The Candyman Can

This is a true story.

At the end of the ride, I pinched myself to make sure this wasn’t just another business fantasy of mine…

A week ago I was in Detroit, Michigan to speak to a Vistage group on Financial Management. It’s been almost a year now since I retired as a Vistage Chair and began speaking to Vistage groups around the country. I very much enjoy the speaking part. It’s the travel that has been most difficult. Late or canceled flights. Lonely hotel rooms. Driving rental cars to places unknown. And an endless number of shuttle rides.

However, this day was different. I returned my Enterprise rental car at the Detroit airport and jumped on the airport shuttle at the car rental office. I was the only passenger in the van and I took my customary seat in the back of the vehicle. There was no driver on board yet. I saw a name on the placard above the driver’s seat. The sign read, “Your driver today is Candyman”.

I remember thinking that Candyman was a strange name for a driver or any normal human being for that matter. Moments later, the driver leaped into the van with a hop to his step and said, “Good afternoon sir. How are you? I replied, “Fine. Thank you.” I was determined not to engage in casual conversation with anyone as I was just interested in getting home safely that particular day.

After taking his seat and beginning to steer the vehicle forward, the driver asked, “What brings you to Detroit this fine day?” His exuberance was already bothering me. All I wanted was to enjoy a quiet moment during the brief shuttle ride. “Business trip”, I responded to the driver. “Quick trip. Just twenty-four hours in Detroit,” I added.

The next moment will be forged in my memory for the rest of my life. “Do you know what they call a twenty-four-hour trip to Detroit?” the Candyman asked me abruptly. “No idea,” I said. “Mission Impossible,” he responded with a smile.

The next thing I remember hearing was the theme music to the movie Mission Impossible blaring from the stereo system with the Candyman gleefully singing a narrative describing a twenty-four-hour trip to Detroit. I was stunned, to say the least. What was this mad man doing?

Suddenly, I found myself laughing hysterically at this entire experience. “What the h*** was going on?”, I thought. I remember looking around the van for a Candid Camera as this seemed to be just one of those types of life experiences. Finally, after several minutes (it seemed much longer) the song ended and I presumed that the rest of the ride would be some type of normalcy. Or not.

Candyman next shared with me that a week ago a young woman got on the shuttle and looked distraught. She had experienced a very difficult conversation with a business associate. The driver suggested to his passenger that she “try a little tenderness” next time.

You guessed it. The next thing I know this maniac is singing along with the ‘first lady of soul’ herself. Waving his arms from side to side (while still driving), and blinking the cabin lights on and off to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s Tenderness. All I needed was a spinning light hanging from the cabin roof and the disco effect would have been completed.

Once again, I found myself laughing hysterically at what was going on around me. Could this be my reality?

Candyman went on and played two more songs before reaching our destination at the Detroit airport. Surprisingly, I didn’t want the experience to end. By the last song, I found myself singing along with this nut case. Waving my hands to the beat of each song. Thank God no one was watching us.

When we reached the airport, Candyman stopped the van and parked outside the entrance. He grabbed my bags and grinned at me as I exited the vehicle. I handed him the largest tip I had ever given to a shuttle driver. He thanked me as if this was a common occurrence and returned to his seat. I was completely exhausted as I had never laughed so hard in my life.

As I walked to my gate at the airport several thoughts occurred to me aside from who was this crazy man?

  • Candyman was an outlier. He was a one-percenter. One of the few people I have met who truly loves his job and the people he works with. Why was that?
  • Was his employer, Enterprise Car Rental, aware of his behavior? Would they support it?
  • What prevents other service providers (or me) from enjoying their work as much as Candyman enjoys his?

There is one last part to this story. As I exited the shuttle bus that day another passenger was about to board the van. I looked at the man and asked, “Are you taking this shuttle?”

He responded “Yes I am.”

I smiled at the gentleman and suggested “Brace yourself. This is the Candyman.”

If you are ever traveling to Detroit and need a rental car, I strongly suggest you go to Enterprise. Not for a low price. Not for a comfortable car. Ask for Candyman. You’ll have the best travel experience of your life.