By on December 20, 2013

1956

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.

Nova

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.

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15 Comments on “Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Unless You Get Away With It...”


  • avatar

    I was so afraid you were going to get in trouble with the car, and relieved when you didn’t. (I AM waiting to get the real story from your sister the Moss Boss.)

    Great vignette!

  • avatar
    readallover

    Thomas, how did you feel when Schuck`s merged with Al`s`? Was it like sleeping with the enemy? Eventually, they all became Checkers and now, I think, O`Reilly`s.

    • 0 avatar

      I think I was gone by the time Schucks merged with Als, but I had friends that worked there and basically felt like we were pretty much the same anyhow. We never had a problem sending people up there if they stocked some hard part we didn’t, in fact we’d call and verify they had it and then send the customer up.

      I was there when Schucks merged with Checker and Kragen and that was a much bigger deal. The corporate culture changed over night. I remember when I started, one of the Vice Presidents came for our grand opening and he told me that he had started out as a part time sales person just like I was 25 years earlier. You felt like you could move up in that organization. After the merger, the Schuck’s old timers were washed out and we never saw anyone from corporate again.

      It was an interesting time to work in retail, I think. We still had the row of books on the counter and you had to know which suppliers made what part. You had to be a professional parts guy because if you screwed up people wouldn’t come back.

      • 0 avatar

        sounds like when I worked for Chief Auto and Pep Boys. I knew my catalogs and could find just about anything, where the rest of the staff just used the then limted computer catalog to find things. I had a reputation of being the guy you wanted to get your parts because I could and did take the time to find them.

        Now, I just weep if I have to walk up to the counter and ask for a set of Delco R45TS spark plugs and the counterman asks me for year/make/model instead of listening to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The Shuck’s name never went away in the PNW it stayed the same until well after O’Reilly’s bought them out.

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    I appreciate how you keep this place real Thomas.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Did you enjoy the Nova you had when the second picture was taken?

  • avatar
    GST

    “Assholes and elbows”.

    Thomas. I know where that phrase came from- being at sea. In my case I heard it in the US Navy in the Pacific and Asia. Yes, ’66-’69 during a certain military situation.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    You know that God looks out for teenagers, Thomas. Just about all of us have done some dumbass thing as kids, often involving an automobile.

    Usually, we get away with it; but, sadly, there are those exceptions . . .

    One of the more amusing things I recall is that one of my high school buddies went “parking” with his girlfriend . . . in a VW Beetle! . . . in the snow. He got stuck and had to call his dad.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    I knew about his job at Schuck’s and that he got to drive the car home. Certainly all true! But no one in our family ever had a clue what he was out doing in the company car. My father would have shit bricks and Thom would have never heard the end of it! I’m so glad things turned out the way they did!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    When I was young and dumb, I didn’t have much of a work ethic, either. Got fired from both part-time jobs in high school. Fortunately, the U.S. Air Force straightened me out!

    Probably my closest experience to getting to drive that classic Chevy home was after a rough night when an officer ordered me to go to the chow hall to get something in my stomach, as the sheer volume of vodka the night before took its toll on my mind and body. I got to drive an air force staff car – an American Motors Ambassador wagon!

    What made this “privilege” even sweeter was I didn’t have a G.I. driver’s license and this was on Okinawa at Kadena air base!

    Unfortunately, the food didn’t do much good, and after this very wobbly young airman assisted in a pre-flight briefing with everyone in the room snickering at the sad sight they saw, I was ordered to go back to the barracks and sleep it off.

    Oh, to be 19 years old again!

  • avatar
    AJ

    Good story Thomas! Oh the days of being young and working retail…

    • 0 avatar
      gsamx

      This story reminded me of one from my chequered past. In my senior year of high school I got a job at a family friend’s car dealership. I cleaned up (what I was doing couldn’t rightfully be called detailing) and drove cars back and forth from the auctions. One day I come to work and over the weekend we got a ’79 Trans Am 10th Anniversary Edition in on a trade. The used car manager was an older fellow who always wore a hat cocked back on his head at a peculiar angle. He basically says he doesn’t know crap about these particular cars, and tells me to go “try it out” and see if it’s any good. Hmmm…OK! I drove it around for a bit, trying my damndest to be good. I pulled up to a stop sign at a T-intersection across from the local gas station/hangout, I saw a few people I knew, and I had exhausted all the 17-year-old patience I had. I tach’ed it up, dropped the clutch, and all hell broke loose. I became vaguely aware I was whipping around in circles, and each time the tire smoke cleared there were a line of gas pumps getting closer. Spin, smoke, gas pumps, spin, smoke, gas pumps, repeat. I froze for a seeming eternity before a voice in my head finally screamed “GET OFF THE GAS AND PRESS THE CLUTCH!!!” I stopped about 5 feet from the pumps, smoke billowing from the Radial T/A’s. I realized the car was still running, and fairly closely oriented to the gas pumps, so I just pulled on up to the pumps. I was shaking so bad I could barely open the door, but I just kept thinking I needed to not show weakness after a performance like that, so I just nodded to the incredulous guy in the pump shack, put a few dollars in the tank (never mind this wasn’t my car, it was all I could think to do), and CREPT out of the parking lot. I drove straight back to the dealership, went to the manager’s office, and dropped the keys on his desk. “How’s it run?” “Oh, pretty good! Rear tires are a little slick.” It was maybe 3 hours before I started breathing regularly. People thought I was being modest when I downplayed the story among the local gearheads! Sheer terror will do that to a fellow.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thanx Thomas ;

    I’m still in Auto Parts & Supply all these decades later & also have some fun stories .

    Like you , I like to work and work a lot . this has saved my sorry @$$ more than a few times when my alligator mouth landed me in the soup .

    In the Winter of 1986 I was in The Mayor’s Garage where my insistence on keeping the Weatherly Index full of Catalogs and up to date , allowed me to find parts for the various oldies in The City’s Fleet ~ 1953 Chrysler Dual Cowl Phaeton Parade Car , numerous 1940′s & 1950′s trucks and the ex Council Member’s mini fleet of 1967 Buicks . easy – peasy if you know how to read and are an Old Car Guy anyways . they thought I was a Magician .

    Keep your great stories coming .

    -Nate


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