For several long, hard years, I worked at AutoZone. It’s not the most glamorous job that a guy can do, and it was nothing short of pure torture at moments. Prior to getting married and having a family, I was such a free-spirited, happy-go-lucky kind of dude that I would breeze through a job for a few months and then blow it off when I got bored. When I realized that I had to have a constant income, I found that I could endure and put up with a crappy job for long lengths of time. Hence, my several years at AutoZone. These years were the segue between being a mechanic at a small auto shop in Okc, and working in the parts department of a local Ford dealership. I got laid off from the dealership when they were going out of business, but it’s hard to regret where I’ve been, given that it has led to where I am now. But, that’s not the point of this post.
When I first went to work for AutoZone, I hoped to get to work at the store near my house. It’s only a couple of miles away, and I could have gone on bike if I had to. Instead, I was hired on and posted at a store about twenty miles away. At the time, I needed income, no matter what the trouble, so I went to work there. My performance was stellar, and I was noticed by upper management to some degree, and got transferred to another store a little closer to home. At that store, I went through three managers, the last of which was a big, goofy, take-one-for-the-team kind of guy. He had me convinced that in order to make it in the company, I needed to give a little extra, go beyond the call of duty, and even go so far as to work off the clock on special projects. I had my eyes set on corporate work if I was going to stay with the company. So, I gave his suggestion a whirl. One day (on my day off), I was totally burned out, but I had my eye on the prize, and I donned a wrinkled uniform shirt and headed off to the store to set up some displays. I didn’t even bother to shave that day. I figured that the effort and free time given would far outweigh anything else. Boy, was I wrong! The head of HR for the district happened to wander into the store that day while I was setting up displays. I ran into him, face to face, in my completely disheveled appearance. He was pissed off!
Before I knew it, I had been transferred to the crappiest store in the district. This is the corner of town that has all the murder stories associated with it. The gas station across the street constantly had red and blue lights flashing. There was an occasion in which my coworkers and I watched as a sedan pulled into an adjoining parking lot and a woman came out of the passenger door to urinate on the ground. I suppose when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. I was the minority, being the white dude from a more affluent part of town, and was warned not to cross the street or I would get shot (I disregarded those warnings and never once had any trouble though). I had multiple black customers make accusations of racism to my face, gave them witty retorts, and developed loyal customer relationships with them because of it. At that store, I met at least one friend for life, and I learned many lessons of life. I learned that I hate chicken gizzards. I learned that black children are taught that white children carry lice. To my utter sadness, I learned that there are more blacks that are racist against blacks than there are whites. I confronted a black coworker about throwing around the “N” word, that I found it offensive and he should as well. And, I started learning that no challenge is so great that it can’t be turned into an opportunity. I did my best, and I worked hard. I changed countless batteries and wiper blades. I helped customers diagnose fuse and relay problems. I had to hide in the office from voraciously amorous women on more than one occasion, much to the hysterical amusement of my coworkers.
One day, I wound up with a day shift during the week by some miracle. There were two guys working in the store with me, and we were bored stiff. We had updated all the displays, run some cycle-counts, cleaned the bathrooms and battery charging stations, and had pretty much removed every speck of dust in the place. There had been no customers to speak of. The two other guys were in the back of the store, straightening merchandise or goofing off or something, and I was at the front counter. It was at that time that a young lady came in. She was a black girl, in her twenties with an average build and average features. I was excited over the prospect of doing something – anything beyond cleaning and straightening the store. I asked her what we could do for her, and she expressed that her car was acting up and she didn’t know what was wrong with it. I tested her battery and alternator, and it turned out that she simply had some highly corroded battery cable ends and a couple of blown fuses. Because I was bored, I changed these for her, cleaned up her battery terminals, topped up her fluids and changed her wiper blades. Since I had not been in the store, the two other guys had come to the front counter to watch the store (and watch me, since that was far more entertaining than anything else that had happened all day).
When I had settled up with the girl for the couple of parts used and made sure that her car was operating properly, she threw her arms around my neck and kicked her feet up behind her back. She said, “Thank you so much!” She held the pose for a moment before going to her car to drive away. At the time, I was so shocked, I didn’t really know what to do. Truth be told, I can’t even recall whether I returned the hug, or just stood there stiffly, wondering what to do!
When she left the store, I turned to the gaping faces of the two other guys I was working with. I smiled widely, and said in a loud, authoritative voice, “That, my friends, is a SATISFIED customer!”
There was a lot of weird stuff that happened when I worked retail, but nothing that I would be ashamed of my wife knowing, and nothing that I couldn’t share with my preacher. There are a lot of situations that you think of the perfect thing to say some time later, when it’s far too late to deliver the line. This was one of those magical opportuinities where the situation was perfect for it, and I just happened to think of the right thing to say at just the right time.
I know what’s going through both of your minds: So, what happened with AutoZone?
I saw two or three different managers over that store before I was finally transferred to the store a couple miles from my house – which turned out to be absolutely the most hellish that my short career with AutoZone had to offer. From there, I electively left the company to pursue a part-time position as a courtesy van driver for the Ford dealership (stay in school, kids), with the promise of a more white-collar position in parts wholesale (the opportunities are limited without a college education). They offered me a second, part-time position in the parts warehouse. Eventually, I went full-time in the warehouse. I refused to sell cars, and they never came through on the desk job that they originally promised. I asked for a job in the accounting department just before the ship started sinking. The management sold wholesale parts, the only part of the dealership that was making any money, and when they were bailing to save the ship, I was in the first wave of layoffs, being the new guy in the office. With the experience I was able to gather in the accounting department, combined with my parts and inventory experience, I was a perfect fit in my current position. God works in mysterious, wonderful ways, people. If the company I’m in can weather the recession, I gladly see many more years there. If not, then I’m sure other doors will open. And, I’m sure it will be something that I’ve never even thought of doing. Whatever happens, I welcome the opportunity.