Honesty is the best policy. Apparently, even in business. At least that's what I learned two snowy Friday nights ago.
A light snowfall had been falling for hours... a precursor of a massive snowstorm predicted to hit New England sometime in the next 36 hours. By early afternoon I was confident that I had hoarded pretty much all I would need for the storm. Heading home, I happened to drive past a roadside stand selling firewood. I quickly hit the brakes and sent a trove of sparkling spring water from New Jersey tumbling across the back of my SUV.
Eventually I pulled next to the roadside stand to inquire about the firewood. An inch or two of snow had blanketed everything in sight, including the three guys sitting on hunks of trees about 100 feet away. Thank God, the beer seemed to be keeping the men warm.
The head lumberjack, Woody, got up and polished off the rest of his Coors Light, tossed it in the snow and asked if I was looking for some firewood. After a brief negotiation, it was agreed that Woody was going to have a few more beers, then load the truck with firewood and deliver it to my house right after dinner. What could go wrong?
My son and I got home and cleared off a spot in the back to dump the wood. We even shoveled a path to the patio where we planned to stack the wood. Shortly after dinner, I looked out my window and saw...nothing. Every 10 or 15 minutes I would look out the window searching for Woody's staggering headlights only to find darkness.
At 10:00 p.m. my phone rang; it was Woody. He had gotten a little tied up and wanted to know if he could come over now... at 10:00 p.m. "Sure." I said. At midnight, I stopped looking out the window for Woody and went to bed.
As I lay awake that night, I was curious how Woody was going to handle his slightly irate customer. What could he possibly say in his defense? Then my phone rang, and from the Caller ID I knew it was the call I was waiting for.
After exchanging pleasantries, I thought I would break the ice in my usual repressed Midwestern passive-aggressive style. In my fake fun-guy voice I said, "Woody, my man. You tell me you'll be here at 6 o'clock then call at 10:00 p.m. and say you're on the way. I wait up until after midnight and you don't show. What's the story and do you mind if I take notes?"
With his best good-old-boy lumberjack twang, he blurted out, "Wooo-weee Mr. Miller. Sorry about that. A bunch of us got to chain-sawing and drinking beer. One thing led to another. Believe me, I was in no shape to drive over to your place last night. Are you home now? I can be there in 10 minutes."
I know I should have told Woody to kiss off. "Break your promise to me Paul Bunyan and it's over, Babe. I'll take my business elsewhere." As I started to say all that I thought to myself, "Wow, I can't believe he told me the truth."
Suddenly my mood shifted from punitive to conciliatory. Besides, I really wanted the wood and didn't want to go back to www.lumberjack.com to find another wood guy. "Bring it on Woody. I'll mix up some Bloody Marys!"
As I cut up the celery and yet again waited for my man, I couldn't help but smile over Woody's approach. Rather than make up some feeble excuse, he hit me over the head with the hammer of truth. And you know what? It worked big time.
Maybe there's a lesson here for our leaders. If I were President Obama for a day, I would instruct the Secret Service to hunt down Woody the lumberjack. I would then promptly buy him seven cases of Coors Light longnecks and put him in charge of cleaning up Wall Street.
Let's see those bailed-out, over-bonused babies scream and cry when they have to deal with the truth... and a slightly buzzed lumberjack who doesn't give a damn.