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.

Survivor

My wife loves Survivor. She loves it so much she tells people we love Survivor. This particular usage must be the Royal We, because I do not love Survivor. I will watch it with her, but I actually prefer the Amazing Race, where contestants have some control over their own destiny. Survivor actually distresses me, although I couldn’t really articulate why.

Last night was the conclusion of another riveting season. Actually, all the players were returning contestants, so it was better than most seasons. Some guy who had been in the back most of the time managed to build a large enough alliance to get into the final three, pleaded that he was there to win for his family, and won a million dollars. He won one challenge.

I was incensed that he won, as he had minimal accomplishments. I thought the whole “for my family” speech was pandering to the jury. My wife was very pleased he won, since she liked him.

It’s today’s Corporate America in a nutshell, and that’s my problem with Survivor – it’s just too close to my work life to be enjoyable.

I’m hoping the producers originally envisioned a true contest of strength and endurance, where the cream would rise to the top, and the most powerful would be rewarded with riches. Assuming that a TV producer had ever read Darwin (a leap of faith on my part), the strong would survive, by natural selection. This is a good theory.

Here’s what actually happens each season on Survivor:

A bunch of random people are placed in a relatively high-stress situation somewhere in a remote location. They are not truly random, since the producers choose them ahead of time, and there always seem to be patterns. It’s almost like there were quotas to fill. There will be a big tough guy, an pretty boy,  a nerd, a slightly crazy woman, a proud ethnic woman, an overly-sensitive guy, an old guy, a Mother Earth woman, someone with a secret, and a few others. The “random” people are placed on teams.

After a couple of days of assessing each other, some of the rather weak performers start to band together and methodically wipe out the stronger performers, simply because that’s the only way they will remain in the game. They swear loyalty to each other, but will switch allegiances whenever necessary, just to stay alive. If their friends are sacrificed, so be it. There are always one or two incompetents who manage to stick around week after week, just because they are no threat to anyone, even if they are an incredible annoyance to the people who actually know what is going on. Someone thinks he is in charge, but everyone is actually working behind his back to destroy him.

The truly weak are kept around because at the end, in theory, the best player of the few left will be crowned the winner. So, rather than surrounding yourself with strong players, you select weak players, since that makes you look stronger.

Each week, all of the contestants are required to complete a task which has no apparent actual value other than it was the task assigned. One of the teams will get rewarded based on how quickly they can do the task. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t master the task (except for losing the reward), since you will never have to do the task again. If you win, you get a reward and the other team gets told “I got nothin’ for you.”

After that, there is another random task, but this time, if your team loses, your team has to send someone home. There are hidden trinkets that you can find that can prevent you from going home, but only if you display the trinket at the proper time. In the end, some of the last ones who were vanquished are allowed to pick the winner out of the losers that are left.

It’s natural selection on acid.

It is also, my friends, the past thirty or so years of my life, except that on Survivor, nobody has to do annual performance reviews, mainly because they’re not out there that long. I’m constantly amazed I’m still here. I guess I’m just not a threat to anyone.