On management: small crisis puts character on display

It started as a nightmare.

After being on the road for two weeks in a motor home on the way to this year’s Kentucky Derby, I scraped the back end of my rig along part of an auto-hauler trailer in a crowded Cracker Barrel parking lot.

I had been slowly following the signs to “RV and Truck Parking” when I was distracted by a car darting across my path … and then I heard that awful scraping sound. In my mirror I could see what I had done. I was able to disengage simply by turning the wheel so I moved away and drove to the parking lot.

The damage wasn’t too bad, but a pipe was bent into the little wheel on this car carrier, and it wasn’t going to move. None of the hundreds of people around seemed interested. The car attached to the auto-hauler trailer had plates from Michigan, and so I started through the crowd asking people at random, “Are you from Michigan?”

A few minutes later, I found the owner of the car and trailer, and the fun began.

He was a big guy, well over my 6-foot-3. He looked like a fighter or wrestler and he had lots of tats (I kept telling myself that didn’t mean anything) and wasn’t happy when I told him what I had done. I could hardly blame him. But the real warrior in his party was a woman who then burst on the scene shouting at me, telling me “what a jerk I was and how come was I just standing around instead of trying to fix their car.”

I weakly protested that up until then I had been looking for the owner, but I didn’t get much credit for that.

While I was beginning to move in ever-increasing circles looking for something to bend the little pipe off the tire, a guy showed up with a tire iron. He stuck it in the pipe on the car-hauler and three of us, the guy with the tats, me and the new guy, pulled on the bar. But we needed something bigger and stronger.

The new guy took this on as a challenge. He mumbled something, walked off and returned with a slightly bigger but thinner bar. Same guys pulling. Same result.

Then the new guy mumbled something like, “visualize, analyze and improvise” and wandered behind the Cracker Barrel, returning with a stout bar about 6 feet long. It fit right in the pipe and was long enough to provide leverage and a place to push. In a few seconds the pipe was straight, the folks from Michigan became much happier, and the new guy started to drift off. I told him I wanted to talk to him. He said he would be in the restaurant.

I went back to the group about to set off for Michigan, a lot happier now. There were handshakes all around and apologies for getting uptight. But all the time I was thinking of the New Guy who was the real hero.

I found him waiting for a table. He was well built, probably in his early 40s, Hispanic, very pleasant and very friendly. He looked like he had been in the military. I thanked him for his willingness to get involved in someone else’s problem and offered to buy him lunch.

He declined: “Why don’t you just say a prayer for me. I need that more.”

We talked for a while and he told me, “I was in the Special Forces for 21 years, and I learned how to solve problems. So when I come across one, I do what I can.” He pointed to his chest and leg and told me where he had been shot and stabbed several times, indicating he had physical problems.

I thanked him for his service although it didn’t seem to me to be enough. I told him that our country was fortunate indeed to have people like him to be our defenders and even more fortunate to have veterans like him dispersed back into our society to be examples for all of us.

I was really happy I had stopped in that Cracker Barrel and cracked into that trailer.

It was a good day.

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