Smile and Nod: The Orange Juice Principle


The line at the DMV was short, and moving quickly. Take a moment to let that sink in. I’ll wait.

It was a Friday, near lunch time, and it should have been packed and running at glacier speeds. I thought I’d stumbled into some alternate-dimension DMV where the normal laws of government physics did not apply, where fast equaled slow, dog equaled cat and bunnies grew on trees, but the novelty license plates on the wall reassured me that yes, I was still in a North Carolina DMV and the steady stream of satisfied customers out the door testified to the rapidity with which business was being conducted. It didn’t make sense, but it was happening.

The bad news was obvious: No matter how quickly I’d be in and out, I’d still be declaring permanent residence in the Deep South. But the good news was even if I somehow wasn’t able to get North Carolina plates for my truck (this is called foreshadowing), I could at least buy one that said “I’d rather be sittin’ on the porch.” Because I would be. (And this is irony.)

There were three people ahead of me when I got in line. After less than a minute, there was only one. A minute later, I was next. The place was being run like a license plate sweatshop. People were rolling out almost as quickly as they rolled in. License plates were being dispensed in a luminescent metal blur by the octogenarian attendants on staff, rolling a dozen deep. These weren’t your normal, everyday volunteer retirees, one tapioca pudding away from brain lock at the nursing home. No, these guys were Zen plate slinging masters, in their element, making it happen, making the world a better place one vehicle registration at a time, running citizens through the mill like cheese through the lactose intolerant. By the time I was signaled to approach the bench, my whole perception of the acronym DMV had changed; I’d become a Believer. And then it was my turn.


This is the story of how I almost bought a boat, but didn’t. How I tackled a storm of projects I’d been putting off for years, all for the purpose of spending the weekend in the Atlantic Ocean, the wind at my back, my troubles left on the shore behind me. Almost. Remember that word. It’s very important. This story actually begins several years before that Friday in the DMV, when I woke up one bright, sunny Saturday morning and almost got a glass of orange juice. Almost.

I had big plans that day. I don’t remember quite what they were, because, due to The Orange Juice Incident, I never got around to making them happen. But they were big plans. Monumental. And I was looking forward to heading out into the world to revel in them. But first, I needed a glass of orange juice.

Here, dear reader, is where everything went topsy-turvy. If I were in a Behind the Music special, the voice over would say “and then, everything started to fall apart.” I grabbed a glass from the cupboard, held it in my trembling hand, opened the refrigerator and … there was no orange juice. I had run out. This was devastating.

Being an industrious fellow, I devised a workaround. There was a can of orange juice concentrate in the freezer. I could simply make more orange juice, pour some into a glass, and then drink it. Problem solved. New problem discovered: The orange juice pitcher, having been emptied of juice the previous morning, had not been cleansed, and had been left on the counter. It was now slightly disgusting. It was not fit for containing orange juice. It had to be cleaned.

Rolling up my sleeves, I set out to do just that. I would surmount this obstacle, proving no minor setback could dissuade me. I then turned my attention to the kitchen sink, wherein the washing was about to commence, and again, the bottom fell out. The sink was full of dirty dishes. Completely full. As in, turning-the-tap-caused-no-discernible-flow-of-water-to-come-out because-the-tap-was-hidden-under-a-mound-of-sticky-plates, full. At this point I almost cried.

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Let’s review: In order to enjoy a glass of orange juice I would have to make a pitcher of juice from concentrate. In order to do that, I’d need a clean pitcher, which I did not have. Mine was dirty. So I would have to clean it, but to do that, I’d need a sink, which I did not have access to, buried, as it was under a pile of dirty dishes. So to get to the sink to wash the pitcher to make orange juice, I’d have to tackle the mound of dirty dishes, hand-washing them one dish at a time. I couldn’t believe how complicated things had suddenly become. And yet, crying never got any dishes washed, so I had work to do.

Sleeves rolled up further, that’s what I set out to do and 45 orange juice-less minutes later, the dishes were clean, the sink was scrubbed, the pitcher had been rinsed and I was stirring a lump of half-frozen orange juice concentrate around inside of the pitcher, adding water and waiting for it to thaw. A few minutes later I drank my first glass of orange juice of the day. Elapsed time: over one hour.

Pouring a glass of orange juice is a relatively simple affair. One needs only a glass, some orange juice, and about a minute of actual time. But because the general upkeep of the kitchen space had been neglected for who knows how long, the activity of pouring a glass of orange juice that morning required a herculean effort, to the point where it would have made perfect sense to give up, leave the mess and walk to the store. And while this would have solved the orange juice problem, the underlying causes of the dilemma would have remained – and worsened. I call this The Orange Juice Principle.

Since that morning I’ve managed projects as small as putting on a middle school play and as large as renovating professional performance spaces, overseeing dozens of workers and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Along the way, I’ve employed the Orange Juice Principle to increase productivity, enhance workflow and generally make everyone’s lives a little easier, from the crew who suddenly find they can clock out after only eight hours on the job, to the client, whose production budget suddenly goes a just a bit further. The Orange Juice Principle served me well as operational mantra for over a decade. I even taught it to university students.

So when I came back from Jamaica last month, flush with joy over the experience of sailing a small catamaran around the island, I knew I had to have one of my own, and I felt confident I’d be able to make that happen. I found a boat I wanted for a price I could afford, and set a date on which I’d go pick it up. And yes, it was almost that simple. Almost.

The first obstacle between me and boat ownership was the fact I’d been neglecting my truck for a good six months. I hadn’t been driving it, really, considering I live less than a mile from the office, and so I’d let a great many things slide. And like dishes stacking in the sink, each one would combine to prevent me from accomplishing my goals. The tires were bald, the registration, inspection and insurance had lapsed, and I’d never gotten around to installing the trailer towing apparatus. In hindsight, this all should have given me much more pause, but I felt confident I could take care of it. I had a week. A lot can happen in a week.

Unfortunately, a lot can happen in a week. Long story, short: everything that could go wrong with this plan did. Murphy was in full effect. My tires, it turns out, were a mildly rare size and required a few extra days to get shipped in. Likewise, the trailer assembly installation, which I also assumed would be painless, required a part I couldn’t get shipped to me in time, causing me to spend a frustrating evening under the rear end of my car hacking in a solution. I also spent about a day total in the hardware store, going through trial and error to find the absolute exact trailer hitch for my bumper. In all of these instances, a little homework would have prevented a lot of headache. I hadn’t done mine, and I was paying the price.

Still, by Friday I’d tended to all that needed tending, and was prepared to hit the DMV in the morning, get my temporary tags, head out to the coast, book a hotel room, buy a boat and set sail. And, despite the setbacks, it almost worked exactly like that. Yeah, almost.

When it was my turn at the DMV, I smiled, said hello and handed the fellow behind the counter my lapsed registration, thinking to myself I’d finally gotten a break, that it couldn’t so simple. It wasn’t. After a few seconds of staring at my registration paperwork, the fellow’s face fell. He handed my paperwork back to me and said “I can’t help you.”

It turns out, the lightning fast resolution of registration renewal is reserved for people who actually do that sort of thing on time, not for those like me who put it off for more than six months. The fellow handed me a flyer outlining the steps I’d need to take to renew my registration, then wished me a pleasant afternoon.

After a few hours spent on the phone with my bank and various other DMV officials, I determined it would be over a month before my truck was street legal again. There was no way I could drive it the three hours to the coast without having an anxiety attack the whole time over possibly getting pulled over and towed. The dream was over. I wanted a glass of orange juice, but didn’t have so much as a pitcher to make it in. The Orange Juice Principle strikes again.

I thought about renting a truck, even went down to the local rental office and filled out some paperwork, but somewhere along that train of thought it occurred to me I’d gone over the deep end. I’d come so far that the thought of not buying my boat seemed a sacrilege, and yet it was all becoming far too complex – and costly. And I’d made it that way by not keeping my kitchen clean.

I decided then and there it just wasn’t going to happen. That it wasn’t, in fact, worth spending double for a thing just to get it Right Now. I just wouldn’t have any orange juice this day, and I would have to deal. I’m still working on that – while sittin’ on the porch.

Russ Pitts would rather be sailing. His blog can be found at

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