Skip the Ice
My little sister Laura came to work for me at United Auto Stores, in the late seventies/early eighties, while she was attending San Jose State University. She must have been 22 or 23 at the time, and she needed a job. I had been working at United since 1974, so I was a fixture behind the counter.
I say Laura came to work for me, because I ran the dealer trade, and Laura drove the delivery truck. In the beginning she got her baptism by fire, being tossed into the automotive grinder, from which no one emerges with clean fingernails, especially not the delivery driver. She had to learn to be able to criss-cross San Jose and neighboring cities, by dint of instinct, rather than with something akin to a map. There really was no time for maps.
Remembering that there was no handy cell phone to tell Laura that Lieu, at Lieu’s Shell, had called thirty seconds after she left to take the Datsun L1600 cylinder head, with the gasket set, out to the shop. He said that he also needed a timing belt and both radiator hoses, so it looks as though Laura will be going by Lieu’s again today.
The things I used to ask of her amaze me, but what is even more astonishing, is that she was able to do them. It was hard enough to work in an industry that was dominated by men, it was worse to frequently be the only female that a lot of the mechanics would see in a given day, and I am sure that Laura had to put up with a lot of guff. If she came back and reported every time that some jerk whistled at her, or worse, she would have had to spend a lot of time keeping us caught up.
As it was, she had to have a fairly thin level of tolerance, and if someone gave her a hard time, she would give it right back. On top of that, there were any number of able-bodied United Auto workers, who would have loved being amongst those asked for help, in dealing with rude or boorish behavior. I know for a fact that Richard, our machinist, was extremely protective of Laura. Richard worked in the machine shop, and I have gone on record as saying that, pound for pound, I thought he was the strongest person I have ever met.
Richard depended on having the delivery truck available to facilitate the machine shop’s efficiency. Often he asked me to locate and acquire valves or valve guides, or especially the valve stem seals, so necessary to reassemble a cylinder head, though he never asked me to look up the part number. He did that himself, working those catalogs with the best of them, so all he would give me was the part number. That way, if there was a complication, then he would not blame anyone but himself.
So like the Godfather, Richard liked to be appraised of bad news immediately. If something was going on that rocked Laura’s world, then it was something that Richard was definitely going to take a personal interest in. Anyone and everyone would have jumped to her defense at a hint of provocation, but Richard would have been alongside me, at the front of the line.
Trying to keep up with the ebb and flow of our shop was impossible; all Laura could do is play pinball wizardette, as I would send her to Central Automotive Warehouse, after making sure that Kim had stock-checked the part, and then have her take it out to Evergreen Automotive. There they would be waiting for her, so that they could give her a cylinder head that had to be surfaced, back at our shop. However, since they needed the gasket set, it probably made sense for her to swing by Bayshore, still one more time to pick it up. We won’t mention to her that the master cylinder for the International, that she snagged this morning, was the wrong one, so she’ll have to pick up another one at the dealer when she gets back from her last run.
And by the way, Laura, you nice, considerate, kind, supportive, wonderful human being, would you mind ever so much stopping by at Togo’s for twelve-teen sandwiches that need to be dragged through the garden, and an equal number of Pepsis-with ice? Your best friends here at United Auto will never forget it. You know they will never forget it, because tomorrow they are talking about In-N-Out Burgers, and in 1980, the closest In-N-Out to San Jose, was in Los Angeles.
What do you think, Laura, can you be back here by closing time? Great! Better skip the ice in the Pepsis.