A Road Warrior Tale

Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” forever and incorrectly portrayed a simplistic view of what a salesperson does. Willy Loman rode on a pair of shined shoes and a smile; today’s sales representative rides on an airplane with a laptop and a Palm Pilot at his or her fingertips. These company and independent representatives enjoy a good life when times are good. But when times are tough, life becomes a lot more difficult when you have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. As with any profession, there are good times and bad, and along the “road” there are some interesting and humorous experiences. This is one of them.

The central figure of this tale is a representative of a well-known jewelry firm who was headed to the West Coast for an important appointment. In such a situation, O’Shaughnessy’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law applies—that is, “Murphy was an optimist.”

The scene opens at the factory, with our hero anxiously checking the status of new samples that were put into production expressly for this trip with the assurances of the production manager that they would be ready in plenty of time. This, as everyone can guess, is a surefire guarantee that something will happen to prevent the samples from being finished on time. On this particular day, there was a problem in the polishing department and the samples were delayed. With a flight scheduled for 3 p.m., our hero had intended to get to San Francisco in plenty of time to relax and put the finishing touches on his presentation. As it turned out, the samples were finished by 3 p.m., and our sales guy was out the door five minutes later—off to the airport, stomach churning, with every intention of catching the next flight.

Arriving at the airport and running to the gate, our subject fakes left, goes right, and dodges an airport golf cart carrying senior citizens to a California vacation at a price one-third that of the subject’s ticket. He arrives breathless at the counter with five minutes to spare, only to learn that—surprise!—his flight has been delayed due to a storm.

After a two-hour delay, the flight is off to sunny California. At this rate, he’ll arrive at approximately 8 p.m. and make it to the hotel by 9 p.m.—plenty of time to prepare for the meeting and get a good night’s sleep. The flight is routine … until the captain announces that there is a medical emergency. After learning that there are no physicians on board, the crew decides to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City. The ill passenger and his wife are taken off the flight, which is further delayed while the ground crew searches for their luggage.

Crisis resolved? Not quite. Next, the captain appears, accompanied by two rather large policemen, and asks one of the passengers to accompany him outside. The passenger refuses; the police ask politely; the passenger again refuses … and the officers physically remove the individual from the airplane.

Eventually, the flight takes off for its final destination. Arriving in San Francisco at 2 a.m., our sales rep makes his way to the hotel, gets a few hours sleep and is off to his appointment the next morning.

What a day! But for so many of our industry’s sales reps, it’s just a typical day in the life of a road warrior.