Saturday, March 10, 2012

Working Off the Grid

I’m with a client in Indianapolis, a nice, but kinda different guy from USEPA’s Chicago office, and we’re conducting an environmental review of the huge Veterans Affairs medical center there in the city (I’m the technical hired gun on this assignment supporting the EPA).  I flew in from out of state but my client drove down from Chicagoland and so he provided the wheels for the 3 days we were conducting this review.

When I arrived at Indy I discovered that I had not packed my AC cell phone charger and all I had with me was the plug-in charger for a car’s cigarette lighter. I had forgotten I wasn’t renting a car for myself.  No big problem I thought in the back on my mind, when I need to I’ll just plug it into my client’s car to get my phone recharged.

Now my client was a bit on the cheap side, as well as slightly eccentric.  His car was a honkin’ big Lincoln Town Car which he explained was a former Illinois State police car that he bought at auction.  Aside from the fact that his ride was a massive hunk of steel to begin with, as a police car this thing had heavy everything – suspension, muffler, battery and electrical system, you name it.  It was meant to be a work horse.

So it’s the third day of our assignment and he swings by to pick me up at my hotel (he never communicated to me ahead of time what hotel he’d be staying in so we ended up a couple of blocks apart in downtown Indy and the VA hospital is located on the edge of town).  My cell phone battery is very low at that point so I whip it out with the charger and lean in the direction of the cigarette lighter socket asking presumptively, “You don’t mind if I plug in my phone (for the 15 minute drive to the medical center) do you?”  To my utter shock, he answers (with a total straight face), “No, you can’t do that. I’m afraid it will overload the circuits.”  I’m waiting for the smile or chuckle – that never came.  The guy was dead serious.  He was afraid my wimpy little flip phone would fry his Lincoln Town Car.  I was stunned as I tried to recover. He had exhibited his quirky side throughout our little multi-day assignment, but this stopped me cold.  He was my client, not my co-worker or goofy friend that I could shame into seeing things my way.  And the car was his personal property. This extra rugged ex-cop vehicle that probably chased the Blues Brothers down Illinois’ finest highways at 130 mph was not up to the task – in his mind.

I sheepishly put my charger away and turned off my phone to preserve what little juice was left for my trip home.  Sure enough, later that evening in the airport terminal when I had several important calls to make, my phone died causing me to search for that vanishing species, the coin pay phone, muttering the consultant’s prayer, “Save me from whacky clients!”

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