JT commented recently that KC got off work from United Auto Stores on Saturdays at six in the evening, yet he never arrived home until seven, from what should have been a ten minute drive. When she would ask him where he had been, he might have told her he had a meeting after work in the employee lounge, AKA Old Paint, located in the parking lot of United Auto, two thirds of the way out in the expansive parking lot.
If you went from United Auto Store itself, and walked out to the actual corner of Story and King, you could get a pizza at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, which you could get smothered in jalapeno peppers. So Shakey’s and United shared a parking lot, with patrons parking anywhere in the expansive lot between the two entities.
Employees of UA used to park their vehicles midway between the two, to ensure that customers had the closest spots available to each respective business. And so it was appropriate that I also parked Old Paint there, my ’62 Volkswagen Bus, a calico-colored affair, with a back engine cover which flopped in the breeze. The olive drab green exterior was supplemented by some interesting patches of primer gray, with the whole back end spray-painted primer black by me, to cover up the huge letters reading, “The End.” It may have looked like the end of the road, but Old Paint got me to and fro.
The most significant feature, from our point of view, were the Aztecan curtains that hung on the inside of all windows, effectively blocking casual view into the interior. Over the small table, a battery operated light put out more than enough illumination to take care of the business at hand: twisting up a little goodness for an after-work buzz.
When I bought Old Paint for three hundred dollars, the engine was in the back seat. Jack Hendricksen towed it back to San Jose for me, from Santa Cruz, and I went to work on it, doing the engine rebuilding on the kitchen table, much to Nancie’s dismay. What was I supposed to do? We didn’t have a garage, and the living room was carpeted; besides there was no table in there. What’s a little WD-40 mixed in with your orange juice?
Being employed at United Auto Stores had huge advantages when it came to actually working on your own car engine. I could use the glass beader for cleaning up the heads and aluminum cases of the engine “block,” and I could buy any bearings, rings or gaskets that my bus would need. I could get expert advice from at least four or five guys, who had all driven [and therefore worked on] bugs and buses. As funny as it seems, a full gasket set for all VW’s before 1965, cost less than ten dollars back in the seventies.
Old Paint had been modified, so that there were two benches facing each other on the inside, behind the front passenger seat, with a small table between the two benches. We could comfortably seat five dudes in the back. So on Saturday evenings, after the last customer had left, and the place had been locked up, we used to adjourn to our employee lounge, out in the parking lot, where we would indulge in whatever type of “happy smoke” was available.
The staple was ratty old ‘Lumbo, from Colombia, and it didn’t cost very much. Occasionally there was some Acapulco Gold, and if we were very lucky, there would be some Thai stick. It wasn’t until 1979 that Mendo green started to make its way down to San Jose. After that, we couldn’t go back to Colombian. It must have seemed funny to patrons of Shakey’s Pizza, who might have been parking in the same parking lot as us, to see puffs or clouds of smoke coming out of this vintage VW Bus. When we were sufficiently debriefed from our grueling day behind the counter on a Saturday, the side doors would suddenly open, and out would stumble from two or three guys to as many as five.
At some point all employees made side trips to Old Paint except Jaime, who refused to be seen in my van. I was, after all, a dirty hippie, and Jaime had a reputation to uphold. Well, I thought to myself, I’m no different. I too have a rep to uphold, Jaime. Besides, Old Paint recognizes horsefeathers when he he hears it, and he hears it a lot from you. Say good-night, Jaime.