The note read “This is not Hooterville!! You are illegally parked! Try to do better!! Or you will get a ticket!”
Denny Keaton, a project manager with Triathlon Industries, the world leader in waste handling systems, stood on the sidewalk in front of our Main Street office holding a folded scrap of paper he had just removed from his windshield. And he had an uncomfortable look on his face.
Keaton, along with Triathlon field service manager Tommy Hunt, had wheeled into Baldwyn in their company Ford F250 two hours before lunch to discuss a large recycling facility set to break ground in Madison, Wisconsin, later in the month. The two gentlemen were considering our company, Quail Ridge Engineering, as a potential vendor for the twenty-eight conveyors and the many tons of structural steel fabrication the job would require. It was a plum project.
When Keaton and Hunt had reached our town earlier that Wednesday morning, they had gotten turned around, being in an unfamiliar setting and all, and with the absence of numbers on many buildings, including mine, when the pair finally did find us, they parked on the south side of the street going the wrong way.
We rolled out the red carpet, and ushered our guests into 112 West Main for two hours of heavy sales persuasion. We hoped to convince the Triathlon reps that we were the ONLY titans of industry in this hemisphere capable of handling their vital project, and following a spot-on performance carefully designed to make us (QRE) look as big and capable as possible, we broke for lunch – our treat, of course, at Omar’s in Frankstown, a rustic local favorite just north of Baldwyn. The visiting captains of the garbage industry tossed their briefcases into their truck on the south side of Main, and it was there that Mr. Keaton received his welcome letter from the anonymous poet laureate of the Baldwyn chamber of commerce. Our QRE lunch contingent stood unaware across the street, prepped and waiting for the journey to Frankstown and food.
Denny Keaton crossed back to us with the hand-written note. “This is not Hooterville,” he read, holding the paper over for Tommy Hunt to see. “Well, I guess somebody didn’t like our parking.” My mind raced for something to say, but I came up empty. All QRE employees fixed their eyes on Denny and Tommy for their reaction, and we held our collective breath. At last Denny chuckled, and we exhaled and joined in. And we all had an even bigger laugh about the whole thing over a plate lunch of hamburger steaks and hash brown casserole a few minutes later. And we got the order.
All’s well that ends well, I guess. Still, I couldn’t help but think this little act of constructive criticism by Baldwyn’s concerned citizenry might have turned our deal sour had it not been for the good-naturedness of this particular duo of customers. A couple years now have passed, and we’ve done many more jobs for Triathlon since that day. Even so, Denny Keaton still brings up his note whenever he comes over, but he does make sure he parks on the right side of the street if at all possible.
I’ve thought about the note many times. Frankly, I can’t help but think about it because I kept it, and I pinned it on my office wall – to remind me every Monday through Friday that “This is not Hooterville!!” But I must tell you, in spite of that daily reminder, and after much consideration, I have ultimately reached a conclusion that is contrary to the one our anonymous writer settled on two years previous, and my new conclusion is this: “Baldwyn IS, in fact, Hooterville.”
Unlike our vigilante meter maid, I do NOT view “Hooterville,” the fictitious town of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction fame, negatively. No, very much the opposite, I believe historic Hooterville, nestled somewhere out there between Bugtussle and Pixley, to be a place worth emulating. People liked each other in Hooterville. There was no rat race in Hooterville. The citizens of Hooterville lived at a slower pace, and their dramas didn’t involve violence or crime. Crawdads were the only things smoked in Hooterville, and the closest thing to a bad guy to be found was the peddler Mr. Haney, who admittedly would occasionally pull a fast one over on city slicker-turned-farmer Oliver Douglas. But even the shifty Haney would reveal a heart of gold when push finally came to shove.
Most everyone exceeded expectations in Hooterville. There was a certain purity of spirit that seemed to produce happy endings for the supposedly clueless Lisa Douglas, no matter what natural laws stacked up against her. Even Petticoat Junction’s slothful Uncle Joe Carson, quintessential doofus/handyman Eb Dawson, and Hooterville’s greatest overachiever, the pig Arnold Ziffel– not a boorish cad but a literal barnyard swine – all consistently conquered whatever problems arose with basic, common sense wisdom. People, and pigs, in Hooterville knew that to be honest and to work hard and to give their best was a good and correct way to live life, even if they occasionally, rarely, fell short of the bar.
In the final analysis, the writer of my customer’s note simply missed the mark. Baldwyn IS Hooterville! And in that very fact lies a key to our success, now and in the future. You see, even city slickers need to work with people they can count on, people they can trust, whether they park on the wrong side of the street or not– the city slickers, I mean, not us. We just park in the middle.