Of the many characters I worked alongside, at United Auto Stores, beginning in September of 1974, none would probably have slipped behind the blinds of my memory more easily than Fat Ron, except for one memorable deed on his part. However, in the limited range of my experience, the one incident was quite a humdinger
I can’t remember his last name, but I do know that the word which best described Ron, is affable. I cannot envision him with anything but a grin on his broad face. He had a tangle of hair that wasn’t so much long, as it was big. His dark brown hair curled at the ends, but was otherwise pretty straight. There was a lot of it, though, and it bristled out in all directions. You could tell he tried to train it from the right side of his head to the left, and he had a brush that he constantly reached for, running it through the mess several times, before shrugging his wide shoulders, grinning that sheepish grin, and depositing the brush back in a pocket of his billowing Levis.
He was not an industrious sort of fellow, but he always managed to not only do enough to get by, but to include a couple of humorous anecdotes to help pass the time. I remember him always perched on the edge of the four-inch-high platform, that ran the length of the front counter, with his toes and front part of his feet on the platform, and his heels hanging over the edge, as he rocked up and down on his toes, in a rhythmic pattern of graceful movement. For a big man, he was incredibly well-balanced and it seemed as though, if he ever took a fall, he would end up on his feet.
Naturally, Ron attended San Jose State University, and was a sophomore when he came to work at United. He was a business major and seemed to be a pretty intelligent guy. He fit the perfect profile for working at United, and he did pretty well. He was smart enough to be able to pick up the catalogs pretty well, but he was not a real fast-moving guy when it came to sweeping the store, cleaning the Gents’, or breaking up the cardboard boxes, and taking out the trash.
That didn’t make him a bad guy, but it facilitated the installment of his nickname, Fat Ron. Everybody had a nickname, some of us (me) about a half dozen. He never seemed offended by the selected moniker, nor did it motivate him to greater industry; it just was.
If you were not the most physically motivated employee, you had to compensate by doing other things well. I have already said that Ron was smart, affable, did some work, and was capable of entertaining us with a good story. He was happy to join us in the employee lounge after work, for a little “happy smoke.” The lounge, of course, was located out in the parking lot, in the form of Old Paint, my ancient VW Bus.
Ron was also punctual to a fault. He was always at work when he was scheduled, and he was always five to ten minutes early, admirable qualities, if ever there were. So our eyebrows were raised one fine Saturday morning, when seven of us assembled before the nine o’clock opening of the front door, but the eighth guy was missing. Where was Fat Ron?
We did not get a phone call, we did not have a clue, until the following Monday afternoon, when Ron strolled in, hardly recognizable with a neatly trimmed haircut, which featured the whitewalls of a military personage.
“Whoa, Ron, get too close to a lawn mower, Buddy?” asked Booker Anderson, the assistant manager.
“Naw, it was the fan at my granny’s,” said Ron laughing, “and it got all clogged up with all of my hair. That’s why I wasn’t here at work on Saturday.”
There was a lull in the action, it being Monday and all, and still an hour before the pace usually started to pick up, after quitting time at some of the local workhouses. We had gathered around, because we sensed a story in the works.
“What happened on Saturday, Dude? Weren’t you supposed to be here? Where were you?” asked Jimmy.
“You mean at nine in the morning?” Ron was just grinning at us. “Let’s see here. I think I was still out on the tarmac, before I went inside the terminal, but it could have been a little earlier.” He just kept that grin on his face.
“What terminal? Where?” asked Andy.
“In Milpitas,” answered Ron. “Look, it’s pretty simple. I rented a plane and flew down to Mexico to pick up two hundred pounds of reefer, and they were waiting for me when I got back. End of story.”
He may as well have told us he had been abducted by Venusians, for all the difference it would have made. I think I could have accepted the abduction story more readily than the other. It was all so incomprehensible. When did Ron learn how to fly, other than our short jaunts out in Old Paint, after work? How did he get mixed up in big-time reefer-smuggling? What happened now?
It turned out Ron had been flying for a long time, but had not mentioned it. He didn’t get “mixed up” in running reefer, so much as he simply stepped into it, when a good friend had “retired.” He told us how much he got paid, and it seemed like a lot of loot, until we thought of that plane coming to a halt, and realizing that the Man was standing there waiting for you to come out. There wasn’t any other place to go.
As far as now was concerned, Ron had retained a lawyer, trimmed his hair, and was prepared to go talk to the nice judge. As it turned out, Ron skated free on a technicality, brought about by the fact that the cops, who had been waiting for him at the airport, had been so excited, they neglected to read him his rights. I told you that, if Fat Ron ever lost his balance, he would end up on his feet.