The Immaculate Floor
Mike was the manager of United Auto Stores, Story Road, when I went to work there in September of 1972. He was taller than I, about six one or so, and he was in good shape. He wore thin-framed steel glasses that he adjusted frequently when he was mulling over a problem. He wore his wiry hair longer than convention, and he was balding on the very top. He had a beard that was always neatly trimmed, and came to a sort of point on his chin, not exaggeratedly, but so that the effect was to create a slightly elongated face.
United Auto was located on the corner of the busiest intersection in San Jose, and it had been there for a long time. Fortunately, being built of cinder block and glass, with linoleum tile floors, it was cleanable. Whereas we conducted business each day, while handling the most grungy of automotive parts, and stepping around engine blocks and cylinder heads, we still kept the premises spotless. From the aisles out in front of the store-wide counter, to the area where the inventory was housed, between the counter and the machine shop, to the battery room and finally the single restroom, we kept the floors immaculate.
That is saying something for an automotive parts house. Mike ran a tight ship, and he did it without being a jerk. Most everyone has worked for someone who has to micromanage, by detailing every piece of minutia that has to do with mundane practices. That kind of boss tells you how much cleaning fluid to add to the mop bucket, before you go scrub the bathroom floor, or points out that you have not yet emptied the trash when you are acutely aware of that fact. Mike didn't do that, because he didn't have to.
He had one way that things were done and that was the right way. Mike was an ex-military guy, as was Booker, the assistant manager, and the official store policy was that veterans were given preferential consideration for any job openings. That was one reason I got hired. So Mike didn't have to explain that any way but his, was not going to cut it. Because the system had been in place so long, it was imbued within the framework of the crew. Everyone knew what was expected, and everyone trained new personnel accordingly.
I liked Mike a lot, both as a boss and a person. He tried very hard to straddle that fence that sometimes prevents bosses and employees from being friends. I felt as though I were Mike's friend. He was as Republican as can be, when it came to business, but he was as opposed to violence and rudeness as any one of us. He respected those deserving of respect, and the others never lasted long enough to bother about. He respected education and he respected effort. There were a few guys who could not cross that line which allowed them to feel comfortable smoking a doobie with Mike, but that was OK with him.
Here is a good example of how that subtle differentiating line manifested itself within our circle. Mike would happily share a joint while rocking out at a party at Jimmy or Clancy's pad, and everyone was totally accepting. However, he would never have come out to Old Paint, my ancient VW Bus, for an after-work technical consultation, that seemed to be a daily requirement. That was an employees-only lounge, and Mike would have seemed out-of-place.
Mike was, of course, a graduate of San Jose State University. He was familiar with the places where the college kids went. He couldn't have been more than thirty-five or so when I started to work for him. I was not surprised therefore, when he and his brother Don, got in on the ground floor of a new complex being built on the corner of Foxworthy and Almaden Blvd, and built their own shop. Suddenly, there was no more Mike, and the system he had in place began to erode. No one could keep the shop as resplendent as Mike had done.
It wasn't as though people expected an auto parts house to shine, because that is not the norm. It was only the norm for Mike, and those around him where he worked. I called his shop recently, and the clerk with whom I spoke, told me Mike was no longer in the state. Well, it's been twenty-five years since we worked together, so I was not surprised. Those of us who once worked at United, have spread far and wide since the 1970's. I'll bet though, that where Mike is living, you could still eat off of the floor, if you were of a mind, because the floor would still be immaculate. He's just that kind of guy.