Everything at Gap depends on Drexler's eye; it isn't like making turbine engines. If he's off the mark just one season, if he approves a line of clothes in colors that aren't just right, sales collapse and so does Gap's stock price. That is why Gap can never really be like Coca-Cola—there is no Gap formula hidden in some vault; there's only Mickey Drexler.
Gap Gets It
Mickey Drexler is turning his apparel chain into a global brand. He wants buying a Gap T-shirt to be like buying a quart of milk. But is this business a slave to fashion?
Of four professors who taught Mickey Drexler in his senior year at college, not one remembers him, not faintly. "The name doesn't mean a thing to me," says one professor of marketing. Classmates are hazy too. "Mickey Drexler? He had dark hair and glasses, right?" says a woman who worked with him on the college paper. "I think I remember him, but I'm not sure." And yet, today, it is not impossible that Mickey Drexler, chief executive of Gap Inc., has more influence on American style than anyone else. Yes, Ralph Lauren embodies a certain American look, but how many of us have the money or inclination to imitate the Kennedys? Drexler, by contrast, is a mass marketer. He intends to bring style to everyone, from Tupelo, Miss., to Fargo, N.D.; from Humble, Texas, to Anchorage. There must be Americans who don't own at least one piece of Gap clothing, but I don't know them.
When Wall Street looks at Gap, almost no one compares it with other apparel retailers anymore, because they're not in Gap's league, or don't seem to be. Instead, Gap is starting to be compared with great American brands—Gillette, Coca-Cola, and Disney, for example—largely because Gap, like Mickey Drexler, is taken for granted. Like a Sensor razor or a can of Coke, Gap is not ephemeral. It's become a staple.
"Think about it," Drexler says, over a ham-and-Swiss-cheese sandwich with mustard and a bag of Lay's baked potato chips. "If you go into a supermarket, you would expect to find some fundamental items. You would expect to find milk: nonfat, 1%, 2%, whole milk. You'd expect the dates to be fresh. You want butter. You want certain types of bread. You have your list. I don't know why apparel stores should be any different. I mean, think about it."
Investors have thought about it, and some are clearly believers: After five years of uninspired performance, Gap's stock in the past 12 months has gone from $26 to a recent $66, which is 37 times this year's expected earnings. (In other words, Gap is up 154%, while the S&P 500 index has risen 27%.) This year, Gap is projected to earn $705 million on sales of $8.3 billion, up 28% from 1997. "If Disney has Mickey Mouse and Gillette has Sensor, Gap has pocket Ts, khakis, and denim," declares Richard Baum, a retailing analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co. "There is more fashion risk, there's no escaping that. But it's not like Gap is all fashion risk and Coke and Gillette have no risk."
What Drexler has done in the past year is to transform Gap from a national retail chain into a recognizable global brand. Above all, he is determined to make Gap ubiquitous. If Coke is available in every airport, in every grocery store, in every McDonald's, shouldn't Gap be everywhere too? Since Drexler arrived in 1983, Gap Inc. has grown from 566 stores to 2,237. Gap now operates in Japan, the U.K., Canada, France, and Germany. One new store opens every day.
"I find clothing very complicated to buy," Drexler says. "It shouldn't be that complicated. It should be simple." Simplicity may be what defines Gap, but making Gap work is not so simple. Clothing companies usually depend on the vision and taste of just one person. As soon as that person's vision is tired, it's all over, and the line becomes a parody of itself, which is what happened at Laura Ashley, for example. That's why Paris design houses work so hard to bring in new, young talent. Everything at Gap depends on Drexler's eye; it isn't like making turbine engines. If he's off the mark just one season, if he approves a line of clothes in colors that aren't just right, sales collapse and so does Gap's stock price. That is why Gap can never really be like Coca-Cola—there is no Gap formula hidden in some vault; there's only Mickey Drexler. "Mickey is omnipotent," says one former Gap employee, who asked to remain nameless. "We would all talk about that. We'd say, 'There's no heir apparent. There is nobody [at Gap] who is his equal. There is nobody who is near his equal.'"
Which raises questions: Can Gap ever really be a global brand, or is it bound to be a flash in the pan? Can Drexler's vision be turned into a formula? Can he institutionalize his art?
"This is what we want the customer to look like next year," announces the VP of women's product design as two models walk into a conference room at Gap's San Francisco headquarters. The models are wearing—Sorry, I can't tell you what women will be wearing next year because, in exchange for getting a look, I promised Gap not to divulge specifics. The occasion is a review of Gap's line for spring 1999. About 80 Gap employees—merchandisers, designers, and a few store managers—are gathered for an all-day presentation. After sweating on the line for three months, choosing colors and fabrics, and figuring out new looks, the merchandisers and designers now have to present their work to Drexler.
The boss is pleased. "That's fabulous. That's great," he says. The VP breathes a sigh of relief, and the whole room breaks into applause.
Suddenly, Drexler's eye is drawn to a...garment. To my untrained eye it is just a...garment. To Drexler, however, it is a masterpiece. "This looks like the crusher item," he says. "How many are we ordering?" The answer is 1.7 million units. "Why not three million?" Drexler challenges. The VP looks startled. "Is this an item we should never run out of?" hammers Drexler. "Are the stores guaranteed they will not miss one single sell in this?" Those are rhetorical questions. He doesn't need an answer. "Look," he pronounces, "the issue is, you've got a monstrous item here. How high is up? Why don't you go and look at the numbers again, and come back to me." And that, as they say, is that.
Drexler's control over every aspect of Gap is legendary. He's known for sudden bursts of temper when things go wrong. "Nothing gets by Mickey. His attention to detail is extraordinary. He looks at threads, buttons, everything. He's difficult, very demanding. He can attack," explains Jim Fielding, who left his job as merchandise manager of Gap's men's division last December to join J. Peterman Co. "You have to defend yourself, but you also have to know when to pull away, when to acquiesce. If you go up against him, you'll lose. In line reviews he'll say, 'That turtleneck is horrible,' and you might have 93 reasons why it's good, but it's like going up against a wall. And the truth is, he's usually right. It's sad to say, but he's usually right."
Most clothing companies want their products to be a sign of something else—money, power, class, virility, sex, privilege, access, you know. Beneath an unstructured Armani suit lurks a whiff of power, worldliness, competitiveness, dolce vita. Ralph Lauren tries hard to suggest long weekends in the Hamptons, ease, trust funds, and other old things. But Drexler knows instinctively that Americans aren't all that comfortable with class. Gap is democratic and familiar.
Ordinary, unpretentious, understated, almost lowbrow: That's how Drexler presents Gap, and how he presents himself. Drexler and his wife, Peggy, have been married for 29 years. For breakfast he has a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk. One of his favorite newspapers is a tabloid, the New York Post; more precisely, it's Page Six, the Post's gossip sheet. He likes People magazine a lot. If he reads a novel, it's probably by John Grisham. In his big San Francisco office, leaning against the walls, are framed black-and-white photographs. Who's the photographer? I ask. "I have no idea," he says with a shrug. "I just like black-and-white photographs. They look good." They're anonymous, and they look good.
It's a closed circle. Drexler is Gap, and Gap is Drexler.
Drexler is famous for wandering around Gap headquarters repeating a sort of mantra: "Think negative five comp. Think negative five comp." Everyone knows he's talking about comparable store sales—that he doesn't want employees to celebrate the 15% increase this past June, but to pretend instead that the numbers were down. It's a sort of superstition. He worries constantly about becoming complacent. And he doesn't want to attract the evil eye. The mantra seems to work. "Even after a great quarter everyone in that company comes together and says, 'We didn't do well enough. How can we do better?' " says Rick Lyons, who left last year after 13 years at Gap, most recently as an executive vice president. "There's always a gray feeling. I was always gray. Oh sure, we'd celebrate, briefly, after a great quarter, but it was always right back to, 'What did we do wrong?'"
It's not always a hypothetical question. On the way to its current status as America's greatest apparel retailer, Gap has gone wrong many times, and it has usually been Drexler who made things right again.
What is now the over-the-counter culture has its roots in the counterculture. Donald Fisher and his wife, Doris, opened the first Gap store (as in 'generation gap') in San Francisco in 1969. They sold only Levi's jeans and, to bring customers in, discounted record albums and tapes. Because Levi Strauss permitted no discounting on its goods, Gap earned impressive profit margins—until 1976, when the Federal Trade Commission ruled that Levi Strauss couldn't set prices or control distribution. To compete against discounters, the Fishers had to drop the prices on Levi's. Gap might have gone out of business if not for Don Fisher's decision to move into private-label clothing; Gap—which by then had some 200 outlets—wound up creating 14 different private labels with names like Foxtails, Monterey Bay, and Durango. But the merchandise wasn't compelling. The stores looked shabby. Worse, just about every retailer in the country started doing private labels at the same time. Gap was just another discount chain. Don Fisher, a former real estate developer, knew he had a problem, but he lacked the merchant's eye needed to fix Gap.
Last month, Fisher—who remains the company's chairman, and whose 24% stake in Gap is now worth $6.2 billion—recalled the dilemma he faced. Sitting in his spare office, with a Frank Stella oil painting on one wall, a giant Willem de Kooning on the other, and an Alexander Calder mobile suspended from the ceiling, Fisher explained: "I wanted to be vertically integrated, I wanted to be different, I wanted to cut out the middleman, but I couldn't find anyone to execute that idea, until Mickey came along."
Until Don Fisher came along, Mickey Drexler's life was unremarkable, and largely unremarked. He grew up in the Bronx. His father was a buyer of buttons and textiles for a coat manufacturer. When Drexler was 16, his mother died of cancer. On weekends, on holidays, and during the summer he worked with his father in the garment district. "My father was one of these people—you know, you always had to work, work, work," he told me. After four unexceptional years at the Bronx High School of Science, Drexler spent a few semesters at City College of New York before transferring to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business in 1966. One college friend, Helen Garfinkel Lobel, SUNY class of '68, does remember Drexler: "There really isn't anything that I can tell you, except that he was very shy."
It was only after school, after he got his MBA at Boston University in 1968, that Drexler began to make a mark. He worked at Bloomingdale's, at Macy's, and at Abraham & Straus—apparently he had a keen instinct for merchandising. In 1980 he was named president of AnnTaylor. In three years he turned the apparel chain around. "With Mickey the question wasn't 'Can we sell 10,000 polo shirts?' It was 'How will we sell 10,000 polo shirts?' " says Sally Frame Kasaks, who succeeded him as AnnTaylor's president. "With Mickey we had to suspend disbelief—and he was fully capable of getting us to do that."
By 1983, Fisher was trying to find a new direction for Gap. That year he bought Banana Republic. Impressed by what Drexler had accomplished at AnnTaylor, Fisher hired him as his deputy. Drexler dumped all the private labels except one, the Gap line. He hired new designers, improved the quality of the clothes, and renovated the stores. Gap was a hit. In 1986, unable to find simple, good-looking clothes for his son, Drexler launched GapKids. It was an instant success. By the late 1980s, Gap was everywhere. "You really have to give Mickey credit for reinventing the whole company: It was one of the great turnarounds in retail history," says Joseph Ellis, a limited partner at Goldman Sachs who has followed Gap closely since it went public in 1976.
There were bumps along the way, of course. Banana Republic, when Fisher bought it, sold jodhpurs, travel trunks, hunting jackets. It was very Indiana Jones, very Out of Africa. Which was great, until 1987, when the safari look went out of fashion. To restructure Banana Republic, Gap took a $6.8 million pretax write-off. Then, in 1987, Drexler launched Hemispheres, a chain of shops selling expensive "European-inspired" clothes that never caught on.
Still, by the end of 1991, Gap Inc.'s sales per square foot were 2 1/2 times what they had been when Drexler started. Comparable store sales were rising at double-digit rates. Above all, what Drexler did was to give Gap and its quotidian consumer products the beginning of a brand image. Remember the old black-and-white Individuals of Style advertisements for Gap? Kim Basinger in an oversized white Gap men's shirt—and pearls. Dizzy Gillespie in a black Gap mock turtleneck. Remember the "Who wore khakis?" campaign? "Ernest Hemingway wore khakis"; "Pablo Picasso wore khakis." Extraordinary people in ordinary clothes. The ads, all produced in-house, were so popular that people stole them from bus-stop shelters.
Drexler's touch made Gap such a success story that Business Week put the company on its cover in 1992. By then, though, everyone had fallen into Gap's act: Apparel companies from J.C. Penney to Armani had started selling "basics." Abruptly, the bottom fell out of Gap. The stock price dropped by half that year.
What went wrong was a stark lesson in just how fragile a clothing company is, and in how much vigilance is required to keep it fresh. In 1992, comparable-store sales grew by just 5%. In 1993 and 1994, that figure fell to 1%. By 1995, comparable-store sales were flat, absolutely flat, and Gap was in trouble.
Wall Street decided that Gap was "mature," which is industry-speak for dead. In the media, Gap became a subject of parody. Saturday Night Live mocked Gap's exuberant salesclerks in a skit called "Gap Girls." In Reality Bites, a 1994 movie starring Winona Ryder, being a Gap manager was portrayed as the ultimate Gen X drudgery, the '90s version of flipping burgers at McDonald's. In a front-page headline in 1995, the Wall Street Journal wrote, "BOBBY SHORT WORE KHAKIS'—WHO'S HE, AND WHO CARES?" Even Drexler was afraid that Gap had had its day, like an old racehorse.
Drexler responded to this crisis with a bold gamble, an approach to discount marketing that had never been tried before. And out of this experience grew the new business model that now has Wall Street thinking Gap might be the next Coke.
The gamble was Old Navy, a new division Drexler launched in 1994 to compete with stores like Sears and Target. Discount shopping was the hot growth area in retailing, but, Drexler asked, did it need to be so depressing? Big, loud, fun, and cheap, Old Navy stores are fitted out with exposed pipes and raw concrete floors. There are listening booths where customers can sample CDs and old grocery-store refrigerator cases stocked with T-shirts shrink-wrapped like packages of lean ground beef.
"When we started Old Navy, we sat around and we talked about what we didn't like about discount stores—poor quality, colors that are always just a hair off. We really thought, 'What do we not want to be?' and took it from there," explains Jenny Ming, executive vice president for merchandising at Old Navy.
The pitch was perfect, and Old Navy was an instant success. "There was a time, not so long ago, when people who shopped at department stores wouldn't shop at Wal-Mart—that was declasse," explains Kurt Barnard, of Barnard's Retail Trend Report. "Then it became chic to shop downscale, to shop for a bargain. People used to pay $10 and they said they paid $20. Now they pay $20 and say they paid $10." Old Navy captures this trend brilliantly. It's discount shopping with an edge, discount shopping that appeals even to people who can afford Gucci. "Old Navy is a concept for a decade. If you create an idea like that once every ten years, you're fine," remarks Baum, the Goldman analyst.
In less than three years, Gap opened 282 Old Navy stores; sales hit $1 billion. But, as if to confirm how badly this business depends on the vision of just one man, even as Drexler focused on building Old Navy, things at the Gap division went from bad to dreadful. It didn't help that his attention was further distracted by the search for a post-safari identity for Banana Republic.
One day in the summer of 1996, Drexler wandered slowly through a Gap store and was shocked. The clothes were ugly, the carpet was frayed, the fixtures looked cheap. Simplicity and cleanliness had been forgotten. But what he really hated that summer was a series of new Gap print ads that included a young, androgynous-looking man with long blond hair (unclean?), a pierced lip, and an attitude. It was, like, heroin chic. It was also, like, Calvin Klein. It wasn't Gap. "It was so incompatible in my mind with what made Gap right," says Drexler. "I think this campaign said more and more, 'If you're a Gap customer, don't come into the Gap.' " The campaign lasted two months. Maggie Gross, Gap's longtime ad director, promptly took a leave of absence, then resigned. A handful of other Gap advertising people left with her. There were departures in the New York design department too.
Drexler didn't go on vacation that summer. Instead he spent 2 1/2 months, from June to August, going through every item of clothing in the line—clothes that were to hit stores in the spring of 1997. He got rid of everything that wasn't pure Gap. Away went the skinny plaid pants and the zip-up men's shirts in '50s orange and brown. Away went the shiny green disco shirts. "It was a good kick," remarks Drexler. "I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of consistency when branding a business." (Did somebody say McDonald's?)
Around the same time, in late 1996, while he was reading a Coca-Cola annual report, Drexler realized that Gap as a concept wasn't "mature" after all. Coke didn't go out of style. It wasn't superannuated. His reasoning continued: Was a can of Coke any more basic, more fundamental to Americans than a white Gap men's shirt? "We started to think about our business in different terms," says Drexler. "We started to think about our brand in a more ubiquitous way. Before, for example, we would have had one store in a particular market. But if you think about great brands in America and the world, they usually dominate a much larger percent of market share than any apparel company does." Thinking big, thinking in terms of Coca-Cola, Drexler then became obsessed with Gap's comparatively small market share: "The average per capita expenditure on clothing in America is $700. We own about $23 of that. So I'm saying, 'Gee, we only have $23 of the $700? You would think Gap should own a lot more of the customer's wardrobe.'"
To multiply that $23, Gap has started opening stores at a quick pace, and in towns that would once have been considered too small by Drexler. By the end of 1998, Gap and GapKids will be in places like Falls Church, Va.; Prairie Village, Kan.; and Joplin, Mo. In cities where Gap already exists, stores continue to open. There have been Gap, GapKids, Banana Republic, and Old Navy stores in Wichita, for example. But, recently, when Drexler visited Wichita, he recognized that the market was far from saturated. Now there are two GapKids and two Gap stores there, with a third Gap on its way. In June, Gap launched Gap-to-go in Manhattan, on the theory that buying clothes should be as easy as ordering in Chinese food. Menus from Gap-to-go list 21 basic Gap items; fax your order in and it will be delivered to your office or home by the end of the day. If Gap-to-go works in Manhattan, it will be introduced in other cities. And of course there's the Internet; Gap Online was introduced in November 1997. In September, Banana Republic will mail out a catalog. This fall, Gap plans to test GapBody stores that will sell boxer shorts, cotton panties and bras, pajamas, Gap fragrances, soaps, and candles. Expect more.
"I think we're just getting the ball rolling," declares Gap's COO, John Wilson. "We don't know how high is up. To see how high we can go, we will throw more stores in until the last one fails. The question is, How many more stores can you open? Maybe you can go to 8% market share, 12% market share. We're only at 4% today. Look at Home Depot, Toys 'R' Us—why can't we have those market shares?" (They may not know how high is up, but will they know when the sky is falling?)
Two years ago a third of all Gap stores were ten or more years old. Now that figure is closer to a fifth. Because store managers' salaries depend on short-term profits, they had no incentive to invest $200,000 to $300,000 to remodel their stores. A new guideline was introduced: Now most every store is remodeled after seven years. No more frayed carpets. Not only that, Gap has started to get tough with landlords. In many malls Gap is effectively an anchor tenant, and so it is demanding to be treated as such, with lower rents and no common-area charges. In smaller cities and towns, the landlord will often cover the entire cost of building a Gap or Old Navy store. For some stores these moves have cut real estate costs in half. Wilson and Gap's CFO, Warren Hashagen, also took on Gap's tax rate, which they figured out was far too high. Last year, Gap's tax rate fell 2%, adding $40 million to pretax profits.
All this fixing and fussing has made Gap a stronger company. But Drexler's goal, remember, is to be everywhere, to be the Gillette and the Coca-Cola of the apparel business. To do that he must eliminate as many of the fashion risks inherent to this business as possible. That's why supermarkets are his retail model. As I tag along with Drexler on one of his regular visits to a Gap store, he inspects the kids department ("There's not enough stuff here. It looks empty. There should be 20% to 35% more stock here") and he questions the sales staff ("What are people asking for that we don't have?"), and all the time, I'm imagining Gap in terms of a supermarket. There's a long wall of Gap jeans, arrayed as closely as cereal boxes at an A&P. Each row of jeans is eight shelves high, each shelf stacked with eight carefully folded pairs of jeans. What counts is inventory, carrying everyone's size.
For years, Gap had been cutting back inventory, from $73 a square foot in the second quarter of 1992 to $51 in 1995. That made Wall Street happy, because lower inventory means higher turnover of merchandise. But then Drexler put his foot down: If shopping at Gap was to be easy, there had to be lots of stock. So last year inventory per square foot grew by 18%. There aren't more styles of clothes (that would be confusing); there's just more of the same in more sizes. In khakis and jeans there are now 14 waist sizes for men, from 28 inches up to 46 inches, and nine inseam lengths. And every store carries far more units in each size.
Gap doesn't sell anything that's not available elsewhere. What it does is to market those things better than anyone. That may be the difference between a product and a brand. Last month, at the Banana Republic flagship store in San Francisco, the letters B-O-X-E-R-S were splashed, big and bold, across six storefront windows. Behind the glass, suspended, were 47 pairs of boxer shorts—dark blue with white golf balls, red gingham, light blue with dolphins, dark green with goldfish. They're only men's underpants, right? But here, in this storefront window, they've been turned into pop art. In a lingering echo of Andy Warhol, Gap plays at elevating the ordinary.
In the past year, Drexler has used marketing and advertising to elevate Gap's fallen image. Gap had always advertised, of course, but it had avoided TV. "Before, we advertised in Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine; we thought if we advertised to the elite it would trickle down," says Bob Fisher, who heads the Gap division and is the eldest son of Don and Doris Fisher. Until last year, when Gap introduced on network TV its campaign for Easy Fit jeans (starring Lena Horne, LL Cool J, Luscious Jackson). "All of a sudden people in small towns everywhere know us," says Fisher. "All of a sudden we realized we had a brand we didn't know we had." This year Gap will spend more than $300 million, or 4% of sales, on advertising, up from $175 million, or 2.7%, last year.
Because Gap does all its designing and advertising in-house—and because it owns all its stores—it can control every aspect of its operation. That's a big advantage. Almost a year in advance, Drexler and his team decided that 1998 would be the year of khaki. The Gap design team began developing new styles of khaki pants. Flat-front khakis. Multipocketed cargo khakis. Subtle colors of khakis. Millions of pairs of khakis then went into production in Gap factories around the world. And in early February this year, Michael McCadden, Gap's executive vp for marketing, started brainstorming with his creative director Lisa Prisco. "Lisa said, 'I see dance.' She said, 'I see dance and music. But very cool stuff. Like stuff you wouldn't expect to see in a khakis campaign,' " recalls McCadden. "And I just thought it was brilliant." In April, Gap launched three TV spots for its khakis—young men and women wearing khakis while skateboarding, break dancing, and jitterbugging. As if to make the point that Gap needs no translation anywhere, the same ads hit at the same time in Japan, the U.K., France, and Germany. Meanwhile, every mannequin in every Gap store window was outfitted in khakis. Every Gap sales clerk was wearing khakis. (They got to buy them for $10.) The impact was immediate. Gap khakis are still flying off the shelves.
Gap khakis are just like Dockers khakis, which are just like J. Crew khakis, which are just like Abercrombie & Fitch khakis, which are just like Haggar khakis, but who else can choreograph an effort like this? "Our major competitive advantage is our stores—up to that point what we produce is all the same," explains Fisher. "Levi's can do all the advertising it wants, but at the end of the day its clothes can end up at Omar's Discount Bin. We control our distribution. We're the only ones who can screw it up."
Drexler's 1.8% stake in Gap is now worth $465 million. He will turn 54 years old Aug. 17, and work is his only hobby. He starts each day at 6:30 A.M., speed walking on his treadmill, which is fitted with a telephone and a headset. While walking, he calls his design team in New York, his directors, his executives. For those away from their desks, he leaves long, rambling voice-mail messages. Off the top of his head he tosses out ideas: suggestions for a new look, comments about store fixtures, thoughts about possible new locations. He never uses E-mail; there's no computer in his office; he doesn't write memos. Voice mail is his medium, and everyone at Gap is carefully trained to check voice-mail boxes all the time. "Mickey calls us all from his treadmill," said Adrian Bellamy, a Gap director. "The first time he called me from his treadmill, I thought he was having a heart attack. He was huffing and puffing. The fact that it was Sunday and that he was on his treadmill didn't matter. He had something to tell me."
Impulsive, curious, and addicted to telephones, Drexler is constantly searching and asking. "Mickey's always looking for a way to improve," says COO Wilson. "He is always on the road, always in the field, always talking to people in the stores, in the elevator. He'll go out and talk to a 12-year-old in the street." Drexler's openness to all sorts of people and to fresh ideas may be what has prevented Gap from getting stale.
But what happens to Gap when Drexler is no longer in control? If his vision fails? If he makes a big mistake? Sitting with Drexler aboard Gap's corporate jet, flying from Arizona back to California, I ask him: "What happens if this plane goes down?" By now I have spent hours with Drexler, and for the first time he fumbles—he's avoiding the question. Suddenly, as if on cue, the pilot rushes out. There's a problem with the plane: The wing flaps aren't working properly; we're draining fuel; we have to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas. I never do get an answer to my question.