Lunch with Marjorie: Type Z and going strong

Bob Toupence first put his L.L.B. degree to use as a social worker. He got right to the point.

“I don’t like gabbing to be gabbing. I dealt with ex-cons. I was supposed to be rehabilitating them. They are not rehabilitate-able. When you’re new, you have an ideal you can change and help anybody. After a few years, you discover you can help nobody.”

Bob changed his career path to business consulting for an auto dealer service association, helping with financial and legal problems, traveling all over the country.

“In Texas and New Mexico, they think…when they hear Chicago…gangsters. They ask, ‘Do you know Al Capone?’ But, he confesses, “I do have an Al Capone connection. My mother went to school with a nephew of Al Capone. She was born and raised in Chicago. My grandfather would hear machine gunfire and would ease her mind by telling her that it was a car backfiring.”

He returned to serious talk.

“Helping dealers, that’s how I fell into general business consulting. I would help them with their problems, and wouldn’t get paid for it, frankly, ‘cause nice guys do things for free. After a few years of that, I decided to go out on my own and start charging for that.”

For the past 20 years, Bob has developed the Trader’s League of America—a bartering-trade exchange for stateline businesses. A little more than three years ago, Bob’s life dramatically changed.

“It was the day after April Fool’s Day in 2001, that I woke up blind. I woke up blind, and said, ‘Damn,’ and called the hospital and the doctor, and got their answering service. They didn’t even know what ophthalmology was.”

He described the ordeal.

“A botched corneal transplant…if the operation is botched…it takes your retina. In a post-op procedure the eye acquired an infection, and that killed the retina and the nerves. I lost one eye years ago to glaucoma—but I was fine with my one eye. So in the post op…mainly taking stitches out…I was having the corneal transplant because I couldn’t see well. Now I can see nothing, so I’d rather go back to not seeing well.”

“I’m looking for your philosophical statement here,” I fished.

“You carry on. It’s just an obstacle. What are you going to do, cry about it? What is that serenity prayer…that thing about change the things you can, accept the things you can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference.”

“Do you think visually still?” I asked.

“I like to go to my restaurants—because I know the layout. I go to the seven or eight restaurants that are my clients.”

We paused for our sandwiches and coffee—lunch fare at Meg’s Daily Grind in Roscoe. I realized too late we should have met at one of Bob’s familiar places. But he appreciated the delicious coffee at Meg’s. He loves coffee, which he says he drinks a lot of.

“I drink so much coffee that once…a truck hit us. We had coffee on the dashboard. So I got this coffee all over me. I was knocked out for a couple of seconds. I felt warm liquid all over me, and I thought I was bleeding to death. And it was just coffee. I was bleeding coffee.”

“Has being blind had some positive effects?”


He explained.

“Some people call me a type Z personality. Type As, I would eat ‘em for lunch! I’m in a hurry. I cannot be as aggressive as before. Now if I want to go somewhere, I have to pay someone to drive me there, and they have to be available. That’s the biggest bad thing about going blind.”

Bob believes his trade league helps businesses save money.

“If you’re paying cash, you could have been trading. Unless you’re booked end to end for every hour—no unused capacity, then you’re better off with trade. You don’t get paid for every hour you work. There’s an old lawyer joke: This 39-year-old lawyer dies, goes to heaven, complains to St. Peter, ‘I got here a little early. I’m only 39.’ They said, ‘Oh, we thought you were 89, based on your billable hours.’”

“It sounds like being blind hasn’t changed a lot about how you think, but it’s slowed down how you operate.”

“In my younger years, I drove all the time. I used to drive constantly. I got to hate it because you’re in the car so much. Now I miss it. I try to talk (my driver) into letting me take a spin?” He chuckles recalling Pacino in Scent of a Woman.

“I’m a very good driver, so I think I could do it.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

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