Nathan Walker was having a bad day.  His truck quit running so he called roadside assistance for a tow. But after waiting on hold for a while—he decided to get a cab home, grab his other truck, and just pay me a visit.

When he showed up, I welcomed him into my office and we called his roadside assistance company together. And in a short time AAA sent a tow-call directly to our station…via computer. Nathan thanked me, handed me the keys and left.

Assigning the call was the next step. And, with AAA’s tablets, dispatching’s a breeze. From your computer, all you do is right-click on the call, choose which truck to send it to. Then, once the call is received, the tablet in the truck you sent the call to makes a noise to alert the driver. From there, the driver taps the screen to accept the call and all the information he needs is right in front of him.

But not all things are that easy.

I still had the keys in hand. But since the driver I’d dispatched the call to, Terry, was right outside my office waiting for something to do—the plan was to just hand him the keys.

But Terry was already in his truck…eating his lunch.

We try to stagger lunches when possible, so no undue pressure is put on the drivers to eat and run. But we impress upon them that—when a call comes in and they’re needed—it’s time to go.

Keys in hand, I walked out of the office looking for Terry. He wasn’t in the break room, wasn’t in the shed…no, I found him, like I said—in his truck eating lunch. But…he was already heading out of the lot.

He’d received the call and had angrily thrown his lunch back in his lunch-bucket and was heading out.

I ran to stop him—handed him the keys, and tried to explain that there was no rush. There was no one was waiting with the truck, and he could finish eating if he wanted to.  That’s when I learned—Terry was having a bad day too.

He didn’t want to hear it.  He was upset that I’d given him the call and wasn’t about to relax and eat. No, in an attempt to get back at me for what he considered to be a huge infraction, he was going starve himself and run the call right then.

I stood there for a moment wondering what just happened. I shook my head and then my blood began to boil.

To say that I was annoyed is an understatement.  I got angry.

But it wasn’t one of those chair-throwing, hair-pulling events. I just went back into my office, into the privacy of the bathroom, shut the door and complained.  It went a little something like this: “I do everything I can for these guys, and this is the thanks I get? He never responds to the tablet that fast any other time…” and on and on.

I then remembered a time when another driver reacted similarly. I’d given him a police call during lunch and his performance was over-the-top.

He’d just gotten Chinese and was the only one not on a call. The call came in and, like I said, I had to give it to him. And, instead of placing his unfinished food in the refrigerator or taking it with him, he decided to walk it back into my office, look me in the eyes, and drop his plate of cashew chicken into my trash can.  Just for spite.

This was the deal with Terry…he was trying to make me feel guilty.

If you’ve never been put in this position before you might be led to believe that the guilt trip worked…that’s why I became angry.  But the reality is…I felt no guilt at all.

I pay my drivers good money to be available when the calls come in. And if that means they have to wait an hour or two to throw some groceries down their necks—that’s just part of the business.  Lord knows they aint gonna starve

So why did I become angry?

I believe that I became angry for the same reason that Terry did—because of a loss of control.

It’s no revelation that we all seek to maintain a certain degree of control over our world.  But when we try to do this in an environment that is completely out of control…that’s where things get tricky.  The towing business is where chaos is the name of the game. Our entire livelihood depends upon waiting for, and then cleaning up after the unexpected. It’s unreasonable and crazy to expect to have any control at all.

For me—I believe, for my business to be successful, nothing can go wrong. It must be a seamless operation—customers must be happy. And for that to happen I need good running trucks and happy drivers. But trucks break down, people call in sick, customers are unreasonable…and drivers get angry.  And even though I know these things happen and will continue to happen, I still feel like a failure when they do.  And while my business remains profitable, I still find myself focusing on the things that went wrong, not what went right.

But what if this is what it looks like when it’s working? What if control is just an illusion?

We already know there’s no easy recipe for the towing business.  You can’t just take half a dozen drivers, add-in the same amount of trucks, sprinkle in some customers, and poof! You’ve got a fully formed, self-sustaining business.  It just doesn’t work that way.

Yes we can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of control.  Skilled tow truck operators, bad weather, and crazy drivers seem to give us some assurances that we’ll make a profit…but when a hydraulic lines bursts in the midst of it all…we freak-out.

But doesn’t it always get fixed? Doesn’t the work always get done…somehow?

The next day I walked into my office to find a note on my desk that read: “Call Nathan Walker…” My shoulders dropped and I began to get angry at Terry all over again.

Reluctantly, I picked up the phone and placed the call.  I was ready to hear the worst, that Terry had been rude, or damaged something.  But when Mr. Walker spoke all I heard were glowing remarks. Terry had been the model employee.

I thanked him, hung up the phone…and breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe this is what it looks like when it’s working.