During my career with the major truck manufacturer, I worked in several areas. For a short time, I even worked in our department’s Accounting “group” which was made up of Ken the manager, and my friend Linda and one other person (this job was an as-needed one, that many of us filled at some point). Linda was without a doubt the “hub” of this little, but important group. Ken was a smart man who knew his job thoroughly, but because he wasn’t a natural communicator, he definitely needed someone like Linda, who did alot of the communicating for him. Besides, Linda is naturally a detail person, so there just wasn’t much about what they did that she didn’t know. He was very fortunate to have her and that was made vividly evident in the near future.
When I tell you about Ken, keep in mind tht he was part American Indian, and personified the stoic personality that is often attributed to that group of people.
Anyway, when I first worked for Ken I had mannnny questions about how he wanted things done (I was working on some projects that had just been assigned to the group). And, when I would go into his office and give him a long spiel about what I had encountered and how I thought I should handle it, but that I wanted to check with him and see if that was actually how he wanted it done or if he wanted me to do it differently. Wellllll, as I would be saying all that, Ken would just look at me and listen, never for a moment revealing in his expression what he was thinking (which, I am sure, at least sometimes, was “Does this woman ever say anything briefly?”). And when I was finished, he would tell me in a few words, how he wanted it done.
I told Linda one time that it was disconcerting to me that I couldn’t read Ken at all! I said, “When I make a suggestion about how something should be done, the expression on Ken’s face could either be telling me that he thinks that is the stupidest idea he has ever heard, OR that it is the most BRILLIANT idea he’s ever heard! I could never tell which it was.” Linda just laughed. I have no idea why.
Anyway, while I was in the group, Ken and I had to make a trip to Kansas City where the divisional accounting office was located for a meeting involving one of the projects I was working on. The corporate travel office had booked our flight, so we didn’t look at our tickets too closely because, after all, they were the “experts” at booking flights, right? But, when Ken looked at our flight times right before we left (and too late to make any changes), he warned me it was reallllly going to be tight at O’Hare, because we only had 25 minutes between our flights (usually they would try to leave at least 45 minutes between flights!). Not only had the travel department given us less time than normal between the connecting flights, but, because Ken had flown through there many times, he immediately recognized that the gates we would arrive at and then depart from 25 minutes later were a lonnnng distance from each other.
So when we got off the plane at O’Hare, man of few words, Ken just said, “Keep up with me.” And we literally ran through O’Hare. Even when we were on the moving walkways, we ran on those too! And, we did make our connecting flight, but just barely. Ken had been absolutely right. If he hadn’t set the pace, there is no way we would ever have made that connection.
The surprising part of this is that just a few weeks later, Ken had a serious heart attack! He required by-pass surgery and did eventually recover. But he was off a couple months, during which time Linda, who was the only other person who knew everything Ken did and how he did it, kept all the accounting “plates spinning” until Ken could come back to work. And, by the way, she never got the recognition I felt she deserved. But she’s a humble sort who just believes in getting the job done.
(I’ve read this to Linda before posting it, and she feels, to be completely truthful, I should point out that she was really, really cranky during this time — certainly not saintly. I personally would never have told you that, but now that she mentions it . . .)
So, I helped her in any way I could, and also tried to give her a laugh once in a while, during this very stressful time. Once I told her, “You know it’s a good thing Ken didn’t have that heart attack a couple weeks earlier! If he’d had it when he and I were rushing through O’Hare, I’d never have made that flight, because it would have been — run a few steps, drag Ken, run a few steps, drag Ken . . .!” Even with all her stress, she still thought I was funny!
Another thing I remember about that trip is that we flew a “puddle jumper” coming home from Chicago (it’s only an hour flight — how bad can that be, even on a tiny, tiny plane?) Wellllll, someone decided that our little flying tin can would make an unscheduled stop in South Bend to pick up some passengers. Did I mention that my stomach doesn’t really like to fly? It gets a little unsettled, especially in tiny, tiny planes. Also, this was an evening flight — not my best time of the day. By evening I like to be home in my jammies — not flying around in a plane in which you practically have to duck to walk down the aisle. And, because it was an evening flight, no food was served that might help settle an uneasy stomach, just peanuts and pop.
So, we stopped in South Bend and a few more people squeezed into our tiny, tiny plane. One of the few empty seats had been next to me, so now a nice looking, well-dressed man sat down in the seat next to me — and I was immediately almost overcome with the smell of reallllly strong body odor! I think he must have suspected how badly he smelled, because he made a point of telling me that he was a civil engineer who was exhausted because he had been working outside on a project all day. That explained the B.O., but the explanation didn’t help my retching reflex which I was having to work really hard to control. And, I certainly didn’t want to let this nice man know that he was making me ill. So, I truly, for one of the few times in my life, “suffered in silence.” In fact, I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep off and on, to avoid having to make conversation with him, because I was afraid even talking would lead to a “violent end” for my digestive system. I sipped warm 7-up (Mama’s cure for a queasy stomach) part of the time, and that helped a little. But, it was a lonnnng, lonnnng flight at the end of a lonnnng day, for a not-great-flyer at the best of times, who was end-of-a-trip tired and sitting next to a very nice, very stinky man.
When Ken and I walked into the airport, I’m not even sure I said good-bye to him. I walked straight to a restroom and threw up. Then picked up my suitcase at Baggage, walked directly to my car, drove home, and fell into bed. I don’t even remember taking my clothes off.
Ken also used to take Linda and I out to lunch once in a while. On those days, we knew it would be a longer than usual lunch. The man drove so slow we could have walked beside the car and kept up! And he would take the “scenic route” (his wife told us he did that all the time to her too), so we probably spent more time in the car driving a meandering route to and from the restaurant than we did actually eating! And, this part we certainly didn’t object to, sometimes the scenic route back to work included the drive-through at Dairy Queen! He sure knew the way to our hearts!
Ken didn’t like pizza, but one time we badgered him into taking us to our favorite pizza place. It was winter so he dropped us off at the door and then went to slowlllly park the car, just like he drove. We went in and sat down. Our favorite waitress came over and made some quick chit chat and then asked us if we wanted our “usual.” By this time, we had settled in, Ken hadn’t come in from the parking lot yet, and we forgot that he was with us! We said, “Sure, the usual.” And, the waitress left. Soon after, Ken walked in the door and the looks of surprise and guilt on our faces must have told the story, because he gave one of his longer speeches. He said something like, “You guys are really something. You talk me into going out for pizza, which I don’t like. Then, I’m nice enough to drop you off at the door, and the thanks I get is that you forget I’m with you and order without me!!” And then he laughed. Thank goodness. Because we really were embarrassed to have forgotten him — but he really did take a lonnnng time to park the car!
Ken died a couple years ago. But he lives on in some great memories that Linda and I have of him. He was a great guy, who we think enjoyed our humor. But who could tell!