A Tale of Folly
How about a true story with a moral? Let’s start with the moral:
Get all your information up front.
Years ago I had an employee who we’ll call Tommy Dumb Dumb. He was very experienced and fully capable of doing any kind of job and normally I never heard anything from him until he texted, “All done, heading home.”
This day I put a standard home on his schedule. It was a two-story, brick home and the windows were all double-hungs with combination storms. You might groan, but this is our specialty. We’re good at them and Tommy could knock out a standard house in half a day solo. This home was in Tangletown, an area of Minneapolis known for weird, winding streets which kind of loop in and around the creek. Since it’s an older area the streets are lined with old, large trees and the street names give you no indication where you really are.
Before the job I talked to Dave, the owner of a housecleaning company we subbed the work from. He gave me the details and the address. The homeowner wouldn’t be there and we had a key to pick up on the way. Easy peasy.
I remember it was a beautiful morning. The kind of Minnesota day I love that happens in Mid-May. Everything is green and the air smells clean, crisp, like lawns that have just gotten green and full enough to mow. The sky was clear, the air was still, and winter was just a memory. I unloaded my truck, met my client and was just getting started on my job when I got the first call.
“The alarm is going off!” Tommy yelled over the persistent Beep-Beep-Beep wail of the alarm in the background.
Of course, I said unhelpfully, “There wasn’t supposed to be an alarm.”
“What do I do?”
“Hang on right there and I’ll get you an answer.”I hung up and immediately called Dave.“Hey there’s an alarm at our house today and my guy doesn’t have a code.”
“There wasn’t supposed to be an alarm.” That’s when I realized how unhelpful my own reaction had been.I just rolled my eyes while walking to my truck to have this conversation out of my customer’s hearing range. It’s important to me that customers don’t hear my problems or my company’s crisis. As far as they’re concerned, they are the only thing happening and the only job going on.
“I’ll call the homeowner and find the code. Just hang tight.”
I wasn’t too worried. Usually we find out the code, enter it, the homeowner lets the alarm company know it was a false trigger.Everything is fine.
I went back to work, had just dipped my applicator when my phone rang. I answered, “Dave?”
“No it’s Tommy. This thing is going wild, what do I do?” The frantic frustration filled the phone.
“Just hang out at your truck and wait until we get the code. It’ll be fine.”
“What if the cops show up?” He screamed.
“You tell them you’re the window cleaner and you’re waiting for the code. Have them call me if there’s a problem,” I said.
“Okay,” he said quieter.
I reached the top of the ladder when the phone rang again, “Hello?”
“The code is 3333. The box is by the back door,” Dave said.
“Got it, Thanks.”
I went back to the truck and recalled Tommy.The phone rang and rang and then went to voicemail.I hung up and texted him:3333Then I waited a minute, two minutes.Nothing.I called again and Tommy answered.
“Tommy, it’s Rick. Did you get the code?”
“Did it work?” I asked.
“Tommy, did you enter the code?”
“Not yet,” he said.
“I can’t find it,” he said.
“It’s by the back door,” I explained. “Just enter 3-3-3-3 and press the return key. The alarm should go off.”
“I can’t find the house,” Tommy said in a whisper.
He couldn’t find the house. It must have taken me a while to process that. He was at the house. He opened the house. The alarm had gone off. He was now at his truck.That’s where he should be, I thought. At his truck. In front of the house. Right?
“Are you still there?” Tommy asked. It was quiet. I couldn’t hear that alarm in the background.
“Where are you Tommy?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
Of all the possible answers, that was the one I least expected. I went to the gas station. I’m at the coffee shop. I went home. I’m at the shop. All of those came before ‘I don’t know.’ I was at a loss.
I asked, “Did you leave the house?” Obvious, but the only thing I could think of.
“I got scared,” he said.
“You have to go back.”
“I can’t find it. I’ve been trying,” he said.
“How did you find it earlier?” I asked.
“Oh!” as if a light bulb went off in his head. “It’s in my phone.”
“Get back to that house. I’m on my way.”At this point so much time had passed that I needed to go there. Undoubtedly the cops were on the way. The neighbors were certainly trying to figure it out. I knew there was a mess to clear up.
I apologized to my client, told her I’d be back as soon as possible, jumped in my truck and headed across town. Tommy called me three times while I was on the way but I didn’t answer because I didn’t want to get angrier.
I pulled around the corner and there were 4 police cars with their lights on. I parked and jumped out of my truck.Tommy was on the ground with his hands behind his back and an officer standing above him. The alarm was no longer blaring and I walked up as one of the officers came to meet me.
“I’m the owner of Wren Windows and this is my employee. He was supposed to be working at the house when the alarm went off.”
I showed him my ID as he asked and he wrote a couple of notes in his notebook.
He said, “We kind of figured that’s what was happening. We’ve already talked to the owner and she said you were authorized.”
“Did y’all turn off the alarm?” I asked. Obviously the big question was why Tommy was on the ground, face down and silent. I didn’t want to ask about that yet. I was still kind of mad.
“Yes, sir. We had the alarm company deactivate it.”
“Is there any reason my guy can’t get back to work.” I asked as Tommy was still face down.He had called out my name a couple times by then.
“None that I can see.”
“So can he get up?”
“Sure, so long as he doesn’t run again,” the officer looked right at me.
Remember this, boys and girls. If you run from a dog it will chase you. If you run from a cat, it will chase you. If you run from the cops, they will also chase you.
“Tommy, did you run from these officers?” I called out.
“My license is suspended.”
While this was news to me, the officer standing in front of me just started laughing.
“He ran. On foot. Because his license was suspended?” the cop asked incredulously. “You might want to tell him that he doesn’t need his operator’s license unless he’s driving.”
“I’ll try to explain that to him,” I answered.The police obviously weren’t interested in whether he drove to the house or how he was getting home.
“You want us to let him up?” He asked.
“Can I think about it?”
We all had a good laugh. Except Tommy.
Back to the Moral: Get all your information up front.
We ask now, if the customer isn’t going to be home, whether there’s an alarm and how to deal with it. We also ask about access instructions and any neighbors who might help if there’s a problem. And lastly, I regularly get updates about my employees driver’s license status.
I hope you were entertained while learning a basic lesson.
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren