No experience needed?
As we walked in through the registration tent at the “1984 Case Backhoe Rodeo” with the hundred or so other men, my father, myself, and our good friend Bob noticed that there was no vetting process. No proof of experience required! Anyone who walked up with twenty dollars and signed in could compete in a competition that consisted of proving how quickly and precisely you could complete a series of nearly impossible tasks with a variety of extremely large, dangerous machines (backhoes and hydraulic excavators) whose controls had been reconfigured in a random, crossed up fashion. This was really exciting for my father and me because we were both professional equipment operators with decades of experience. Bob, on the other hand, was excited because he had always wanted to operate a piece of heavy equipment and now he was finally going to get to!
I think that most everyone would agree that although we remain blissfully unaware of our own limitations, we are almost always delightfully aware of our friend’s limitations. That’s what friends are for… to tell you when you’re about to do something incredibly stupid. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked Mike as he gave twenty dollars to the person at the table. “I’m signing up to compete!” he said with a big smile on his face. I rolled my eyes, shook my head and looked over at my dad. He was grinning from ear to ear. As usual he had his own priorities and right now he was very interested in seeing his good friend provide some entertainment and years of great stories by displaying his complete incompetence in front of hundreds of people. I leaned over and whispered slowly and clearly into Mike’s ear. “You… are… going… to… kill…someone.” Mike proudly placed his official entry lanyard around his neck and announced “Hey… I’m a commercial airline pilot! How hard could this be?”
Well… here’s how hard. The first task began with a 20-ton backhoes bucket hovering over a small but sturdy metal table. On the table there was an empty and rightfully terrified one-gallon beer pitcher. After you climbed into the seat of the already running machine, an official poured a little over one gallon of beer into the machines gigantic bucket and instructed you to fill the other container completely… with beer. “You spill it, you’re out! You take longer than 30 seconds. You’re out!”
My dad and I watched as Bob climbed into the machine. With his CAT baseball cap tilted just so and his calm, confident demeanor, he certainly looked the part. But my dad and I knew better. As I looked around, I thought it was interesting. Terrifying… but interesting. Why would everyone assume that he knows what he’s doing? The official backed up (thank god!) and held a flag in the air. Bob calmly reached down and pulled the throttle wide open, which caused my dad to start laughing hysterically and me to utter a phrase commonly used on construction sites. Then… Mike stretched and calmly gave a nod to the official.
Now, you can’t fault Mike’s reaction time. Because when the flag dropped he instantly shoved both controls forward… simultaneously vaporizing the hapless beer pitcher, driving the small table deep into the ground and shooting beer about 20 feet into the air. And then, just like a water skier that falls and can’t let go of the tow rope, Bob froze… causing the giant machine to continue pushing down until it lifted itself about 5 feet into the air.
After Mike was finally coaxed down out of the groaning machine and the crowd had finished laughing, he was promptly disqualified and asked the one simple question that should have been asked in the first place. “Have you ever run a machine before?” I mean… no one would ever consider a complete and utter lack of comparable experience or knowledge to be a positive trait or a qualification for something so important? Would they?