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By six oíclock the next morning we were on the freeway to downtown Seattle and Mikeís job, just like weíd been doing every workday morning for the last year and a half. I slid into the driverís seat and watched him enter the building, knowing he would head for the basement cafeteria to visit over coffee with other early birds.

I drove back to the University District and parked on a side street one block away from the Ford store. As I cut through the used car lot on my way to the dealership, the Used Car Sales Manager crossed my path.

"Good morning, Helen," he greeted me, cheerful as always.

"Good morning, Fred."

He grabbed hold of my arm, and stopped me. "Whatís the matter? You look like somethingís wrong."

"Well, uh . . ." The realization of yesterdayís trauma, the unquestionable danger of it, hit me fast and hard. The tears came, rivulets of release running down my cheeks.

Fred pulled me close and hugged like a loving father. "There, there." He patted my back, then released me to armís length. "Let it out. Tell me what happened." His compassionate blue eyes searched mine for an answer.

"Nothing, Fred." I wiped a tear. "A little disturbance at home last night, thatís all. Itís over now. It got handled." I pulled free of his hand-hold, stepped away and flashed a half smile. "Iíve got to get to work."

I strode directly to the Ladies Room, freshened my face with a splash of cool water, and walked into the office with seven minutes to spare.

The morning passed quickly as I concentrated on piles of car sales paperwork to be finalized. Marge, the friend Iíd made at the dealership the first time I worked there, interrupted my absorption.

"You stopping for lunch today?" She grinned.

I glanced at my watch. "That time already? Did you bring yours?"

"No," she said. "Want to go out?"

"Sure." I shut off my typewriter, put the dayís bundle of license applications and check in the middle of my desk, then grabbed my coat and purse to walk the four blocks to the restaurant with Marge. We found an empty booth by the window and sat.

"Howís it going on the title desk?" she asked.

"Well, Iím not happy that itís right back to as much work as I had before!" I gave my order for soup to the waitress.

Marge gave her order, then turned to me. "You know Ö" She leaned over the table toward me and softened her voice. "I could get fired for telling you this, but they finally had to hire three girls to cover that job after you left."

"Youíre kidding!"

"No. It was a real mess for a while. Everyone crabby as Hell."

"If Iíd known that before I agreed to come back, I probably would have refused their offer. I wonder if they planned it this way all along? Now I feel like a fool."

"No, donít feel that way. I should have told you when you first came back last year, but . . ."

"Itís okay Marge. I understand. Iíll keep it mum."

The waitress brought our orders. We ate and talked on—of our dealership dislikes, families, interests, hobbies and dreams—then rushed back to work.

By late-afternoon I was making good progress on the paperwork when Horton Sommerset, the arrogant New Car Sales Manager, approached my desk with a smile on his face.

"Iíd like the plates for the Babcock deal," he said, rocking back on his heels, chin held high, hands clasped in front of his dapper gray suit.

Hurriedly, I searched thru the batch of yesterdayís license plates on the corner of my desk. No Babcock. I then flipped through the different piles of folders sitting on the rest of my deskís perimeter, each stack in a specific state of completion. I found the Babcock file on top of the heap of fleet sales, rather than the one for licensing. That was odd. The license application was still inside it, too.

"This file wasnít in the ones to be licensed. I donít think it was on my desk this morning." I knew if it had been, I would have made my little mark on the corner of the sales agreement that indicated it needed plates and put it in that stack.

He swaggered up to my desk, jabbing his index finger on it with every consecutive word he deliberately delivered. "It was. And I did tell you it needed plates now!"

"What time was that?" I questioned, then noticed that the other girls in the office had stopped working to witness his tirade.

"Exactly ten after twelve, lady."

"After twelve? Wasnít me." I stood my ground. Horton the Horrible would not rile my blood pressure today. "I was at the restaurant having lunch at ten after twelve."

"I set it here and told the bookkeeper to tell you I needed plates immediately." His finger continued to poke at my desk. I wanted to hit it, mash it with a hammer, chop it off—something!

"Well, she didnít. She was out to lunch when I got back. Anyway, you know we send for plates at noon, once a day. Theyíll be here tomorrow afternoon."

"Fine. See that they are." He turned and left the office. I knew heíd tell the Babcocks it was my fault.

My "good riddance" thoughts subsided when I saw Mike enter the outer office area. I cleaned up my desk by ten minutes after five and we headed for home. I shared what Iíd learned from Marge, and how the sales managerís attitude on top of the sheer pressure of that job was unbearable. I needed to quit—replacement job in place or not.

"You give your notice tomorrow," he said on the drive home. "Itís not worth getting sick over. Weíll make it."

His response alone relieved some stress. After dinner that night I sat down and designed what I called a "Front Sheet" for the car deal folders. A page that could be photocopied and stapled to the front of each file folder, with places to enter the customerís name, salesman, stock number, trade in information and payoff figure, various other things like insurance and extended warranties, and, specifically, a place to authorize licensing of the vehicle which required the sales managerís initials or I would not submit the application.

I typed out the form at work the next day and showed it to Mr. Williams, the office manager. He thought it was a good idea, and gave me the go ahead to make copies and staple to a supply of folders. I did, and explained to both sales managers. Fred, at the used car lot, saw the efficiency of it immediately and accepted a supply of folders.

Horton didnít like the idea of having to authorize anything by signing his initials. "You donít tell me what to do." He rose from his chair. "Youíre on the bottom of the totem pole around here, lady."

"That may be true," I snapped. "But pull me out and watch what happens to you!" I slapped a supply of folders on his desk. "If itís a problem, discuss it with Mr. Williams." I turned and left. Some years later I would learn that Front Sheets were being printed and sold to a number of dealerships by an office supply store south of Seattle.

I waited until the following Monday to give my two-week notice. Mr. Williams accepted it with regret. And, I wondered, perhaps a little guilt? The atmosphere in the dealership seemed to lighten up after that, even Horton the Horrible addressed me with respect. Only once did I have to ask him to initial a front sheet if he wanted the car licensed. He obliged without pause.

With a week to go until Iíd be done with this mess and have time to recoup my energy at home, Horton called me into his office.

He stood behind his desk. "Take a seat," he said.

"No thanks, Iíll stand." I knew the psychology of eye levels. Short as I was, I would not defer to him further. I had no idea what he wanted. He fumbled with a set of car keys, then tossed them onto his desk. "Iím not sure how to say this, Helen, but weíd like you to stay. I want you to stay. Weíll give you whatever you want."

"What I want you canít provide." I stared at him. "I want normal blood pressure. I want my cheerful personality back. I canít stay. I wonít stay. It was a big mistake to come back, I know that now."

He sat down. "Please, reconsider. This dealership canít get along without you. We need you here." He looked doleful. Defeated.

"Iím sorry," I said. "I canít. My plans are made."

I realized, during the walk back to my desk, that I was appreciated after all. Horton the Horrible had surrendered to my resolve. I had just experienced power! It was a discovery that would boost my self-confidence for the rest of my life.

My final week passed quickly. The office girls celebrated my last day with cupcakes and coffee. I finished up a notebook I had compiled during my two tenures on how to do the title clerk job and left it in the middle of my desk for the next unfortunate soul. I said my good byes and walked to the truck with Mike.

My long-awaited respite had begun.


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