The Unplanned Plant

“Ask Vi if she bought a plant last night,” Firebug instructed.

She had not. Finally, more or less convinced that we were not to blame, he hung up, on to his next unpleasant task.

Vi stirred her coffee.

“Are you sure you didn’t buy a gas plant, Miss Robin? I’m not sure you keep up with your purchases well enough to know.”

Surfer Dude returned from his breakfast fetching with 18 biscuits, a coffee, a sweet tea, and a newspaper. He set one biscuit on Almost Retired Suzy’s desk, even though it would be another 90 minutes before she got to work.

We had all learned that lesson the hard way one morning. Save Ferris #1 had gone for biscuits, because we all arrived at work super early and were actually expected to work. The first hour of our day was crammed with reports, loose-end-tying, mild panicking, and frequent obscenities. But after that, we usually had time to eat. The secretary arrived, as was her habit, at 10 that morning. After answering some calls, she came sniffing around my desk.

“Where’d that tea come from?” She demanded.

“Bojangles,” I whispered, blocking the phone with my hand. “I’m on the phone.”

“You don’t live near a Bojangles.”

I muted the call. “How do you–I paid Save Ferris extra this morning.”


“Is this important? Because this call sure is.”

She moved on to Surfer Dude, who was on the same call. He explained how we all get to work approximately three hours before she does, and none of us are organized enough to eat first. Bojangles is not unusual.

When the floor manager came to the floor two hours later, she was noticeably unhappy.

“I hope you’re proud of yourselves,” she barked, glaring. Nobody spoke, because we’d all fallen into that trap before. “Leaving Almost Retired Suzy out of breakfast. How mean do you have to be? She was crying so hard I had to send her home.”

Surfer Dude muted his call. (Same call. It took all day.).

“Save Ferris brought in breakfast at 7. She got here at 10.”

The manager paused midway through sweeping out the door and back to her office.


“We didn’t not get her breakfast,” he sighed. “She got here three hours after we ate.”

The manager looked around for confirmation or denial or anything.

“I have the receipt with the time stamp,” Save Ferris volunteered. “Even if I’d brought her a biscuit, it would have been cold. And also everyone paid for their own, so it’s not like I bought everyone except her breakfast.”

Save Ferris is a genuinely nice and earnest guy who now feels terrible.

“New information has come to light,” the manager announced. “As you were.”

But this is not that story.

“Here’s what Firebug’s so upset about,” Surfer Dude said as he dropped the paper on Vi’s desk.

I scooted over so we could read it together.


“Did you know about this?” She scanned down the article for a quote. “Oh. It’s Ron Chevelle.” He was the manager of the Gas fleet, but was only tasked with operating and maintaining them. He had, however, been making a play for our group, thinking the work must be easy if we did it.


“What pipeline is this even on?” I asked. The phone on Vi’s desk rang, as if Alfred Hitchcock scripted the day.

“Good morning,” crowed our representative that I can’t be bothered to name. “Greetings from Kentucky! I hear we’re going to be working together real close!”

“This one,” she groaned.

See, this is why people don’t just get to go around buying things. All of a sudden, we had a new gas plant but no way to get gas to it. And now the pipeline knew too. Which put them in the enviable position of getting to set the rate. We were stuck without them. Beggars cannot be choosers, and the motto of most pipeline contract negotiators is “Does this hurt? How about now?”

The next week was long and full of acrimonious recrimination, which was the name of the garage band Surfer Dude and I started.

Summer came, as it inevitably does. My phone rang. It was the manager at the new plant.

“Your model is broken,” he announced.

“Tisn’t,” I answered.

“Your model has me running almost last.”

“It does. I’m glad we agree.”

“But it shouldn’t,” he remonstrated.


“I’ll call your boss,” he threatened. This happened a lot.

“Hold please while I transfer you.”

“I didn’t mean it,” he clarified. Firebug had already explained this pretty well. He had also explained it loudly, forcefully, and with a number of gestures. “I just want to know why we’re not running.”

I had already exhausted my repertoire of examples, and this was just the third week of May. We would never make it out of September alive at this rate.

“Let’s pretend you went out this weekend and bought a new car,” I said. Vi snorted into her coffee cup. Surfer Dude started a pool on what I would do to the phone.

“Go on,” the plant manager said.

“But you didn’t plan to buy a car this weekend. You just did it.”

“Is this a true story? Because I heard you–”

“Do you wanna understand this? Or do you want to ask rhetorical questions all day?”

He grunted in response.

“But you don’t have a loan in place,” I continued. “Now you tell me: is the better time to negotiate a loan before you go to the car lot? Or after you leave it with a shiny new car and owing someone a big bunch of money?”

“I don’t see what–”

“When we negotiate for a gas contract, we have an entire staff of people who look at forecasts and temperatures and other contracts and all kinds of fun stuff. How many of those people do you think Mr. Chevelle spoke with before buying your plant?”

“Three?” He guessed.

“Zero. He talked to zero of those people. So we woke up one fine morning with a shiny new truck in the driveway, and we were totally at the mercy of the bank.”

“That’s taking advantage of us!” He spluttered.

“That’s playing a good hand well,” I corrected. “And that’s why Mr Chevelle was not allowed to buy things.”

“Can we talk real nice to them?” He offered.

“I know your son,” I reminded him. “Does he get to renegotiate the terms after he borrows the money?”

“I guess not,” he admitted.

“Still want to talk to my manager?” Firebug turned a fierce glare on me, indicating that if I transferred the call to him, it would be my last act in an air conditioned room.

“So we’ll just wait for you to call,” the manager decided. “You know best.”

I know better than that, readers.



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