During the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.
This is a story from one of my many lawn-cutting crew adventures:
We were driving along the highway to our next account when traffic came to an abrupt halt. We had been going a steady 55, and now both lanes looked like a parking lot.
“What in the world?” Crew Leader Carl said, muttering. He stuck his head out the window, trying to gaze ahead. “Dammit. I can’t see anything from here.”
Juan jumped out and stood on the shoulder, shielding his eyes from the sun as he gazed into the distance.
“Is it an accident?” Carl called.
Juan climbed back into the truck, shaking his head. “Construction,” he said.
“Ah, hell,” Carl said, drumming his fingers on the wheel. “Stupid state workers. I’m sure they’re all up there standing around, leaning on shovels. They can’t even scrape a dead cat off the road without closing the entire highway, the useless bastards.”
We sat for a couple of minutes, waiting for traffic to move. The truck didn’t have air conditioning, so being at a complete standstill, the inside was sweltering — even with the windows down.
Finally, one by one, people’s brake lights started to click off, and we crept forward an inch. And then another.
“Oh, great,” Carl said. “It’s going to be this stop-and-go crap, huh?”
He turned around. “That’s all right. I’ve got a way to get things moving.”
We all watched as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket and shoved them deep beneath the seat.
“Now leave those lay there,” Carl said. “None of you can help me get them, even if I ask.”
I frowned. “I’m not comprehending.”
“Just wait,” Carl said, grinning. “You’ll see.”
We sat for another five minutes, each of us growing listless and warm. Sitting in the middle, I didn’t have immediate access to any of the windows.
Without saying anything, Carl bent to reach under the seat. When he did, traffic started to move.
We sat for another full minute. When Carl reached under the seat again, the traffic started to move a second time.
“See?” Carl said. “It never fails. If you want traffic to get moving, bury your cigarettes where they’re impossible to reach. Then, when you try to grab them, everyone will start to go. The worse your nicotine craving gets, the faster things will move.”
“But what if you don’t smoke?” I asked.
Carl shrugged. “Then I guess you’ll remain stuck in traffic, won’t you?”