Paul knows People…
Writers don’t see strangers, we see potential characters. We collect them. Make up their lives. We’re the gods who grant a happily-ever-after or kill them off. But first we have to be able to make them breathe, give them flesh and blood, make them real. We have to observe.
One of the keenest observers of the characters all around him is my blog-friend Paul Curran. He regularly comments on blog posts, often sharing entertaining snippets and stories of people he met from his days on the road, plus funny or sad stories about those he meets. On a visit here last year, he had hilarious tales of his friend and fellow trucker Elroy. Paul regularly shares his thoughts as the Sunday barista on Mark Bialczak’s always-entertaining blog for Sunday coffee and chat. (Stop by and tell them I sent you!)
But right now, I’m absolutely delighted to report that Paul is joining us here today from his home in Canada. He’s sharing one of his trademark loving profiles of a unique and wonderful character.
For me, Paul Curran is one of the true rewards of blogging.
Sarah Becomes the Boss
Guest Post by Paul Curran
The outside door opened ushering in a small breeze carrying fine gravel dust from the truck parking lot. Along with the dust came Leonard, our burden for the day. As the acting terminal manager, I felt obligated to greet him – the owner’s right hand man in administration had traveled for six hours to be here this morning. Leonard did all the shit jobs that had to be done but required no decision making. He was also the head accountant and had degrees on his wall that said so. He had gotten very close to the owner, despite his deer-in-the-headlights moments, because of his unassailable, almost frightening, personal dedication. I’m sure he would have slept under the owner’s bed if the owner’s wife would have allowed it. And worse still the owner would have been chuffed at such an arrangement.
“Good morning Leonard. To what do we owe the honor?”
“This is Sarah’s first day and I have to give her an orientation.”
This was a bit humorous as I should have mentioned that Leonard was a lech. It was obvious that the owner – and he seldom did anything for a single reason – wanted to test Sarah’s ability to handle uncomfortable situations and stay professional. Leonard’s idea of an orientation would likely involve a friendly pat on the ass or an arm around the shoulder at an inappropriate time. It would be interesting to see how she would handle this, although her reputation in the business suggested she would ether drop kick him the balls or stomp all her weight on his instep. Ha!
Leonard installed himself in the currently unoccupied manager’s office and pretended to be busy on the phone. A few minutes later Sarah arrived in another puff of dust – we really had to get some kind of coating done to keep the dust down in the truck parking lot. I was expecting her as this was to be her first day as our new terminal manager. There had been only a few considered for the job – no official process was used, it was just an ongoing discussion for about six months while I ran the terminal. Sarah had an excellent reputation in the fuel trucking business and in fact ran our competitor’s fleet. She was working out of Toronto – 250 miles away – and the time came when her company wanted to move her to Ottawa to be closer to her fleet, which was scattered across Eastern Ontario. All of us in our office had dealt with her over the years and found her fair, very competent and her word was gold – if she said it would be done, it was done, no exceptions and no excuses. As a result, we had lobbied hard with our owner to hire Sarah as our new terminal manager. Her impending move to Ottawa had sealed the deal and his offer was accepted – she left Toronto as our competitor’s manager and arrived in Ottawa as our new manager. Their loss, our gain.
Sarah was about 5 foot 4 inches, thin as a rail, with short perfect blonde hair and this morning she wore heels and a dress. She had a no nonsense air about her while still remaining approachable. Whether wearing a dress with heels or jeans and a T-shirt with boots, she was always immaculate, as if she had just stepped off the rack in the store. I greeted her and introduced myself as Leonard made his way out of the office. She had a winning smile, which she shared, and her hand-shake divulged the fact that she was used to glad-handing truck drivers and men in general – firm and sharp. She rated a 10 on the handshake scale. Leonard scooped her up and she seemed to have a sixth sense about his lechery, maneuvering so that she was always face to face with him. He led her into her new office and closed the door. It was 9:10 am.
We went about our daily business as we kept an ear out to the occasional murmuring of voices from the office. As the hours went by and no one emerged, I was feeling a world record coming on. Leonard could sit and talk about himself for hours on end without a break – in fact I was suspicious that was what he often did all on his own. But it was a rare day that any other human who happened to be in the same room with him could manage much more than an hour without suffering a petit breakdown. When the three hour mark passed, I knew it was a world record, so I pulled up a Certificate of Achievement form on the internet and modified it with the appropriate information. Addressing it to Sarah and making it for “Spending more than three hours in a closed office with Leonard without even a bathroom break”, I added the usual words of praise found on certificates – such as a world record, and above and beyond the call of duty, and a once in a life time achievement, and a shining example for others, etc. I then typed in all the office employee’s names, printed it and had everyone sign the Certificate.
About 12:30 pm the office door opened and Leonard strutted out followed by Sarah who looked less pleased. I called out to Sarah and walked over to give a short speech about how she had won a Certificate of Achievement for her dedication in remaining with Leonard for over 3 hours– and presented her with the certificate while the office staff clapped. Ha! At first she looked confused but once she read the certificate, a big grin spread across her face and she thanked us all and took a number of small bows to show her appreciation. All this while Leonard looked on with an unsettled expression – somehow he knew was being insulted but he wasn’t quite sure how.
If it has tires or testosterone, it will cause you trouble.
Thus began our relationship with our new terminal manager. Sarah proved to be very strong in organization and management but a student of crisis management. As a terminal manager of a fuel transport company she had about 50 male truck drivers and an office staff of 6 – only one of which was a woman (our accountant and payroll officer) under her control. She was excellent at organizing and drafting plans and excellent at following through – always willing to pull her weight and do any task required. But once she had settled on a plan, she was hard to dislodge from it even when circumstances changed.
We worked on her, gradually shaping her skills to better fit our operation. She confided to me over an after-hours beer, that she had once read an intriguing and fitting item on a women’s room wall. It read: “If it has tires or testosterone, it will cause you trouble.”
Sarah would inevitably try to problem solve using collaboration and always communicated well. When she arrived she could hold her own in a confrontational situation but it was obvious that she was uncomfortable and preferred to work together with people. Gradually she added giving orders to her tool box. Then came the day when I knew she had arrived. We had a new dispatcher, Tim, who was super smart but arrogant as hell. Sarah had agreed to his promotion from driving to the office and she seemed to like him. The rest of us respected his skills but wouldn’t befriend him. It was one of the few times that I disagreed with a choice of Sarah’s but she was the boss. Tim was about 30 and he was over six foot tall and very muscular. He could be an intimidating presence when he chose to be, especially with his booming voice. One of his eccentricities was his parking spot. There were 5 parking places directly in front of the office and historically the office staff used those. But the main lot was only a few steps away – across the driveway – so there wasn’t really any big difference, it was just a matter of status. To avoid any conflict, I always parked in the main lot, even if I was the first to the office in the morning. Tim was adamant when he was promoted that he be allowed to park in front of the office with the rest of the staff. This was important to him – to be seen as a dispatcher, not just an employee.
There was an ongoing and building conflict about Tim’s “spot”. He often worked the late dispatch shift and so when he came to work all the spots would be filled. Every day he was getting more and more upset. Then one day it all came to a head. I was at the dispatchers’ desk which was beside the door to the safety officer’s office. Sarah was in a meeting in that office with the door closed. Tim came bursting into the office and he was swearing loudly that someone had taken “his” parking spot and how this had to stop and was unacceptable. He was on a rage. He demanded to know where Sarah was and I just leaned over and opened the door to the safety office and hollered: “Sarah, Tim is here to see you!” Tim raced right into the safety office and began to yell that someone had taken his spot. He ranted for a few minutes before we heard Sarah interrupt loudly. She began to dress him down for being ignorant, interrupting her meeting, being unreasonable, being arrogant, thinking of no one but himself, making a big issue over nothing. Meanwhile she had apparently stood and was right in Tim’s face. He started backing out of the office speechless while she followed stabbing her finger in his chest as she yelled in his face and pushed him backward right across the office until his back hit the far wall. She stopped poking his chest and started poking her finger in his face as she continued on calling him and his arrogance down until he was broken. It was hilarious to watch as the little 5 foot 4 woman pushed the big 6 foot man backwards across the office while dressing him down loudly.
From that day on Tim treated Sarah with great respect and I knew that Sarah had arrived – she was now officially our boss.