It takes a village to exchange this propane

A lot of people have said, “Gee I like this blog!” But some others have said, “It tells me nothing about industrial management theory.” I have been thinking about that. I believe that my experience on Thursday evening can resolve that dilemma.

Let me set the scene:
I am home from my afternoon swim. Susie wants me to grill. Tonight is David Post’s birthday. We are serving ribs. This is odd to begin with, because David and virtually all of the guests are Jewish. But don’t worry about that. The important thing is that it is 82 degrees, humid, and I am eviscerating some beautiful ribs. To help me with my objective, I have carefully selected a handcrafted beverage.

Then….my propane runs out. We have a big tank. Even so, this happens about once every eight months. And it threatens a perfect afternoon. Not to mention these ribs.

I have lost face.

There is an exchange place nearby. The ribs still need another fifteen minutes. I could put the ribs in the oven. That, to me, strikes of a disastrous choice. Like buying a Porsche, and then getting it with an automatic transmission. I will get more propane.

I put the propane in the passenger seat and head over to the neighborhood exchange at Handee-Hugo’s. This is a Carolina institution. They sell cheap gas. They sell money orders. “We love our troops,’ says their sign in the window. They keep fresh barrels of propane outside on the sidewalk in a locked cage.

I lug the tank into the store. Empty of gas, it weighs 20 pounds. Three employees stand up behind the counter. Two flank a set of registers to the right, while the third sweeps in the back.

I look at the man on the right, lift the propane with my right shoulder.

“I need to exchange,” I say. Its obvious, right?

He looks at me for a second. “I do not have the key,” he mumbles. Then he looks back out the window. Maybe he is scouting for a more preferable customer — one that will busy his register without asking him to lift heavy tanks.

The other one behind the register continues staring past the Bud Light Display. The sweeper has moved on to shuffling napkins at the hot dog rotissiserie. Its just the four of us. Looking four different ways. Like U2’s cover art on the Joshua Tree album.

“So,” I feel I have to mention it, “I was hoping to get more propane.”

I believe that each one of these clerks hopes the other will fall for the dreaded propane job. I am just caught in their little war.

“But if you don’t have it,” I continue, “now would be a good time to speak up.”

This drives me nuts. Back home, I am losing more face. Yet, we are talking about propane here. I set down the tank in the middle of their store. Let them go about their business of selling cigarettes, lighters, and 40 ouncers. Deal with me. Or my propane tank will just wait.

I guess my gambit was rooted in the right logic. A whirlwind of boxes, clip boards, cell phones and keys crosses the room. Its the manager.

He knows what’s up.

“Like I said,” he says to the man at the first register, “any register key will work the propane. You got a register, you can do the propane.”

I can barely say anything before they are ringing me up.

So the answer is — it takes four workers from two different management levels in order to exchange one tank of propane.

So there are two sides to everything.


2 Responses to “It takes a village to exchange this propane”

  1. Ahhh Adam. Your story makes me almost miss the work ethic of the handee hugo…but not quite. If you are ever in that situation again, you can always just head over to your local home depot. They have a lot more employees to stand around looking lost and confused.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    What did David Post’s birthday have to do with this entry? He was not even invited to the cookout.

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