Bottle of Wine
Of all the employees of United Auto Stores, with whom I worked from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, none stands out more than Stephen, if I wanted to single out someone who was always on target, so direct. Whereas Doug could be arrogant, Stephen was just the opposite. He gave the new guys a helping hand, so that if they failed to catch on, he could be sure it was not his fault.
Being either assistant manager, or manager the whole time I knew him, he was always approachable, either behind the counter, or off of work. Though many counter-workers spoke Spanish, he was not one of them. Stephen was as likely to speak Spanish as I was to speak Japanese. Stephen is Japanese American, and he began one of the most delightful customs I ever heard of. He and his brother Ronald used to throw a party every December 7th, regardless of what day of the week it fell on, to celebrate the fact that no bombs had fallen out of the sky on that particular December Seventh, unlike one so many years ago.
Stephen clarified once for me the origins of the parties. I had asked him if kids teased him when he was small, and he just laughed.
“No, it’s nothing like that. We just figure that if you know your history, then there’s a lot of bad karma circulating about on December 7th, and we’re trying to do our part to square it all away.”
Clutching my strawberry daiquiri, all I could do was laud his fine intentions.
Stephen drove a Mercury Capri, back when they first came out, and it was a sporty little number for its time. Of course, I drove a ’62 VW Bus, that was three different shades of primer paint, so I was not one to judge others’ rides. I was able to go to Stephen for technical support, as I was with almost all of the old-timers at United. However, the reason he was good at VW’s had nothing to do with necessity, but rather because his girlfriend drove one, and Stephen was too much of a gentleman, not to take care of his lady’s car.
He was also great for whipping up enthusiasm for the excursions we used to go on. I talked about the Yuba River run, but there were the water skiing trips up to Lake Berryessa also. One of the real old-timers, a fellow named Ray McNasty (well, that’s close enough, anyway; everyone got assigned a nickname. Stephen’s nickname was Stephen Ka-botz-vagon) and his wife Pat used to own a motorboat, which they would drive up to Lake Berryessa to take in the water skiing. Those were the only two times I ever indulged, and it was a lot of fun.
I contented myself with getting up on two skis, after trying with one ski one time. Though I am sure it made for entertainment of the first degree, it made for pain for me. I was so thrilled that I was actually able to manage the two, that I never gave the other any thought. Stephen was very encouraging, even though I was a total newcomer to the sport. I had never even been snow skiing (I still haven’t).
Another excursion we used to go on, of a Sunday afternoon, was to head south of San Jose and sample wine along Highway 152, and other rural byways of the area. Invariably, while sipping on wine inside of local tasting rooms, the owner would be the one pouring the wine, and they were the most engaging servers imaginable.
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement; wine was served to patrons, who then used the samples to determine their purchase list. If you bought a case, then you got an additional ten-twenty percent off. It was one of the true Sunday afternoon adventures that could never fail to hit pay dirt.
Just as we would start to realize that we were famished, and quite some distance from home, Stephen would whip out a loaf of uncut sourdough bread, a thick slab of sharp cheddar cheese, and a knife to take care of the logistics. He would even bring a tablecloth to set out on the grass, so that we could lounge around, as though we were at Santa Cruz.
One of the last times I remember seeing Stephen was when Ann and I went back down to San Jose in the closing days of 1982, when Casey was just three months old. We left Casey with Tom and Beverly, while we went out to dinner at Tao Tao Restaurant in Sunnyvale with Stephen, Richard and KC. we had to fight our way across the Santa Clara Valley, because the power was out, thus relegating signals useless. We had a good time.
Stephen was always ready for action; he was always ready for danger. He didn’t get mad and he didn’t get even. He just knew how to be a good boss and a good friend.