Once You Finish, You Can Take The Rest of The Day Off
My wife and I take a daily walk through and around our neighborhood. When they built these houses in the last century, the planner made a decision the residents here wouldn’t need sidewalks. As far as I can tell, the reasoning was never documented. Perhaps because there are many dead ends and cul-de-sacs, the developer or town leaders simply assumed they could save money while installing the luxury of sidewalks in more upscale communities. In any case, we locals are now forced to slog along in the roadway keeping a constant vigil for errant SUVs driven by texting Boomers and racing bicyclists in colorful Spandex.
As my wife and I were on our daily walk this week, we had to jump over the curb to avoid a US Postal Service delivery vehicle that rounded a corner on two wheels, tires smoking. As our heads whipped around to follow the trajectory of the Jeep, we saw the driver stomp the brakes just three houses down to quickly shove a parcel into a mailbox, then once again accelerate away at high speed. We were confused. We have had the same letter carrier for fifteen years and consider her a dear friend. LuAnn has delivered our mail and always knows when we are on holiday, what we get delivered, and even knows about deaths and births in our extended family. She’s family. This person was definitely not her. I suddenly realized this was a Sunday – a day she doesn’t work. Also, it’s not a normal delivery day for the postal service, so this driver was out delivering last-mile packages for the likes of Amazon.
Side note: Do you remember just a few short years ago when the US Postal Service was floating plans to limit delivery services to just a few days a week? Do you remember peoples’ reactions – some claiming the letter carrier was the only human contact for millions of Americans? I remember. That crisis came just as online shopping was taking off. Once the USPS became a subcontracted delivery vendor for Amazon, those trial balloons were quickly popped by executives and p0liticans in DC. I even had an Amazon order delivered by a postal carrier on Easter Sunday last year. So much for reduced service.
Aligning these facts and memories quickly allowed me to identify the likely reason behind the carrier’s high-speed antics: he had x-number of Sunday deliveries, after which he was free to clock out. Hence, the Fast and Furious meets Sunday delivery. This guy was going to get home for a hot meal as soon as possible.
Getting the nod to leave work early when a job is finished can be a powerful motivator. You may not be willing to test the operational limits of a postal delivery Jeep, but there are no limits to the creative shortcuts you’d be willing to take if there is a frosty beer waiting for you to finish your day’s job. I was guilty of such an event in February 1983 – Officer Training School, Lackland AFB, Texas.
On a Saturday morning, my flight commander summoned several of us to his office for weekend duties. While most of our instructors were enjoying their weekend, trainees were farmed out across the base to perform various chores and extracurricular duties. I was being assigned to a detail to refurbish the linoleum tile floors of our squadron’s classrooms. There were eight classrooms and my Flight Commander instructed us to go strip, clean, scrub, wax, and buff the floors to a mirror shine. The directions were on the jug of wax. He then assigned a recent ROTC student as the detail leader and instructed him to manage our project in detail as he would be held responsible for the result. As he was releasing us to leave, he mentioned we could have the rest of the day off once the job was properly completed.
As our baby-faced leader marched us (yes, we marched everywhere) over to the classroom building, I wondered why the four workers on this detail were all prior enlisted airmen while the leader was a recent college graduate with exactly six weeks of training seniority over us. In the end, the fact he was in the class ahead of us made him the top guy. Those were the rules for trainees. I had already been enlisted for six years when I finished college and left my NCO status as a staff sergeant to become an officer trainee. The guy marching next to me was a former master sergeant and the other two also had extensive time on active duty. This promised to be an interesting assignment.
As we got out our brushes, mops, buckets, and the standard-issue industrial floor buffers, Baby Face gave us our orders: we would follow the FC’s directions to the letter. The floors would be mopped with the stripping agent, rinsed, washed again with clean water, dried, then mopped again, dried, waxed, then buffed. The four of us all looked each other trying to hide the eye rolling. Most junior enlisted folks had been well versed in the many nuances of proper military floor maintenance for years. In this regard, I was the senior man – I had worked in USAF data centers six years and had been responsible for clean, shiny data center floors for that entire time. The four of us in the detail shared a look and I was the one who spoke up first.
“Look, sir,” I said trying to make the ‘sir’ sound sincere, “I have been waxing air force floors for my entire career thus far. These instructions on this here jug of floor wax is what is advertised, but you won’t like the results doing it that way.”
“We’re not here to debate this, McCumber. I’m in charge and we will do this the way we were told. Here’s the jug of stripper – you guys each take a room, move out the desks and get started stripping. I’ll be over here with a coffee. Ask me if you have any questions.”
Paul, my squadron mate, was next up to bat. “Hey, man, John’s right about this. We’ve all stripped and waxed floors. There is a better way you learn on active duty, and we won’t be here for the rest of the day doing it the hard way. A full strip leaves an awful mess and we’ll be mopping into the night. By using the “air force way,” we’ll be at the O-club quaffing beers by noon. Trust us”
“Don’t call me man. Say sir! I don’t care what you guys say, I am being judged on this, so you will be doing it my way. If you guys try to cut corners, I am going to call the FC and you’ll all get demerits and be on floor scrubbing duty until you retire. Now get to work and stop talking.”
After Baby Face made his edict and went off to find the coffee pot, the four of us had a little huddle, made our decision, and all agreed to live with the consequences.
“Hey, sir, mind coming over here? I think we have the wrong equipment in this closet.”
Once Baby Face was lured to enter the janitorial closet, we quickly shoved our way out leaving him in the back staring at a mop. We closed and locked the heavy metal door from the outside and went to tackle the classroom floors. Baby Face banged on the door, shouted, and threatened each of us for about seven or eight minutes. He had yet to truly learn how and when to use cuss words, so his frat-boy epithets and threats were almost comical. When he realized we were heads-down working and weren’t coming for him he went quiet for a while. After bout fifteen minutes he tried pleading. That didn’t move us to pity, either. Ultimately, he said he had to piss. He was told there were a couple buckets in the closet and to just save his breath until we were done.
Several hours later, the floors were gleaming with a fresh wax job. All the furniture had been replaced and it was just past noon. We all agreed it was time to release our prisoner. None of us really knew what was going to happen. Baby Face came flying out of the closet, his face beet red. He turned to us, his face a picture of rage. We all looked at him placidly until he decided against a direct confrontation. He stalked off to the Flight Commander’s office a couple blocks away. We marched ourselves to the Officers’ Club for beers. About an hour later, our Flight Commander arrived at the club and pulled up a stool next to us at the bar.
“Hey, guys,” he said, ” I stopped by the classroom building and the floors look really good. Thanks for your work today.”
We were holding our collective breath to see what words would come next.
“That ROTC trainee was really livid. He wants to see you all thrown out of training immediately. It’s going to take him quite a while to get over this. Did you numbskulls actually lock him up in a janitor’s closet while you did the floors?”
“Yes, sir, we did,” I confessed. “He was annoying and wouldn’t listen.”
“You know that we need to address this issue, but we can talk more on Monday. For now, it’s Saturday, and I’ll have a beer with you all. Did you know I’m a prior enlisted officer as well? You should have seen all the floors I’ve waxed in my day. Did that guy really expect you to do a full strip? What a clown.”