Remember the Cool Hand Luke sand-shovelling scene on that hot country road? When Paul Newman inspires his chain-gang homies to cover the tar with sand as fast as they can, and they all get into it and shovel so quickly that the tar truck runs out and drives off, and the prisoners have nothing to do but relax for a couple of hours?

In the mid ’70s I worked as a tree-trimmer in Connecticut (ropes, saddles, chains saw, pole saws), and a couple of times I tried to apply the Cool Hand Luke approach to some jobs. The salesman (always an easy-going smoothie in a nice car) would point to a couple of trees and explain what we had to do, and then he’d say “I’ll be happy if not surprised if you can finish by the end of the day.” Then he’d take off, telling us he’d return by 3:30 or 4 pm.

As soon as he left we’d say to each other (me and the other climber and the clean-up crew), “Hey, let’s get this done fast so we can relax the rest of the day.” So we’d all double down and get the job done ahead of schedule, sometimes even shaving an hour by skipping lunch. We can do this!

The salesman would return at 3:30 pm and say, “Whoa…you’re done already? You guys are amazing!” And then he’d think it over and say, “Jesus, we’ve got another couple of hours. Let’s load up and head over to the next job!” Me: “Wait, whoa…the next job? You said if we finished this job here we’d be good for the day.” Salesman: “Yeah, but we can’t just sit around so c’mon, put the stuff on the truck and follow me.”

So after this happens a couple of times you learn. Never work fast, never exceed expectations, don’t drag ass but always work at an even keel.

I knew where Newman’s house was located in Westport back then, and I occasionally imagined that I’d run into him and tell him this story and he’d laugh and say, “Yeah, if only life was like the movies.”