Good Luck With That: Bad Day in Podunk

Jul 19, 2019

The following story is true. The town names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Did you ever have one of those days when things went all wrong? Let me share with you the worst sales call of my career. The day began well. It was a beautiful mid-spring morning. The early flowers were in full bloom and the birds were harmonizing their mating songs. The air smelled sweet and the sunrise was glorious. The morning ride to the office wasn’t hot enough to have the A/C on, but warm enough to have the windows down and enjoy the fresh morning air. It was just one of those mornings that made you happy to be alive. That was before it all went sideways.

I arrived at the office around 7:30 AM, happy as a lark. It was a big day. I was making a sale call to one of my largest clients and fully expected to close on the deal. Since this customer’s location was roughly 100 miles north,  I decided to take a design tech with me to field measure and gather any necessary information. I wanted to hit the ground running and avoid a second costly field measure trip. The appointment was set for 10 AM and if we got on the road by 8:30 there was plenty of time to make the appointment. That is when things began to sour. I had just gotten off the phone with the design tech telling him to meet me at the front door when my phone rang. It was one of our field mechanics needing some information for a job he was installing. I had to look up the information for him or it would be a costly delay for his install. Ten Minutes later I was ready to go when the phone rang again. My boss this time needing me to do something for him before I left. By now Steve, the  design tech, was standing in my office door taping his wrist watch. Once my boss was satisfied, I grabbed my brief case to leave as the phone rang again. We ignored it and left.

Amoco brand logo  We were behind. It was time to give the client a call to let him know we got a late start and were running about 30 minutes behind. They are understanding and told me there is no rush, we could meet when I arrived. Steve and I were now heading north on the Interstate on this beautiful sunny day. The windows were down, the radio was blaring, and Steve and I were adding our musical talent to Wild Cherry  singing “Play-That-Funky-Music-White-Boy”, when my Chevy Tahoe gave a lurch and a sputter. My heart sunk into my stomach as I suddenly remembered I was going to fill the gas tank on the way into the office that morning. When my Tahoe’s gas gauge was just a sliver above the red empty line, the tank was bone dry. I dared to glance at the fuel gauge and shouted, “OH SUGAR”. Only it wasn’t sugar I shouted. The needle was sitting on the redline. We were still moving but the engine sputtered a second time. I did some quick thinking and remembered the last exit was about 15 miles back.  Then I saw hope. We were passing a big green interstate sign saying, “Podunk, 1/2 mile”. The engine sputtered a third time and I took my foot off the gas to coast as much as possible. We reached the exit ramp. I did not brake at the stop sign but continued to roll on through as far as possible toward Podunk. The engine sputtered one last time and finally died about 500 yards beyond the exit ramp. I rolled over onto the shoulder of the most desolate  two-lane highway you ever saw. We had come to a stop next to a grassy knoll and a farmer’s corn field with young plants about six inches high for as far as the eye could see.

Route 22 signThere was a mileage sign that said, “Podunk 3 miles”. It was time to call the client again and tell them it would be even later. I didn’t want to say I ran out of gas, so I just said we were having some car issues. The next call was to AAA. That was when my cell phone died. Now we were in trouble. We had been there for 15 minutes and not a single car had passed by.  I was an avid bicyclist back then, and my trusty Trek road bike was always in the back of my Tahoe. I told Steve not to worry, I would ride my bike into Podunk to get some gas. The six miles round trip should not take more than a half hour and I would be back with some gas. Normally I would ride in my bike shorts, cool wicking riding jersey and clip in bike shoes. For this ride I had to settle for dress slacks, button down shirt, neck tie, and hard dress shoes. I was uncomfortable and sweating within a half mile. When I made it into Podunk, I found it was at a cross road with US‑22. There was a small post office, three or four paint peeling houses, and an Amoco gas station with attached diner. A sign in the grimy windows read, “Eat Here and Get Gas!” All the windows were dirty with age and it was obvious this place had been closed for at least 30 years. A mangy, one-eyed dog stared at me from a front yard that had not been mowed in recent history and gave me a low warning growl. Then I noticed a sign on US-22 that said, “Salvation, 5 miles”. I’ve been through salvation several times and I knew it to be a larger community that supported a super Walmart and several gas stations. It seemed my adventure just got five miles longer as I pointed my bike up Route 22. About a half mile from the Salvation city limits there was a road crew doing repair work. I was forced onto the shoulder of the road where my high-pressure road bike tire immediately got a flat…”SUGAR!” I had to push my bike into Salvation. Not only did I have to get gas but also repair my flat tire, and I had stupidly left my spare innertube and bike tools in the Tahoe. It was also about this time I realized I was limping. My hard-soled dress shoes where not meant to wear while riding a bicycle, and I developed a blister on my toe.

The first concern was to fix the flat tire. I soon learned that Salvation did not have a decent bike shop where I could purchase an innertube for my bike, and Walmart just doesn’t sell items for better quality road bikes. I also discovered that Walmart didn’t have a single gas can I could purchase. Two hardware stores later and I gave up on any hope of fixing the flat tire, and even finding a gas can to buy. On the third stop I asked the store clerk what was going on with the gas cans? He told me the federal government had passed new legislation on gas can safety that went into effect that very day. They had plenty of the gas cans, but they were pulled from the shelves and could not be sold because they did not meet the new safety requirement. I was in despair. What was I going to do? I told Steve I would be back in a half hour and I’d been gone at least two hours now. I could not go on pushing the bike and I asked if I could leave it at the last hardware store until I could get back for it. They were kind enough to put it into safe keeping for me.

Sign that reads EAT HERE and GET GASI started trudging back, wondering what I was going to do, when I noticed an Auto Zone store. I gave it a shot and found that they did have the new federally approved safe gas cans in one, two, and five-gallon sizes. My Tahoe would suck one gallon of gas just trying to crank over and I knew I would never be able to carry five gallons of gas for eight miles. I bought the two gallon can and filled it up at the station next door. I began my walk limping up US 22 to Podunk lugging two gallons of gas with my thumb out. I was thirsty, hot, tired, hurting, and probably looked like a wild man in a neck tie with my dress shirt half untucked from my slacks. I could not blame the first 500 cars that passed me by. I gave up all hope of catching a ride. I also realized it was at least three hours since I last called my client. They probably thought I just stood them up and awarded the order to my competitor. I lamented over the lost sale as I continue to limp along. SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR! I also worried about Steve who has now been waiting on the side of the road for over four hours. I would be the butt of many jokes once Steve returned to the office to gossip this tale about.   

Then my luck changed. A rusty old pick-up pulled alongside, and a weather face of an old woman looked out and asked If I needed help? Along with all those “SUGARS” I was also saying a few prayers and the Lord heard me. It was an old farmer and his wife returning from grocery shopping. They told me to put the gas can in the truck bed and climb in.   The truck was a standard cab with a single bench seat. The farmer’s wife scooted to the middle and make room for me. They had purchased a large tub of fresh strawberries and were munching on them as the farmer’s wife removing the stems. They offered me several and nothing tasted better to my parched mouth that those juicy berries. I relayed my tale of woe to them and told them where my Tahoe sat. The farmer said, “ That must be your car we saw next to our farm when we pulled out of our driveway this morning. You should have just come down our road. I always keep a hundred-gallon tank full at the barn for the tractor”. When the farmer dropped me off at my Tahoe, I thanked him for his kindness. He then told me if I turned around and crossed over the intestate there was a gas station about a mile down the road…SUGAR!

I found Steve laying in the grassy field . He had fallen asleep waiting for me. He was upset with me and said a few SUGARS of his own, but as I looked at him, I started to snicker. He asked what was funny and I said , “Oh, nothing”, and let it drop. Steve had been asleep in that field a long time. He looked like the Batman villain, Two-Face. One half of his face was bright red and the other pale flesh.

I dreaded the next day when I called my client. I explained the details of the previous day leaving nothing out, and asked forgiveness for standing them up. There was dead silence on the other end of the phone, and I feared I lost one of my best customers. Then I hear a peal of laughter. My client said, “Charlie, that is the dandiest excuse I ever heard for missing a meeting. Come on up and see us today. We have an order waiting to place”. I don’t recommend anyone using this sales technique to get an order, but if you do, Good Luck With That!