Smokey and the Bandit IV

Smokey and the Bandit was fun. In Corporate America, not so much.

Every once in a while, you realize how entertainment sometime actually reflects real life. This time last year, I was thinking about Survivor and why I find it difficult to watch. (The same thing happened last night.)

I was thinking about Smokey and the Bandit the other day, a fun movie – not a lot of deep messages, really, but a fun way to kill part of an afternoon. Bandit is challenged to drive to Texarkana and back to Atlanta in 28 hours with some bootleg Coors. (Since some of my fraternity brothers later borrowed my pick-up to drive from San Antonio to Texarkana to get bootleg Busch kegs for a party, I can say the story makes sense. Somewhat.)

Of course, Bandit was not the truck driver, Cledus (the Snowman) was. Bandit was the blocker – a distraction to make sure the truck made it through (and a good excuse to have a Trans Am in a movie).

The corporate world doesn’t really have many blockers, which is unfortunate, since a shield is a good thing every once in a while. Here’s how Cledus would fare in the corporate world today:

Cledus arrived at work one day and was told, “Congratulations! You are our new truck driver!” He was a bit surprised, since he was in charge of the entire factory floor, but management knows best, so he became a truck driver. He anxiously waited for his first assignment. And he waited. Then, he noticed there weren’t any trucks anywhere around the factory. There was just an old beat-up van, parked in the corner. It was either parked almost on top of some tomato crates, or it was up on blocks. It was hard to tell.

One day, about three weeks later, his boss asked why the tomatoes were all rotting in the warehouse. “Why didn’t you drive the tomatoes to Chicago last week? The van is in the back of the warehouse.” Now, that explained the van. It didn’t explain why a van driver was called a truck driver, or how Cledus was supposed to have divined that tomatoes went in the van to Chicago, but at least he had his first assignment.

He apologized profusely, ordered some new tomatoes after going through sixteen levels of management approvals, and drove them to Chicago in the van. He had to do the speed limit, since there were no blockers, and the van couldn’t go that fast, since it was overloaded with tomatoes. Also, one of the tires had a slow leak, so he had to stop and fill it every few hundred miles. Corporate had said they don’t reimburse for tire repairs.

When he got back from Chicago, Cledus went to tell his boss he was back, and the tomatoes had been safely delivered. His boss said, “Where are the sausages?” “What sausages?” “The ones you were supposed to pick up in Milwaukee, on your way back from Chicago.” “Why did nobody mention the sausages to me?” “What do you mean? Joe knew about the sausages. It was discussed in three meetings while you were away. Everyone in marketing knew about the sausages. The web team is waiting to photograph them for the web site. Are you not a team player?”

So, Cledus got ready to go get the sausages. First, he looked around to see if there was any rotting fruit in the warehouse, in case something else he didn’t know about was supposed to go Northbound. Before he left, his boss said, “There are too many sausages for you to carry in the van. You need a truck. You will need at least six people. Take Bob and Phil with you.”

Cledus wasn’t sure how to tell his boss that adding two people to himself was three, not six, and Phil was in a wheelchair, but he set out for Milwaukee. He took the van, since there still wasn’t any truck in sight, and corporate directives specifically forbid renting trucks. He wondered if they would ever get a truck. He wondered when he would have his title changed to “van driver” which would be correct. He knew an actual van driver in another department, but he drove a forklift.

Halfway there, his cell phone rang. “Hey, I need Bob on a different truck in Memphis, tomorrow. You’ve trained him to load potatoes, haven’t you? It came up in our staff meeting this morning.” Now, Cledus wasn’t sure how to answer, since he hadn’t even taught Bob to load sausages yet. Oops.

So, he dropped Bob off at the next town so he could catch a bus to the warehouse where he would load potatoes. First, he stopped by the store so Bob could at least see a sack of potatoes before he left. That way, he could say he trained him. (Cledus asked Bob to call him and tell him if they were loading a van or a truck. Bob called the next day, and said it was a station wagon.) He thought about asking Phil to drive, but the van wasn’t a handicapped-accessible van, and Phil had forgotten his distance glasses, anyway.

After loading sausages for two days, he and Phil headed south. Phil still couldn’t drive the van. It was really smelly in the van.

He got home with the sausages in spite of the challenges, and was pretty happy with the results. He boss said, “There are only twelve dozen sausages here. I called the manufacturer in Phoenix while you were on the way and told them I wanted sixteen dozen. Where are the rest?”

Cledus wasn’t sure where to start. The manufacturer didn’t have any control over the independent warehouse in Milwaukee or his ordering system. Nobody told the warehouse or him. The manufacturer simply was the wrong person to call. Maybe this wasn’t his fault.

No, it was. His boss said so.

So, he was given one last assignment, to prove he was worthy of being a truck driver that didn’t have a truck.

Late that evening, Cledus texted the Bandit, who was working for a different company. The text said “Do you know if there is still a land bridge?” Cledus is a truck driver. He has to deliver a van full of pickles. To London. From Cleveland.

I miss Cledus. You can go really fast in a van, but it’s a long way to jump from the US to the UK. If you don’t make it all the way on the first jump, there’s only so long you can hold your breath, and it’s hard to swim and pull a van at the same time.

Some of his co-workers wanted to name the warehouse in his memory, but he got a really bad final review for drowning a load of pickles and losing a van.

Eastbound and Down has a whole new meaning in the corporate world.