My then-wife and I lived in Chicago during the entire decade of the 1980's. We'd moved there from Milwaukee when she was offered a full time job at a greeting card company. She'd been doing freelance work for them for years. Interestingly, their offer arrived on the same day that I was laid off from my job in the J.C. Penney Midwestern Catalog Distribution Warehouse, or whatever it's called. It's way the hell out on Burleigh.
I got home and said to my wife, "There's something I have to tell you." She said, "There's something I have to tell you, too."
"No," I said, "Mine is very important. I was laid off today." She just smiled and smiled. "What the fuck?" I thought. She announced that the greeting card company had offered her a full time job, and even moving expenses.
We celebrated that night.
A few years later, my wife said she couldn't stand her job anymore and she was going to quit and see what kind of freelance money she could make.
For me, that meant: batter up!
I answered an ad in one of those neighborhood newspapers for an assistant manager at a muffler shop. I got the job. It was way the hell out west, but I rode the bus every day, Monday through Saturday, until I saved up enough for a beat up Mercury Montego.
Once I got promoted to manager (by turning in my thieving boss), things got crazy.
My top technician, Mike, was also a coke dealer. He fed me coke, I fed him jobs.
I was very proud of our shop. We were on disputed gang turf: Latin Kings vs. Latin Lovers. The headquarters for the local police district, Shakespeare District (love it), was nearby. For me, it was a game of keeping all three happy. If you kept the gangbangers happy, then you reduce the risk of attack or robbery from them. If you give the cops a really good deal, they might spend more time watching out for your shop. (And you. More on that some other time.)
The job taxed all of my facilities, and I loved it. Mostly it was putting out fires, running from one problem to the next and solving them. My childhood of putting out mom and dad's fires made me a good fit for the job.
I truly bonded with the job and the place. It was an old building, made of cement blocks. Most auto repair facilities today have rows of service bays emanating from the office. In our old style building, there were large overhead doors at the front and back of the shop. They were electrically controlled. Cars were driven into the shop and then onto one of the vehicle lifts angling off at 45% degrees, There was a waiting room and office up front.
My assistant manager opened the shop and left at 4 pm. I arrived at 10 am and stayed till closing and all the paperwork was done. Most of our trade was in cash. The Puerto Ricans weren't hot on credit cards We didn't do night deposits because the neighborhood was too risky. I'd be mugged the moment I left the shop. Instead, we made drops into a Brinks safe which they emptied three times a week.
One morning my assistant manager called me at home at 8 am, shop opening time. He asked me if "we had some sort of construction going on in the rear of the shop." There were a few cement blocks knocked out next to the steel door/emergency exit.
"Al," I said, "we've been robbed. Call the police. I'll be right over."
They didn't get away with much: the small TV and microwave from the backroom, an "electric impact gun," and a few other things. None of the guys' toolboxes were tampered with. I thought that odd. That's the first place I'd go if I was robbing the shop.
The owner and I were both "miffed" with the alarm company. Almost every night a big rig would roll by the shop and the damn sensors in the windows would go off. The alarm company would call me. I'd go to the shop and there would be nothing wrong. This happened dozens of times. But here we had a situation where individuals unknown had knocked in cement blocks and walked all over the shop and the alarm never went off. The owner fired them and got a new company.
I went up to Mike and told him to find out who did it, if it was a local job. Mike knew everybody in the neighborhood. Being a coke dealer got him around.
One day I came to work and Mike had to talk to me right away. We stepped outside, next to the building. Mike said he'd found out that one of the neighborhood guys and couple of bangers were parked in our lot that night, smoking God knows what. The kid wanted into the gang, so the bangers told him to break into our shop. He drove his car into the steel emergency door, intending to knock it down. Instead, the cement blocks gave way.
Best of all, Mike said, is the car is right there, next to the shop. It was a blue Grand Am. Beat up. I walked around to the front and the nose was punched in. The car didn't have any rear window glass.
Ironically, one of my mechanics owned a blue Grand Am, about the same year as the burglary car. His was souped up and lovingly cared for. He could lay rubber for the length of the shop.
I thanked Mike for the information and went back to work. That weekend, on Sunday afternoon, I sat out on our apartment's balcony drinking heavily. I think it was vodka and 7-up at the time. The more I drank, the angrier I became. I was infuriated that anyone would dare to hit our shop, especially someone from the neighborhood.
A lot of things happened in the shop's parking lot at night. We didn't care so long as it was cleared by opening time. I myself had parked there one night when I had proposed doing some coke to a friend. I meant snort it, but he was already tying off. I told him never again. I didn't want to be around IV drug use.
Back to that Sunday afternoon, I got quite blitzed and pissed. I wanted to send out a message to the neighborhood that we weren't to be fucked with. I got up and walked through the house to the front door without saying a word to my wife. I went out to the neighborhood convenience store and bought a plastic gasoline container and a gallon of gas. I drove to the shop and parked in front, with the engine running. It was a sunny mid-afternoon and I remember seeing a girl sitting on the fire hydrant across the street. I approached the Grand Am that had been used to break into the shop. I took the cap off of the gallon of gasoline and threw it through the nonexistent rear window. Then I lit a book of matches and threw them in.
I turned around to return to my car and I could see that the girl from the fire hydrant was now running down the block. I got in my car and left.
See also: http://www.orbscorbs.com/2015/07/internal-combustion.html