Pages

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

I have to drive today. I hate that.

I used to drive a lot, every day. A one hour/one way commute has been about minimum for me since Carter was president. Sometimes, it's been much longer. I grew to hate it. I hate toll booths and gas stations and signs at night and corrugated pavement. I hate being away from home, ever.

For a while, I had to fly fairly often, too. I'd take those nerve-wracking short flights where the runway seemed only ten feet longer than the plane required; fifteen minutes in the air and then the ground came at you like a freight train. Flying is glamorous. The first time you do it. Then it's just the bus station squared.

I have to drive to deliver things now and again. I don't mind that so much. It's driving to pick up things I hate.

In a business that makes things, logistics is everything now. You'll hear management course geekspeak about just-in-time inventory and so forth, but all it boils down to is this: if I gotta go rooting around for it, I've made a mistake somehow, and I'm wasting time. It's that simple.

The internet has made the procurement of materials much easier in the last ten years, and I'm mightily grateful for it. It was not always the way.

When I was a manager of another business and charged with hiring many persons, I used to ask a series of questions to potential candidates about what their approach would be if one of our previous customers in upstate Maine called and said there was no hot water in their restaurant, and needed us to fix it. Pronto. We were three or four hours away from this benighted eatery. Just a little exercise, I told them.

Of course it wasn't. It had happened, when I was being managed and not managing, and I had to deal with it. And so there was a right answer, or a series of them, and I knew them.

I used that little plot device a few dozen times, and nobody ever made it to gools -- hot water in the restaurant by the end of the afternoon. I'd give hints, even, but they'd never get it. It was their approach that always killed the prospective applicant. They thought there was a big secret, an answer like in a puzzle. They never realized it was an approach you were looking for, not a secret password or silver bullet or something. How you went about solving a problem at a distance told all. All you had was all you needed, too; a phone and a crummy computer on dial-up. And without fail, when the applicants were told "nope" too many times about their proposed approach, they'd start to tug a bit on their shirt collar, perspire a bit, and offer that they'd drive there right away and handle it themselves if they had to. I guess they read somewhere that managers in the commercial construction business like folks that grab the bull by the horns.

No we didn't. We still don't. I don't want to go anywhere because it's a symptom now that I overlooked something, and now I have to go somewhere and deal with it. If you're riding around in the construction business, you've failed before you spilled the first coffee in your lap while giving the finger to the first jerk weaving into your lane.

If I was a better manager, I wouldn't be leaving the shop today, even for a minute.

But then, what would I have written about? See? Multi-tasking, boss.

6 comments:

Editor Theorist said...

This is another of those postings that will stick in my mind.

Internet Ronin said...

I'm all for letting my fingers do the walking whenever possible.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Multi-tasking, boss.

Shakin' the tree, Boss.

SippicanCottage said...

Ruth Anne- That is exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote that. I know that's not really an obscure movie, but that seems a very oblique reference for you to pick up on.

This might sound odd, but there was a time when I was younger when the words would appear in front of my face as if projected on a curtain, sometimes whole pages of words, obscure references to things; whole blocks of text or pictures I had read or seen. It's changed over time. Now they are like things in a side view mirror. That was a tiny version of that; I don't exactly know what triggers such a thing's appearance. I don't think I've seen that movie in its entirety, and it's been twenty five years since I saw it at all. It fit there in a giant stew of offhand references.

Are you like that? Is everyone like that? Is no one?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Your giant stew of offhand references is my font of useless information. Different cut from the same bolt. I only learned about Cool Hand Luke, however, when I got the testosterone infusion of marriage.

Pastor_Jeff said...

I think it's pretty common. We all draw on our cultural heritage in ways we maybe don't even realize.

The funny thing is a hundred years or more ago, people would toss off lines like that referring to obscure biblical people and events. "Salem? 'Jot or tittle'? Ebenezer? What's that? You mean, like Scrooge?" Not complainin', just sayin'.

For me, it's a lot of TV shows and movies from the 70s and 80s. And weird slang and inside jokes my older brother and his friend made up that only three people in the world understand.

I do know what you mean about the words appearing. When we go out Christmas caroling to nursing homes, it's not uncommon to find people who struggle to express a coherent thought but can sing "Away in a Manger" with no problem. It's all in there somewhere.