Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Iowa -- Land of Roadwork

Traveling in Iowa recently, I couldn't help noticing there's a tad bit of roadwork going on. I'd like to give a thorough description of it, but it's quicker to list the places where there isn't any. I saw a one-mile stretch, I think around Osceola.

The state colors being orange and white, you definitely see their pride in the many barrels, pylons, and fences. This is also true when you consider the state bird, the robin, actually only the robin's breast. Then there's the annual Orange and White Bowl. And the state fruit, wax oranges and marshmallows. Just driving a couple days, my poor eyes had serious orange burn. I've been living in the cellar with the lights off, trying to reset them.

You can't help thinking Iowa is a great client for the various roadwork supply companies. So I did some research on the subject. And that's really an understatement. Iowa is such a great client they're able to make a nuisance of themselves. It's like anything else. When you get too big, you have a lot of sway, so they're able to throw their weight around, and even break out the brass knuckles and break a few kneecaps. Anything they want...

OK, here's the lowdown. There's an industrial orange barrel company, called just that, the Industrial Orange Barrel Company. "For roadwork safety, we go the extra mile" is on their advertising. But their official motto is "Our competition sucks, sucks bad."

IOBC's had a huge portion of the Iowa contract. But like I was saying, Iowa's been breaking out the brass knuckles, clamoring for a better deal.

So the boss had to send a sales rep over, right to the heart of the Iowa government to talk it over. Only no one really wanted to go. The government had them over a barrel, so to speak. So it would be a thankless task, fraught with peril for anyone's career.

The boss told the secretary to get a particular guy on the horn, their best man, Kellerman. Who had the brains and experience to call in sick that day. "Well then get me Adams!" But Adams was sick, too. "How about Bardot?" Same story, sick. The boss ran down the list of sales reps in order of their worth: Lawhead, Rackley, Mahlor, Hargrave, Taylor, Kirby, Beveridge, Zalumas, Edwards, Vann, Smith, Maddox, Stewart, Robison, Gordy, Craig, Harden, Bass, French, Truitt, Barber, Watt, Jerger, Stribling, Herman, Grantham, Russell, McGiohon, Anderson, Aiken, Reese, Head, Vanderbilt, Hazelton, Feinberg, Myers, Tittle, Cheshire, and, lastly, Mays.* All sick.

There was literally no one left, no one at all, zero, zilch, nada, not one living soul remaining, except ... No! not the new guy! ... yep, him ... Jason Klutz. But when you have no one else, what can you do? The boss said, "Klutz, I'm sending you, against my better judgment. Do not screw this up."

Klutz being new, and Iowa being perilous to anyone, it was bound to be a disaster. And Klutz had other issues. He didn't see himself as wet behind the ears; he had all the confidence in the world. So when he got to Iowa, he was unyielding, hardnosed, and stupid. I should explain, he'd just moved to Indiana, IOBC's headquarters, from Texas.

Klutz gets to Iowa, who wanted a nickel off each barrel, pylon, and mile of orange fencing. Doesn't sound like much, but that might've been a million bucks right there. I think I would've jumped at it, even if just to minimize the agony of dealing with them at all, but Klutz held out with iron determination, finally giving Iowa his final offer: IOBC would go down a penny. No more, no less. Take it or leave it!

Just reading the boss' mind, as I'm able to do, without ever having met him, he would have jumped at a nickel. He probably should've given Klutz guidance, but he figured they might want a dime off, but could reasonably be talked down to a nickel. Klutz could handle that, right?

But Klutz had that recent connection to Texas, which naturally spells disaster, and he figured maybe he'd be in line for a big bonus if he held Iowa's demands low. Plus, the annual Go-Getter award was about to be given -- as you probably know -- and every greenhorn covets it.

Well, it's sad what happened. Sad, unless you happen to work for IOBC's biggest competition, Orange Barrels, Pylons, and Fencing, Unltd. Who, being unlimited, cut the price not just a nickel, but six cents, and threw in some premiums that the Iowa government craves: steak dinners and trips out of state.

So that's it: Klutz was totally out, IOBC lost the Iowa contract completely, and the roadwork has kept pace and even intensified, thanks in large part to OBPFU. With the savings, Iowa is now working on roads they didn't even know they had.


*When I was in Iowa, it was raining cats and dogs. I and about 300 other people took shelter at a reststop. I spent part of the time there writing the rough draft of this post. The non-Iowans in the group were laughing, most of them having struck an orange barrel at least once that day. I solicited the names of a number of people. The list of (fictional) sales reps are them, their last names in the order of getting them. I thought it was especially interesting that we had a Barber and a Head in the group. "Barber, meet Head ... Head, Barber."

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