Thursday, July 11, 2013

Can a bus be fueled by Lincoln Logs?

                I should have known something was amiss when the tour bus finally arrived and I pointed out to my colleagues that, “um…that back window is plywood… painted black.”  Let me back up a little.

                I was in DC recently for my Excellence in Government Fellowship's Business Acumen session.  One of our benchmarks included leadership lessons learned at the Battle of Gettysburg.  To get the full effect, we were to travel there by bus and take a guided tour by a retired government executive who has created a very informative lesson concerning the successes and failures on both sides of the War Between the States.

                We were supposed to be at the Partnership for Public Service building on New York Avenue early enough to board the bus and leave by 7:00 am.  This required me to cut short my much needed beauty sleep and forgo the free breakfast at my hotel and be all aggressive about Deonte at Starbucks (he had a nametag, people) opening the doors at precisely 6:00 am even though he was not finished stocking the baked goods display, causing him to under-sweeten my Trenta Black Iced Tea, four Splenda, no water. As a former food service person, I totally understand why he did it.  I ain’t mad at him, y’all.

                My classmate from San Antonio (hey Cory!) and I shared a cab driven by a man who was unhappy to not be taking us to the aero puerto (that’s Spanish, although he was not) and dropped us off at 6:30 on the nose as we are not ones to dawdle all up and through here.  Cory, too, is from the boonies.  Oddly enough we went to school less than 20 miles from each other in the wilds of East Texas.  However, as neither of us had a mode of transport other than our bodies (and you know I wasn’t traveling any further than the bus stop in those days, at least voluntarily), we never met each other until this program. The world is tee-niney, dear readers.  Tee-niney indeed.

                So, I was ready to get on the bus as snacks were promised and I needed a full stomach so as to fully realize all the American Spirit that lies within me and learn something.  At least I hoped to learn something other than I freckle like the dickens when exposed to too much sun.  I actually already knew that and it doesn’t even have to be the sun; a flashlight or bright lamp does the trick most of the time.  I sure do hope freckles are deemed sexy at some point in my lifetime.  Dare to dream, right?

                Those of my classmates who are from out of state (locals had the option of driving their own cars) had assembled at the appointed time and location and were awaiting the bus(es) when 7 o’clock came and went just like I did around the corner to the Subway (sandwich shop, not public transport) as they now serve breakfast.  As the hour changed from 7 to 8 with still no bus, our fearless point of contact (hey Lindsay!) made some phone calls and seemingly ascertained that the buses were in fact en route having been caught in traffic.  As the hour slid toward 9, there were more calls and no bus and the report became the buses had been caught behind a wreck on the interstate.  More classmates left, Subway did a fairly brisk breakfast shift that morning, as did the quickie mart in the lobby of the beautiful art deco building at 1100 New York Avenue.

                After several comments ranging from “Did they say New York Avenue or an avenue in New York?” and “were they behind a wreck or in a wreck?” the buses finally arrived at the ripe old time of 10:15.  Wisely I chose to board the bus that was not powered by a wood-burning stove and off we went to learn of many things leadershippy from His Lincoln-ness.  After we had been driving for more than an adequate amount of time to have left District of Columbia city/state limits, we received a phone call from one of the other points of contact that someone on the wood-burning bus had called her and said that the bus was in fact driving 30 mph with the flashers on as they were in the throes of a breakdown.  When our fearless Lindsay asked our bus driver if he could contact his co-worker driving the breaking-down bus, he replied, “No.”  So, we texted one of the other passengers and had them call us from the area near the ear, nose and throat of their bus driver who stated matter-of-factly that they were not about to breakdown.  When it was ascertained that he did not know what he was talking about, our fearless Lindsay stated, “We must go and get our classmates.  No EIG-er left behind”, while American flag-clad gymnasts flipped behind her holding sparklers and grown men wept at her selfless Americanism.  I may have overstated that last part but she was impressive to say the least.  And she was duly recognized by our fearless coach, Feli (hey Feli!).  There are many fearless people at the Partnership for Public Service, y’all.

                After it was decided that we would rescue them and it was also noticed that they were not behind us, we had to exit to turn around on the car-packed highway to get them.  In moments of crisis I am very calm but also downright pedestrian in my grammar.  My suggestion to “bust off across the median” was wisely ignored.  I did that once in a truck.  I was asleep at the time.  It didn’t end well.

                Once we re-traced our steps, as it were, we found that the driver of the wood-burning bus had not been truthful to their whereabouts.  We then called the bus and through the magic of GPS found that not only had the bus driver been driving too slow, he had also taken the wrong exit and was in Virginia, not Maryland.  Once we got there the bus driver was adamant that nothing was wrong with his bus even as there was black smoke running up the back of said bus.  As our comrades boarded our bus, he took off in his bus, very quickly I might add, shouting about his intended retirement.  Well not so much shouting as it was being reported by his former passengers. 

                Upon our return to the highway, we had driven another twenty minutes or so and I saw the exit for College Park.  To those from the DC area, you know that this means we are FAR, FAR from Pennsylvania.  I commented that we should just exit at the Ikea and have meatballs for lunch.  Although many concurred, we trudged ever onward toward the Burg that is Gettys. 

                We finally arrived and went straight to the buffet that was to be the mid-point of the day.  Nothing against the proprietors of General Pickett’s Buffet, but what I did not need prior to heading out into the open fields to hear tales of leadership gone awry and poor communication in spite of the talent on the Southern side was meatloaf and mashed taters.  I was weighted down, y’all.  Walking sleepy and stumbling toward an actual ledge atop Flattop or Tabletop, I forget which one.

                Suffice it to say, I did learn a lot about leadership from the battle but I learned much more from the trip getting there.  Some of the lessons I learned from the wood-burning bus besides never get on a conveyance that has wooden parts unless it is the paneled side of an estate wagon are:

1.       Never be too afraid to speak up in the face of poor decisions.

2.       Never lie about your whereabouts; you will be found out, and then silently judged.

3.       Never leave your team behind.  Everyone is important, especially those with granola bars and water.

4.       Never, under any circumstances, eat meatloaf on a walking tour.

5.       The Subway at 11th and New York Avenue in DC is open for breakfast and there isn’t a line.

And that is all I’m saying.

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