind.
The woman told him abruptly when and at what unit to pick up her car. When he arrived, she gave him detailed instructions on how to clean the almost spotless car, and a strict warning to drive her newly purchased luxury vehicle with extreme caution.
The idea of washing her car appealed to Charles’ delightful sense of humor, and to his fondness for the absurd. So, he washed it, personally. Charles admitted he did struggle with a temptation to stick the hose in the car, turn the water on and walk away. Instead, he returned her carefully cleaned car, being sure to collect the $5. He thanked the woman profusely for his eward.
What came next, Charles enjoyed even more.
Their resort had a tradition, as did many others. It held a regular luau. It was both part Hawaiian hospitality and part resort entertainment, designed to encourage guests to mix and mingle. After a social hour, the festivities began with an MC on a raised stage gathering everyone’s attention.
Seated in front of the stage was the woman guest from the afternoon, owner of the sparkling clean sports car, elegantly dressed as usual. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy flaunting herself, mostly to single men scattered through the large audience. After a few announcements, it was time for the MC to introduce their host.
Out of the shadows and onto the stage came Charles Talbot. He walked over to microphone. It had been placed not by accident right in front of the self-important woman. Charles looked down directly into her eyes, and smiled.
He confessed the look on her face was priceless.