Five Hours or Fifteen Miles
Tracy clerked at United Auto Stores, first as a counter-person, and then for the dealer trade, after we acquired our second truck and driver. This was back in the early eighties at United Auto Stores, Story Road, in San Jose. A female was a rare commodity in the auto parts world, but Tracy thrived in a setting, where it was important to demonstrate knowledge and competence to instill confidence.
Customers coming into United, for the most part, were not happy campers. There were so many levels of discontent, that clerks working had to walk a fine line to be able to help, without lancing an already festering boil. The customer’s car was not working. He had to figure out what the problem was, who could solve it, how much it was going to cost, and how to schedule the whole process into an already booked calendar.
There were domestic ramifications involving kids, work and school. The auto parts house was perpetually jammed, and you had to hope that the store not only carried the necessary component, but that it was in stock. Therefore, many customers had favorite clerks they wanted to deal with, and it was disconcerting to have to do business with either a clerk you did not know, or even worse, a clerk in whom you had no faith.
Many men did not trust women to wait on them because of an inherent lack of confidence. That is a sexist pig attitude, but in the setting of United Auto, it was the norm. A female at United faced not only the typical stereotyping that an auto parts house would provide, but also the distrust of many Hispanic males, who were culturally biased against women in any work force, let alone one dominated by men.
Therefore, when I talk about Tracy, I am talking about a very special being. She not only handled her own behind the counter, she thrived, performing her job with humor, alacrity and style, all three desirable attributes found rarely in a guy, let alone a woman. Willowy is the word I would use to describe Tracy. She was easily as tall as I, thin and limber, with long strait dark brown hair. I could not see Tracy as the type of gal who would change the color of her hair. She was a very genuine person, whose feelings were clearly visible in her words, mannerisms and face. She couldn’t fool you about that, and she didn’t try.
In this automotive world, where strength and knowledge were king, Tracy was the queen. She wasn’t sought out because she was beautiful, though she was very pleasant in appearance, and she wasn’t sought out because she belonged on a calendar, above every garage workbench in America. No, she was asked for constantly, because the customers believed she cared. She instilled trust because she gave her customers her undivided attention, took accurate information, and she made it her passion to know her job.
Once Tracy joined me on the dealer counter, she attacked the business of learning all of the available sources of car parts with a vengeance. The dealer trade was located around the corner from the front counter, on the side bordering King Road, with convenient access to the side door, so that the trucks could get in and out of the busy intersection.
Doing business within the confines of the shop, with customer and clerk face to face, and the greasy car part lounging insolently on the counter, was challenging enough, without trying to do it over the phone. It was critically important to have your wits about you, especially since so many of the mechanics were dependent on the auto parts shop to facilitate their livelihood. That is a lot of pressure.
Therefore, Tracy succeeded all that much more because she could take care of business, not only when things went smoothly, but also when the stream metamorphosed into whitewater rapids. And that occurred as regularly as the signal changed, out on the corner of Story and King.
Additionally, Tracy served as self-appointed “den-mother” to United Auto, orchestrating this gathering at the pizza parlor, or that adventure on the weekend, like the 2nd Annual Yuba River Run. It went like this.
We were all going to drive up to Marysville, where we were invited to participate in a day-long river rafting trip on the Yuba River. Here are a few of the details contained within the little flyer that Tracy drew up and had xeroxed: “Fifteen miles or five hours of sun & fun & drugs & fun & grins & fun etc. Bring friends, relatives, dogs and/or mothers-in-law, a tube or raft for you & your ice chest, sun tan lotion or sunscreen, tennis shoes, any food or drugs (place smokables in water proof container!), and alcohol for the day. Will depart from Mont. Wards 9:00AM. Want to share a ride? Be at my house by 6:30 PM on Friday, May 16, 1980. Patch kit or extra tube optional."
And that was Tracy, taking care of business on both sides of the counter. She didn’t leave anything to chance, because then it might not have gotten done. Chance just wasn’t as dependable as Tracy.