Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Chauffeur's story.

My first job at the major petroleum company was to oversee maintenance of service stations throughout Southern California and Nevada. No, I did not drive around a service truck in a uniform with my name tag embroiled although some of the women that I attempted to ask out thought that. Others thought I worked as a cashier at a gas station.

My job involved contracting out maintenance services to vendors who did the actual work on site. Don't yawn yet. I'm still talking.

One day, we got word that the CEO was taking a "field trip" to a service station as part of his executive objective to assess how our retail division was doing. This instantly kicked my department into overdrive. My manager ordered me to round up vendors to refurbish the station within the next 48 hours.

ABC must have gotten the idea for the popular reality show Extreme Home Makeover from us. Painters, pavers, roofers, electricians and others converged on this service station and worked around the clock, and the outcome was astonishing.

Given the dilapidated state of the surrounding area, the only analogy I could think of was a freshly picked rose in the toilet. Don't spend too much time trying to visualize that. The price tag for the rose was about $100,000.

The CEO's visit lasted about 15 minutes and a collective sigh of relief followed. I got to keep my job.


One of my grandfather's friends was a chauffeur for the first President of South Korea back in the 50's. The President would venture out from his mansion and make field trips to see how the people were living.

One such trip was to a department store in Seoul. After inspecting an assortment of merchandise, he marveled at how "affordable" everything was. The country was getting stronger and his policy was doing wonders, he effused in front of the throng of cameras.

Unbeknownst to him, his handlers converged on the store in force the night before and changed out the price tags, slashing prices by 99% or more. This was just one example of how insulated he was from the harsh reality of life in postwar Korea, and his presidency inevitably ended in disgrace after leaving a trail of corruption and incompetence.

One day, my grandfather's chauffeur friend informed his boss that he was getting married. The President congratulated him and whipped out a wad of cash, and said, "This ought to get you a house in the most elite neighborhood of Seoul. And while you are at it, buy yourself and your bride a car too."

What he gave him was not enough to buy a used bicycle, let alone a house in the Beverly Hills of Seoul and a car. Too bad he couldn't just magically cut the price of an expensive mansion as the President's handlers could do at the department store.


The South Korean president was a clueless dictator of a third world country 50 years ago. At least he had an excuse. He lacked the necessary logistics to just barge into a department store unannounced with security details in place.

The CEO? If he really wanted to know how his stores were doing (there were 300 of them within 20 miles of the corporate headquarters alone), why couldn't he have jumped into the car and driven over to one down the street? What a noble concept.

In this case, the CEO's chauffeur was the one who always gave us a heads up and made my life miserable. He had me constantly on my toes bracing myself for the next $100,000 rose in the toilet.


At September 09, 2006 4:38 AM, Blogger Brian Buriff said...

It's unnerving when the big shots show up. When I did KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) we had the "24 hour notice" too. Everything & everyone was spic & span. During their "tour", I noticed a huge green bullfrog perched on top of one of the stainless steel cookers (we had a creek behind the store). Unnoticed by the big shots, I slipped over, grabbed the frog, opened the back door, and heaved him back toward the creekbed.

At September 09, 2006 9:04 AM, Blogger Granny said...

My son is the cafe manager for a large bookstore (initials B&N). Every time they know one of the wheels is coming, they kill themselves the day before.

To me, the place always looks okay.

Your story about the dictator of S. Korea reminds me of the "impromptu" visits our leaders make to the "people". Every moment is choreographed.

I know it's unrealistic and you will laugh but I wish every candidate for public office (maybe starting with the state, not local) should spend 3 months living at the poverty level.

No aides, no private transportation, clinics (if that) for medical care. Of our recent presidents, I can remember only two who had an idea from childhood what reality is. Nixon and Clinton (who could recite grocery prices and be within a nickel or so on a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk).

At September 09, 2006 3:07 PM, Anonymous franklin said...

I love this series. I've experienced some of this in the corporate world...$ and time to make the big impression. Faking it...CYA was the name of the game. Sadly, sometimes, church isn't much different.

At September 10, 2006 9:22 AM, Blogger Mad Anonyethelmous said...

I've never been a manager. But I always imagined that if I were my store would be spic and span all the time so that we wouldn't have to kill ourselves when the big wigs showed up. That might qualify as a fantasy since most managers are usually too busy to worry with the small stuff all the time.

When I worked at a certain PetStore we had the code, "The eagle has landed" for whenever district or the secret shoppers came to visit. It was so cheesy, but it kindof helped to lighten the mood for us.

At September 10, 2006 1:22 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

Granny has the right idea! Big time. One reason I had a modicum of hope when Clinton was elected the first time was because he was from such a working-class background. I thought that might translate into better representation. Seems like so long ago I let myself have any hope like that.

Turns out I wasn't that far behind after all. All caught up now. :)

At September 11, 2006 5:14 PM, Blogger Elevated said...

Wow, interesting thoughts....and the rose in the toilet is too perfect :P


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