Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Management

After I completed Officers Candidate School, I was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Army. Serving as a lieutenant was the only time I've ever had a job that qualified as a management position.

In Vietnam, I worked in the top secret area of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). It was a mini-Pentagon that had the command structure of all branches in one place. My group generated background intelligence summaries on Cambodia and Laos to support the real-time briefings.

The six sharp guys that made up my team did some really good work. Whenever a general or colonel came down to thank me for something we'd done, I always deferred to those who did the work. I would say something like, "Jim and Evan did the heavy lifting on that, they're the ones you should talk to." I gave the credit to my team when things went right and took full responsibility if there was any kind of problem.

The Army has a well-know saying, "Shit rolls down hill." This refers to the standard practice of passing the blame on to those below you when things go wrong.

I had a special name plate made for my desk at MACV. Below my name it read, "Shit rolls down hill until it gets to me."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recycled Coffee

I pulled into a gritty industrial area of Chicago one morning to deliver a load from California. It was 5am when I got there and the warehouse didn't open until 6am.

The old gray building across the street had a small cafe in one corner with a faded sign on its dingy window that read "Coffee Shop". I went in and sat at the counter under a fluorescent light that was flickering and buzzing its death throes.

Four people were scattered around at separate tables, hunched over their coffee. Near me at the counter was a gnarly old guy wearing dirty bib overalls and a faded striped engineers cap. The whole place had an eerie colorless look that would have fit right into a Stephen King novel.

The middle-aged waitress with a jaded, almost surly demeanor, asked me what I wanted. I said, "Just coffee, please."

She poured me a cup of coffee from the pot behind the counter and put the grimy cup in front of me. While I was deciding whether or not to drink out of it, the old guy next to me got up and left.

The waitress came over, picked up his half-empty cup, and poured what was left into the same pot that my coffee had come from.

I decided I could do without coffee that morning.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Straight Line

When I was 5 years old, we lived in Dillon Montana. One morning I woke up to find a blanket of new snow covering our yard. As soon as I finished breakfast, I put on my Montana gear and went outside to play.

After I had been outside for about an hour, my mother came out to check on me. I guess I must have looked frustrated because she asked, "What's wrong?"

"I'm trying to make a straight line in the snow. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, but my line keeps getting crooked."

"If you want to make a straight line, then don't look down at your feet. Look at something like that tree over there and walk toward it."

She was right. Much to my amazement, I created a line in the snow that went straight to the tree. I don't remember much from when I was 5 years old, but I remember that lesson very clearly.