The Drawbacks of Consulting or: The Parable of the School Bus

I have done a lot of management consulting over the years. While the business can be lucrative, it has two major drawbacks: 1) the hollow grind of frequent business travel, and 2) the frustrating limitation of advisory agency. The first is self-explanatory, if you’ve ever spent week after week in placeless hotel rooms and dim Mexican restaurants and soul-vacuuming airports. (If you haven’t, you are probably under the impression that business travel is “sexy.”) The second drawback requires more explanation:

Imagine that your car breaks down along a lonely stretch of highway, and you need to get to the nearest town with an auto parts store. You begin hitchhiking along a highway and, strangely, a mustard yellow school bus full of children stops to pick you up. The kids are raucous, and the middle-aged bus driver looks frazzled.

You say, “Thanks,” and begin to explain your situation, but the driver cuts you off.

“Hurry up and sit down,” he says in an agitated tone.

As you take your seat in the vacant front row of the bus, the driver pulls a bent cigarette and a Bic lighter out of his shirt pocket with trembling hands. His thumb fumbles with the lighter, and he is unable to get it to light. He keeps trying. More sparks, no flame. He puts the bus in gear and heads down the highway.

With a heavy nostril sigh, the driver confides in you, “Boy, I’m glad you were walking down that road. I could really use some help here.”

You glance toward the back of the bus and notice some beefcake teenage boys harassing a willowy teenage girl. Near the middle of the bus, a group of middle-schoolers are passing around a lit joint. In the row behind you, a first-grader with a peanut allergy is being forced to try a Snickers bar by a group of snickering second-graders. Pacing up and down the center aisle is a morose junior high kid swinging a pair of ninja-grade nunchuks.

“Sure looks like things have gotten out of hand,” you comment.

The driver agrees, “Yep. In my thirty-five years of driving this bus, it’s never been this bad.”

You stand up and start to bark orders at the rabble-rousers in the bus, but the driver locks up the brakes, and you tumble into the aisle. You pick yourself up to see what hazard the driver was trying to avoid, and you see his grizzled face staring down at you. “This is my bus,” he snarls. “Nobody talks to the brats but me.” He returns to his seat and keeps driving.

Confused, you find your seat again. You jostle and sway as the driver slaloms back and forth between the highway shoulders. Out of the silence, with the bus still cruising forward, the driver stands up, turns around, and shouts, “Whose house is next?!”

Five different children yell, “Mine!” in unison.

“Where do you live, Petunia?” he asks a sweet middle-school girl.

“My name is Madison, and I live at 432 Flintrock Lane.”

“Where’s that?” the driver asks.

“Where you picked me up this morning,” she quips.

“Stop being a smartass, Violet. I asked you a question, and I expect…” His harangue was interrupted by shrieking and pointing from the children, who saw an oncoming logging truck fast approaching the driverless bus.

On instinct and adrenaline, you lunge for the steering wheel and barely prevent a head-on collision. You gently apply the brakes and pull off to the side of the road.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” interrupts the silence as the bus comes to a stop on the shoulder.

“I think I’m a former Navy pilot, a hobbyist stock car driver, and a licensed school psychologist who needed a ride into town,” you say. “And I think I’m trying to help you out, like you asked.”

“Well, well, Sergeant Fancy Pants. You’re a wannabe Tom Cruise, are ya, Mav Trickle? You know who I am? I’m the King of Bus 44, and I’m banishing you from my kingdom.”

“But you said you wanted my help? I was just trying to help…”

“I wanted your help in lighting my cigarette. Get off my bus.”

About Ben Ponder, Editor-at-Large

Ben Ponder, PhD, is Editor-at-Large at Media Rostra. Ben has received decorative pieces of paper conferring upon him an unnamed set of “rights and privileges accorded thereto” from the University of Arkansas, Regent College, and Northwestern University (where he was a Presidential Fellow). He studied (in alphabetical order) architecture, classics, communication, history, political science, rhetoric, and theology. He is the author of American Independence: From Common Sense to the Declaration (“Sizzling.” – TMZ) and the co-editor of Making the Case: Advocacy and Judgment in Public Argument (“Six-pack abs-olutely great!” – US Weekly). Ben is currently an executive in the educational software industry. He and his organic wife, Amy, live with their four free-range kids in a farmhouse Ben designed and built. His personal site on the Interweb is benponder.com, and he can be reached on Twitter @ponderben.