“It’s Funny Now”
Driving for a large national carrier often leaves me feeling uncomfortably visible or unusually anonymous. I often appear to be the lead mouse, in our highway rat race, or completely invisible. Particularly on the scene of an incident or accident, it’s often impossible to tell if we’re the cause, consequence, perpetrator, or victim.
Approaching Toronto in 1990, I was trying to find the exit to Mississauga, Ontario before I could even pronounce it. Turning left at the top of a ramp, it immediately put me going back south on the 401. A few minutes later, turned back north, I found the same exit, and the same left turn put me back on the 401 South again.
Now getting frustrated, I again made my way through a double cloverleaf, two collector lanes, and the proper exit ramp. Then for the third time, I turned left again, right back to the wrong side of 401. Once again righting the wrongs and forsaking the lefts, I came to the corner and stopped.
Shortly thereafter, to my immense relief, an O.P.P. officer stopped to render assistance. The Ontario Provincial Police were a contented bunch, in that era, because crime was still against the law in Canada, and Motorist Assist was not yet labeled police brutality. Thus, he happily asked if he could help.
When I explained my difficulty in locating the correct turn, there was a momentary doubt in his eyes, but then he brightened up. “I’ve got it, Mate.” He said cheerfully. “Just wait right here, aye, because I’ve already seen three of you blokes go by in just the past hour!”
In another non-incident, upon crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, there were three side-by-side mailboxes for inbound paperwork, and I put my GM manifest in the Chrysler mail slot.
Believing this to be a grave error, I immediately parked outside Customs Enforcement to report my transgression. That’s when an officer escorted me out to the mailbox, positioned a ladder against it, and requested I climb up and retrieve the runaway paperwork. When I opened the box, of course, I learned it was, in reality, a single box with three separate mail slots. I was laughing before hitting the ground, and so was Transportation Ministry officer.
In yet another almost-international incident, this time out of Mexico, I hooked up to a load of artificial Christmas trees. Turning north out of Laredo late one night, the weekend dispatcher told me to make sure they were watered before delivery. On Sunday, trying to be funny, I advised a different dispatcher that I had, indeed, watered down the artificial Christmas trees.
Unknown to me, at that moment, he took it seriously, and followed the exact protocol for reporting and mitigating a crisis. That meant moving the information rapidly up the chain of command. The entire chain of command, including a world-acclaimed CEO not afraid to use earthy language. Although he didn’t speak directly to me, every #@%&*% word was relayed to me by fully awake middle managers from several departments.
That same CEO was once the lead negotiator with that carrier’s largest customer, and their counterparts made a demand my boss wouldn’t entertain. At the time, we had 800 trailers tasked to that customer, in three different countries, and they demanded to know how soon we could remove them. Our Chief Executive Officer, who led us through a ten-fold expansion in less than ten years, answered with a three-word question of his own. “Midnight soon enough?”
Call it crazy. Call it courageous. Call it anything you want, but I call it funny. Now.