The supply chain of excuses


By David Lindeman

Contributing Columnist

Americans are great at making excuses.

It starts early. “My dog ate my homework.” This didn’t work well for me: no dog. They didn’t buy, “My cat ate the homework.”

When you dropped that fly ball in the championship game, the sun got in your eyes. Pulled that drive on Number 18? It was the wind.

When we become adults, we blame all sorts of things for our shortcomings.

Lose an election? Blame the people counting the votes. Lose the Super Bowl? Blame the officials. Have trouble acting like a grown-up? Blame your parents. Or the schools. Or the police.

But now, thanks to Covid, we have the ultimate excuse. No matter what happens, all you have to do is say two words and everyone lets you off the hook. Those two magic words are: “Supply Chain.”

Two years ago at this time, I didn’t know anything about supply chains. I figured that when things showed up on grocery store shelves, it was just a natural event. They just always were there. I didn’t know there was a fragile, mystical chain that spread all around the globe that was always moments away from disintegration.

I should have known better. Back when I was editor of a newspaper, I was always amazed that we managed to get the paper out every day. There were so many variables, so many things that could go wrong. People thought that someone snapped their fingers, and the paper just magically showed up on their front step every day. When it was late, you would have thought the entire universe had collapsed. Of course, we always had excuses: the computers went down, the weather was bad, the delivery boy crashed his bicycle and had to go to the hospital. Then again, sometimes we just messed up.

Anyway, this whole supply chain thing is like that. No grapefruit on the shelves? Supply chain. Price of gasoline going through the roof? Supply chain. Kids getting bad grades at school? Supply chain. I’m not exactly sure how, but “supply chain” has become the answer to every problem.

It’s a load off my mind to know that no matter what difficulty I face, I can say the magic words and all will be forgiven. When someone really gets upset, I might have to embellish things a little bit – “Did you see where there are 37 miles of ships lined up off the coast of California just waiting to dump their stuff? It’s no wonder my cat is digging around in your yard. Her cat food is probably made in China or Mongolia, and she’s depressed because she’s not eating.” Sooner or later, everyone comes around and understands that the supply chain is beyond our control.

Here’s a true story: my wife ordered a printer way over a year ago. At first, she figured it was just slowed down by the broken supply chain. Finally, she started making calls and found out the printer was on a boat that sunk in the South China Sea! The supply chain didn’t just break, it sunk. So she had to wait while they made another printer and put it on a ship, which this time made it through the South China Sea, but then apparently got stuck in the container ship traffic jam for a while. The printer finally showed up. Technology being what it is, I think it might have been obsolete before it arrived.

I guess this is what we get for letting people in other countries make all our stuff. Meanwhile, while we’re all waiting for things to arrive, we can’t deliver anything here because there is no one out there to do the work. Somehow, in the last couple years, all the people who used to hold jobs disappeared. It’s like a bad Marvel movie: half the working population appears to be gone. No one has enough workers. Where did they all go? I sure hope someone finds all those people someday.

If they never reappear, we’ll know what to do – that’s right, we can always blame it on the supply chain.

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