One of the things that attracted me to sales was the never-ending unexpected surprises that you could encounter. Each sales call was like opening up a box of ‘Cracker Jack (you never knew what to expect). More often than not: it was a ‘booby prize’.
Most sales calls I went on were informal one-on-one encounters with purchasing agents or lab technicians. Occasionally, I would bring a technical representative from our company for support, or my boss would accompany me. On this particular occasion I was traveling with the branch manager of our dye division. The sales call was to be made on a printing ink manufacturer located in Edwardsville, Kansas. I had called on the company for years and the visit usually consisted of a ten or fifteen minute discussion over a cup of coffee and a donut with the lab tech. We entered the building and the ‘Cracker Jack’ box had been opened: The surprise waited inside.
“Hello Helen, we’re here to see Art,” I told the receptionist.
“Nice to see you Gary, please have a seat.”
We sat down in the lobby and my colleague Bob asked me what we were going to discuss.
“We’re going to find out if there are any new projects coming up for next year that we might be able to participate in: these guys are in knee deep with Hallmark cards. It’s no big deal; just a little fishing expedition. After that we’ll just engage in some general horse shit.”
After a brief wait, Art from the lab entered the reception room and greeted us. “Come in gentlemen; we have been waiting for you.”
Bob and I followed Art into the meeting room where we usually conducted our business over a cup of coffee. When the door opened, we were shocked to find some twenty people seated at the table. I looked at Bob and he looked at me, “What the fuck is this?” he telepathically communicated.
“Gentlemen, I have brought the entire lab in, so that we are all on the same page. Please have a seat and you can begin your presentation.”
Presentation? What fucking presentation!
This was an ambush. I had no idea what all these people were doing in the room but I needed to come up with something, and something fast. “Good morning everyone; most of you already know me, but for those who do not, my name is Gary O’Callaghan. I am the sales representative responsible for this account and I will be your main contact for pricing, problems, or any questions that you may have. I have brought our branch manager from our dye division in California today to address you on your needs.
Bob was shocked by the introduction; he looked as if he had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He stood up, but his knees wobbled as if he had just been stunned by a Mike Tyson uppercut: “Good afternoon everyone,” Bob stuttered. “My name is Bob Hess and I am in charge of day-to-day affairs at the dye division.” Bob went into a rambling dissertation describing the history of the dye division that lasted some twenty minutes. During his impromptu presentation, sweat poured off his bald head like a fountain spouting water into a koi pond. When he finished he was saturated; but somehow he had pulled it off. After several questions from the lab techs, we concluded our meeting. “Thanks, gentlemen; that was very informative,” Art said.
We made our way out the front door and headed to our car. “What in the hell was that all about? I thought we were going to have coffee and donuts with Art,” Bob said.
“I don’t have a clue. I had no idea we were going to have a meeting with the ‘Joint Chiefs of Staff’.”
“If you ever do that to me again, I’ll rip your friggin’ throat out; I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
We were running late for Bob’s return flight, so we needed to make some fast tracks to the airport. After a quick stop at the convenience store to pick up a six-pack of beer for the ride, Bob offered to drive.
“Knock yourself out,” I said as I flung him the keys .We raced down I-70, drinking beer and laughing about the pseudo-sales presentation that just minutes ago had been an Alfred Hitchcock horror story. “You should have seen the look on your face when I turned the meeting over to you.”
The car suddenly sputtered, “Conk, Conk, Conk.”
“What in the fuck was that?” Bob asked.
I leaned over and looked at the gas gauge. “We should have filled up on some gas when we made the beer run,” I said.
“You have got to be shittin’ me; what else can go wrong?”
“Let’s try to flag some one down.”
Within minutes, a dilapidated rust colored pick-up pulled up behind us. A young corn-fed giant of a man with a raggedy John Deere hat stepped out, “You boys havin’ some trouble?” he asked.
“You bet; we’ve run out of gas,” I said.
“There is a ramp about a half mile down yonder off the highway. Two of us can push the car and one can steer; if we can make it to the ramp, the car can glide down hill to the service station on the corner,” the man said.
“I’ll take care the navigation,” I immediately volunteered.
The weather was hot and humid and I could see the sweat pouring from the foreheads of my human makeshift energy source in the rear-view mirror as they pushed the vehicle. Upon reaching the ramp, the car picked up momentum and began rolling on its own down the hill while Bob and his cohort collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. The car had now picked up speed as it reached the bottom of the ramp and approached the stop sign. There was no way I was going to stop, so I crossed my fingers and coasted into the intersection in an attempt to make it into the gas station. Out of the right corner of my eye I could see an eighteen wheeler headed directly toward the passenger side of the vehicle. He flashed his lights, blasted his air horn, and swerving to the left, missing me by inches. I felt the force of the air wake and then coasted up to the pump in my own heart arrhythmia, sweat-induced state.
By the time Bob made it back to the car, I had already filled it up. We both got back in the vehicle and continued our journey to the airport with myself behind the wheel. I was putting the ‘petal to the metal’ in an attempt to make Bob’s flight, when he began a spasmodic non-stop coughing attack. “Bob are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m ‘hack-hack-hack’ fine,” he wheezed in an emphysema-like slur.
The convulsive coughing continued until I pulled in front of the terminal. “Are you sure you’re going to be OK?”
“I ‘hack-hack-hack’ think-so’,” Bob said as he grabbed his brief case and exited the car. “The next time I make a call with you, remind me to put my will in order.”
When the ‘Cracker Jack’ box is opened, you never know what kind of surprise to expect.