It wasn’t my first job, not even close. In fact, by the spring of 1986 I had been fired from several different places. I had drifted a bit in the two years since I had graduated from high school and had gone through an entire string of dead end jobs. No matter what kind of work it was, I never seemed to last more than a few weeks. I wasn’t a bad guy really, I didn’t steal or do horrible things, it’s just that I wasn’t a hard worker and for some reason, a lot of employers really objected to that. Eventually, however, something inside me clicked into place and when I finally landed a job as a clerk at an auto parts store I was determined to keep it.
When Schuck’s Auto Supply announced that they were opening a new store in Monroe, WA dozens of people were called in for interviews. To this day I’m not sure why they picked me over some of the others, but I can still recall the first time stepped through the back door, into a store that was just finishing construction. There were eight of us new-hires and our job in the run-up to our grand opening was to stock the shelves, learn the inventory and be ready to help the opening day crowds. I didn’t know it then, but the manager had hired twice as many people as he actually needed and the plan was to lay at least half of us off once the initial surge of customers had ceased.
Given my history, I suppose now that if I had known the truth I would have assumed my fate was already decided. Not knowing, however, I threw myself into the work. I came in early almost every day and found something to do every minute I was there. I helped assemble the shelves and filled them with merchandise. I hung the banners, priced the items and was in the middle of everything. My efforts got noticed by the manager and by the string on corporate VIPs that regularly came to the store to monitor our progress.
Our grand opening was a big deal. A local AM oldies station broadcast live from the store and corporate even brought up the 1956 Chevrolet they were giving away as a region-wide promotion. I spent the day in the parking lot in front of the store constantly rubbing it down and urging anyone who came to look at the grand old car to visit the store. I don’t think I stopped moving the entire day and every time the store manager or some corporate big shot came by I didn’t even have to pretend I was hard after it, I was all assholes and elbows all the time. As the end of the day approached it became apparent there was no plan to keep the car overnight. When I questioned whether we should just leave it in the lot, the store manager responded by jangling the keys and asking me if I wanted to take home.
Even an idiot like me didn’t need to be asked twice. I took the keys and hit the street. It was a magic time, a point in my life where I was responsible enough to work hard at protecting the car all day but not smart enough to just park it when they handed me the keys. I probably put 200 miles on the old Chevy that night. I hit the local strip and cruised like a big-dog for the first time in my life. I did burnouts in front of another Schuck’s store in Everett and showed the car off to everyone I knew. The next morning I was back with the car in front of the store polishing off an entire nights worth of bugs and, fortunately, no one was ever the wiser.
In the following weeks about half of my coworkers were purged from the corporate rolls, but I kept my job. A month later I was promoted to a full-time spot at a bigger store and, a couple of years after that, ended up as assistant manager of a store in Seattle. I stayed there until I joined the Merchant Marines. Of course I could have blown the whole thing that very first night. All it would have taken is a minor fender bender, a traffic ticket or even an eagle eyed Schuck’s employee to spot the car and rat me out. It was a foolish thing to do and I have matured a lot over the last few decades. But it was glorious, too, and I wonder now just why the hell I ever bothered to grow up.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.