The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

I had been working at the Illinois Department of Local Government Affairs, assessing the railroads for their trackage and improvements (translation – out-houses) for about a year. I enjoyed my job but, as I discovered, I didn’t really need to be there between June 16th until the following March 14th.

The assessments of railroad property were made so that local governments (fire departments, school districts, etc.) would have their proper allocation of the property taxes that the railroads paid annually. By law the railroads had to file their returns by March 15th and we had to certify our assessments by June 15th. During that period we were extremely busy. Outside of it there was nothing to do – and that drove me crazy.

Well, they say “idle hands are the devil’s playground” and I proved that during part of my “down time.” I knew that I would not be able to sit around doing nothing for nine months a year and that this position and I were going to have a short-term relationship. So while I knew what I didn’t want to do – I was unsure what I would enjoy doing.

I happened to see a small classified ad that interested me. A company was looking for “distributors” for their products (which they didn’t identify) but said that everybody used them. They were going to hold an “opportunity meeting” at a suburban motel the following Saturday and I called to add my name to the list of those seeking fame and fortune.

I arrived for the meeting and found the room which the company (Jetaway Products) had rented for their presentation. There were probably thirty seats that had been set up for the gathering and at the head table I saw an array of the Jetaway products that we would soon have the opportunity (if selected) to distribute. They were cleaning products. My heart sank but since I had made the fairly long drive I decided to listen to what the representatives had come to say.

Jetaway had a complete line of liquid cleaning products. All of them came in half gallon sizes. There was glass cleaner (blue); oven cleaner (yellow); Wood cleaner (orange); Tile cleaner (green); Laundry detergent (pink), and the list went on. The advantage of these products was that only one little capful of any of them added to a gallon of water would do their job better and far less expensively than similar products that we normally purchased from our supermarket shelves.

The presentation was fairly brief lasting only about half an hour. (How much can you say in praise of soap – no matter how virtuous and effective it might be). The four other people and I who had sat through its entirety then had our very own Jetaway representative swoop down on us and with the unctuousness of a snake oil salesman ask, “Well doesn’t this sound exciting? What do you think of this incredible opportunity?”

Actually, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to throw my hat into the ring – but I felt in fairness I would like to find out a bit more about the business plan. So I entertained Brian (my rep) and allowed him to lay it out in front of me.

For a mere two hundred dollar investment, I would receive one dozen half-gallons of each of Jetaway’s ten different cleaning products (having a retail value of one thousand dollars). As he painted his picture, I warmed up to the idea of saving the consumer money and offering a superior product. Suddenly I had visions of myself as being the “Empress of Chicago cleaning” – or at least the “Queen.”

So I signed on and even as I placed my order was thinking of all the people whom I knew who would enjoy these products and how I would approach them. I had a week to work on this as that was how long it was until my products were delivered – ten large boxes of Jetaway products – my key to riches.

I found that, just as advertised these products were very effective. Truly, one little cap was enough to decimate the messiest mess and the dirtiest grime. And therein lay the problem. There were an awful lot of capfuls in each container. Even those who were dedicated to keeping their homes in the most pristine manner would have been hard pressed to consume one full container in a year’s period of time.

After a few weeks of effort (working at nights and on weekends) I was able to “distribute” about twenty percent of my product – which at least recouped my original investment. But I could see that Jetaway was not going to be the foundation on which I was going to begin a new business empire.

But it was a good learning experience for me. And the best thing was that for the next several years, I had a built in supply of gifts for birthdays and holidays which I showered upon my friends.

(They all had very clean houses).






  1. Great ending. Made me smile.

  2. I wonder if this was the reason the Japanese embarked on products that one used-and-discarded, while the west built stuff meant to last. That was the case in the 1970’s and 80’s.

    The west has since caught up.

  3. Yes we have, Eric.

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