“Never order a tequila sunrise again.”

Once, many years ago when I was just starting out in business I traveled with a group to do a due diligence on a company the firm for which I worked was acquiring. There were about five of us and the group was led by my boss, a dignified older gentleman who was nearing retirement. To my mind, John was the embodiment of business excellence.

That evening we gathered in the hotel lounge for drinks. I, being in my 20s, ordered a tequila sunrise. I noticed that John gave me a bit of an unusual look when I did.

Later he took me aside and said, “never order that drink again, at least not in this setting.” He explained that it was déclassé and made me look unfit for the career to which I was aspiring.

He explained that I need to learn to drink scotch or other whiskey neat or on ice. I may order a martini. If I am feeling especially casual, a draft beer is fine. Never, ever order a drink like a tequila sunrise again.

I remember being a bit taken aback and even a little insulted. I thought he was being a snob.

At that point, I had a decision to make. I could ignore him or I could take his advice to heart.

I ended up following his advice. If I wanted to swim in the waters men such as he swam, I would need to adopt appropriate practices. I became a scotch drinker and, after a time, became quite fond of it. I think he did me favor by guiding me that day and in the following months.

Should I find myself at the Bahama Mama Cantina during Spring Break, I will, without hesitation, order a Hurricane, or any other drink that catches my fancy but, when traveling in certain circles, I will continue to follow the advice of my business mentor of many years ago.

Did I betray my class? Was I a yuppie social climber? Thoughts?

Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to “Never order a tequila sunrise again.”

  1. Jim22 says:

    “Did I betray my class?”

    I have heard you tell this story before. I think you did the right thing, being a young, small-town guy who wanted to swim with the bigger fish. I find it interesting that now, thirty or so years later, you still wonder about the decision and still wonder about your ‘Class’. I think that one piece of advice did come from a somewhat snobbish man but one who understood the norms of his circle. He understood your desire to join it and freely tried to help. I also think his advice probably affected more than your choices of beverage. It probably colored other decisions of yours. It seems to have worked.

  2. Slaphappypap says:

    While in Rome do what the Romans do. You did what you had to do to move up to that social ladder. You did it to make a better life for you and your family. No shame.

  3. MadBrad says:

    I was once told the same thing by a guy who worked in an electrical supply warehouse. He said that it represents strength and ladies love a man with strength (pronounced “Scrinf” ). As for the Hurricanes, they have their place too especially in more tropical locations. Sometimes while on vacation a man may feel thirsty for something spectacular at say, 9:30am. Scotch wouldn’t go well that time of the day, I don’t imagine. Nice sneaky little high octane fruity drink seems to work a little better after breakfast and before boarding a boat, I say.

    Alcoholics are going to give you all kinds of advice but your friend made a valid point. You showed wisdom in following it after having been insulted by it. Most people don’t react as you did.

  4. Joe says:

    I think his advice may have been sound for a 20 year old. Now, I think a man gets to a certain point in his life and should view that drink as he does his life and drink what ever he so chooses. Hopefully, the desire to conform is not as strong now as it was then as it is certainly not as important now as it may have been then.

    • R.D. Walker says:

      Well, 25 years later I prefer scotch. If such a thing as an “acquired taste” is real, I have acquired it. In the right environment – the Copa Cabana on a Caribbean beach – I will order a rum punch and enjoy it. Before dinner at Fleming’s however, it doesn’t even sound good.

      Tastes evolve. I didn’t like coffee the first time I tasted it but now it is one of the great joys of life.

      • Joe says:

        Totally, agree!

        WRT coffee I gave it up for Lent one year. I was successful but I don’t think Jesus appreciated the grumpy man that I became as a result. There are plenty of other things to go without.

  5. Ray Davies says:

    My Mentor back before I joined the army at 18 gave me the same advice. He also taught me not to drink too much at places that were not in my self interest (Strip Clubs). I didn’t understand what
    all he was teaching me until the lessons came into play throughout the years. Larry Burns, you were one hell of a teacher, I’m sorry I doubted you.

  6. Uke says:

    Most people like to say that they do what they want and don’t care what others think.

    Outside of trivial matters, I assert that this is mostly bullshit. Bullshit because:
    a) most people simply don’t realize how much they do conform to the world around them, and
    b) actively attempting to be non-conformist is counterproductive 99% of the time (i.e. you’ll be exiled from the pack).

    If you aren’t in a pack yet, or just breaking into one, you do whatever you need to do to not make yourself appear like an outsider. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

    All of our ancestors found a way to integrate and conform. We know this because they were not exiled from their respective societies, and survived to procreate.

    This is the tough part about tribalism. We recognize that mindless, unquestioning tribalism is bad with political matters, but unquestioning tribalism is built into our DNA as a matter of survival.

    • R.D. Walker says:

      Great observation.

      I think it became clear to me that I could be a proud, tequila sunrise drinking* business outcast or a successful emulator of those whose success I wanted to replicate. I think I chose wisely even though my individualist tendencies were a bit bruised.

      *”Tequila sunrise drinking” has, in this case, become a metaphor for all of the blue collar cultural cues I gave up in order to fit in.

      • Jim22 says:

        There is a difference between trying to fit in when young and what you can do when you no longer feel the need to impress. You could drink a tequila sunrise today with almost no ill effect to your image. It’s the ‘Almost’ and the fact that your preferences have changed over the years that prevent it in business meetings.

        This discussion makes me wonder about what kind of advice is given to aspiring business women.

        • R.D. Walker says:

          That’s true but after this much time, the shibboleths I have learned are my own. Now I am the one telling young men how to wear a tie, to never order a “slippery nipple” and how to hold a damned knife and fork. I guess I have come full circle; business etiquette seems important to me now.

  7. C. L. says:

    I had a friend who started his own construction business when he was in his forties. He was an artist with wood. His work was superb. He could have been extremely successful just from word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers. But, he was not all that successful. He wore his hair long, down to his shoulders. He showed up on jobsites – aka people’s homes – with his worksite radio, which he proceeded to use to blast heavy metal music all day. He also freely indulged his foul mouth no matter who was around. I told him more than once he was his own worst enemy and pointed these things out to him. I even told him once that I would buy into his company if he could clean up his act. (I was very good at marketing and he knew it) He didn’t care. He did things his way every day and damn anyone who didn’t like it. He could have been rich doing what he loved to do. Instead, he folded up his business after barely squeaking by for five years and went to work for someone else.

    Yep, he should have done what was necessary to become successful. He didn’t, and he lost out big because of it. I still can’t help but admire his free spirit, though. He died at 52, defiant and doing things his way until the end.

  8. Greg says:

    In addition to that sage advice, I used to tell my shipmates to never take a picture or have one taken of you smoking or drinking because they might come back to haunt you later in life. Esp do not post on social media. A bit off topic, but good advice none-the-less with more and more employers, security clearance investigations, etc.. looking at your social media.

    One friend who did not want to drink, tells the waitress to give alcohol free drink when they order a drink so that no one knows they are not drinking.

  9. nessa says:

    I think it’s a matter of getting to where you want to be. You could blaze your own trail, rocky and rough as it may be or you can follow one already used. There’ll still be a few potholes but it already steers around the cliffs.

    If I can throw out my own little parable… As a Sr NCO on The Division Staff I was required to show my face at the monthly Retirement Ceremony. I was standing next to my boss, the G3 Sergeant Major during one ceremony, critiquing the performance as Sr NCOs do. As the announcer was asking the wives and families of the retiring Soldiers to join them on the parade field, my boss told me to watch who wound up with whom. I was confused till things started to sort themselves out. Every Soldier standing proudly on that field had over 20 years of service, a good many were Master Sergeants, First Sergeants and Sergeants Major. More than a few were Staff Sergeants and Sergeants First Class. As the families sorted themselves out and the bouquets of flowers were presented to the wives I saw what the G3 SGM was talking about. Every Staff Sergeant and Sergeant First Class who, perhaps hadn’t utterly dedicated himself to the Unit, Mission and the Army had a wife and a smiling family standing next to him. The Master Sergeants and Sergeants Major, who had reached the top of their career fields, stood alone. They’d had wives, often more than one or two as well as families but the wives and families weren’t there anymore. 20 years is too long to ask families to sacrifice and wait for a husband or father.

    It’s a matter of priorities, the shitty part of the deal is you don’t know when you choose your priorities how they will affect every other part of your life. I was already a Master Sergeant and all my friends were out there looking lonely and uncomfortable like they needed to go have a beer. It was too late for me and I wouldn’t have understood 10 years earlier. May as well go have a few beers with my friends.

  10. MadBrad says:

    This is certainly an interesting conversation. It makes me think back to my time when I made some silly, non-conformist choices and how that affected the trajectory of my life. For some reason I want to take a conversational diversion into Joe Dirt world but I need to exercise discipline.

    When I handed myself over to the Army I was 17 years old. Of course they immediately began shaping my mind. One of the things that helps move that along are the themes of the running cadences we sang every morning while in garrison doing PT. General speaking we were rough, tough, can’t get enough Supermen and civilians were worms barely worth pissing on. When you get out of the Army there is no flipping a switch and turning that off and generally speaking the attitude is so embedded that you don’t even recognize that it is there.

    So for the most part, in my earliest years in the professional world I had business colleagues who I thought of as a little less of a human being than they actually might have been. I was the Alpha Male and everything I did was wide open, be it good or bad. Well this was the 80s and a good bit of it was bad. I was showing my ass because I could. Many times a manager who came my way might make a humorous remark in some way at my expense and I would turn the joke right back around and 10 times more offensive. I think that making a remark to my District Manager (in defense of a co-worker) that insinuated that the sound of his footsteps is like someone creeping around inside a men’s locker room did nothing to advance my career at Graybar Electric Supply. Over the years there have been many such incidents.

    I held on to my Superman, King of the Jungle attitude as some kind of badge of courage. I despised “Cheese eating Rats” in the military who advanced their careers by kissing ass. I therefore never kissed any ass of any kind, at least among my colleagues. I kissed plenty of customer ass but failure to conform to my environment has had far more costs than benefits.

    • nessa says:

      I enjoyed the hell out of my “immortal years.” If the Army couldn’t kill me nothing could, my peers and I strode the world like drunken norse gods. It’s like “Sunday Morning, Comin’ Down” now that I’m physically unable to deny my mortality, but it was good while it lasted.

    • R.D. Walker says:

      When the oldest son got out of the Ranger Regiment and came back to Iowa, one of the first things I told him was that his Ranger personality will not work in the civilian world and that he needs to begin cultivating a new one immediately. This evidently had an effect as he has brought up the advice several times in the last ten years.

      I knew this because he had the same personality I had after I was discharged from the 82nd: One that civilians describe as “what an asshole”. In an infantry unit it is just being normal.

      • nessa says:

        LOL. I retired and three weeks later I was working as a Project Manager with 300 employees working at the National Training Center, Ft Irwin, CA. My first day on the job I fired a woman who had been late for work six days out of her first eleven. She made some comment and I reacted as I would have with a surly Private First Class. Imagine R. Lee Ermey in “Siege of Firebase Gloria”. She ran out crying, the owner of the company was calling me thirty minutes later and the Garrison Sergeant Major came to the office to see me in person. LOL. A PFC would have snapped to parade rest and thought “somebody pissed in his canteen…” then carried on with his day.

  11. C. L. says:

    As far as business etiquette goes, I think it would always be better to be more like Judge Smails than Al Czervik. Not snooty, but more smooth. You can deal with an Al if you have to, just don’t be Al.

    On second thought, Smails was really an asshole. Nevermind.

  12. Bman says:

    Tequila Sunrise? I’m surprised your boss didn’t fire you on the spot to be honest with you. Where I come from, ordering a drink with any type of juice is a huge no-no if you are a male. You may get away with a screwdriver or an occasional Greyhound, but it will raise eyebrows. I’m glad you came around though.

    I had a boss who pulled me aside during a similar situation. He was irritated that I ordered a scotch. He gave me the best advice and told me to learn to drink ice cold refreshing Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. That was way back when I was 16 and have never looked back since…

    • R.D. Walker says:

      Yeah, I probably thought a tequila sunrise was sophisticated because the Eagles sang about it. What the hell did I know?

      • Bman says:

        I hope to God you didn’t drink it through a straw. Please tell me you didn’t.

        • R.D. Walker says:

          I really don’t recall. I was previously only a beer drinker so I had no sense of what was and wasn’t acceptable. Especially among the hoi polloi in NoDak.

          These days I can talk scotch and whiskey like a connoisseur … but don’t do it much. Doing so runs the risk of making a person sound like an asshole.

    • C. L. says:

      I’m pretty sure Clarence ordered the 1940s equivalent of a tequila sunrise right before this scene begins.

  13. C. L. says:

    I have referenced two movies in this topic. The funny thing is that neither of them is the first one that popped into my mind, on a completely different tack.

  14. Ben says:

    I never was fond of non clear liquor and have always been partial to Vodka.

    I have found that a Vodka cranberry with a brand request is equally accepted in business situations.

  15. AndyGump says:

    Sorry Bourbon is the drink. Neat. Only acquired the taste over the last 10 years. Wished I would have acquired it 25 years ago.

  16. R.D. Walker says:

    Everybody understands this wasn’t really a post about drinks, right? It was a post about the signals of group identity and how we either adopt them or reject them.

    • C. L. says:

      Yeah, I tried to stick to that early on, but it was too much fun to pretend it was just about the drinks. It was the weekend. My only defense. 🙂