Sleep-Deprived Samaritan

March 2, 2010

In 1977 I was working part time at an auto body shop while attending college. Since I was paying for my education, I jumped at the chance to drive the shop tow truck (wrecker) and make some extra cash. My employer had arrangements with the county police to have an operator available 24/7. So after hours and on weekends, I was on call. Depending on the situation, towing services typically cost between $20 to $40 dollars—and I received half. Considering my circumstances, the money was significant.

That winter was unprecedented. The number of consecutive freezing days and snowfall set an Illinois record and resulted in 62 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. I was kept very busy.

One morning the shop received so many calls about stranded motorists, abandoned vehicles and accidents, I decided to skip class and keep working. The local radio station and newspaper warned residents to stay inside unless it was an emergency. They said if you absolutely had to travel be certain to carry a first-aid kit, flashlight (extra batteries), blankets, waterproof matches, a sack of sand, a shovel, tool kit, tow rope, booster cables, compass… the list was as extreme as the weather. Since cellular phones weren’t around back then, you had to think before venturing out.

By the end of the day I was beat. I arrived home and started taking off my boots when the phone rang. It was the county police: “This situation has gone from bad to worse… get back out there and start towing in any and every vehicle in sight.” Apparently the number of stranded vehicles was making it impossible to plow—not to mention dangerous.

I grabbed a sandwich and went back to work… and continued working for nearly 40 consecutive hours. Before long I had pulled in enough vehicles to pay for an entire semester of school. Financially, the blizzard seemed like a blessing to me.

At some point, as my boss was writing reports on all the frozen vehicles that had filled the parking lot, it hit him… “How long has McMillan been working?”

“Wrecker Boy, Wrecker Boy, do you copy?”

That was my “handle.” The older shop guys gave it to me. They found it funny. I didn’t mind. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered—the police called me “Wrecker Boy,” too.

“I read you… over,” I responded.

“What’s your twenty?”

The radio was breaking up. I tried adjusting the squelch control but to no avail. “I’m not certain… out in the country… some place west of town,” I replied. I had strategically pulled in the vehicles closest to the shop first, then slowly worked my way further and further into the country… off the beaten path.

“It’s time you bring that damn wrecker in and get some rest.”

He was more right than he knew. I was exhausted and in desperate need of rest. Read more

Improve Your Creative Ability: Embrace the Golden Rule

December 3, 2009

alaska-eagle-usaLate one fall evening, I was in Alaska delivering a speech to about 500 people. My challenge was to motivate them to embrace creative thinking and to be open to new possibilities. The event theme, “Flying Outside the Box” (the subtitle of my book “Paper Airplane”), seemed especially fitting, considering the audience consisted mostly of pilots and aviation experts.

Having spoken for 45 minutes, I was nearly finished when I said, “Before I close, does anyone have any comments or questions?” A woman toward the back of the auditorium stood and raised her hand. “Thank you for coming to Alaska and sharing your inspiring insights on creativity with us… I have thoroughly enjoyed your presentation. But I do have a question for you.” With everyone’s undivided attention, she continued, “What can we do right now to improve our creative ability?”

Before I share my response, there are a few things I need to tell you:

1) I had just arrived in Alaska that morning.  2) Chicago is 3 hours ahead of Alaska… and while the clock read 9:30 pm… to me it was 12:30 am.  3) This was not a religious event.  4) I am a truth seeker and don’t like being misled.  5) Sometimes when I’m tired, my brain filters stop working properly and I become brutally honest. Read more