Sunday, February 14, 2010

Magic Can't Happen Twice

The worst job I ever had was when I was 21 and worked three weeks at Armory Garage. Armory Garage wasn’t my first stint in the car biz. But it was my last.

Before Armory I worked three years at Orange Ford. My uncle Dave Barden was the commercial accounts manager back then. He worked with a guy named Rich Bell in the attic office above the showroom. When I was 18, Dave hired me to be a driver for the dealership. Every morning I went to class at HVCC then I’d speed down 787, make it to Central Ave in time to grab Dave’s lunch then go to work. I loved working for Dave. He was a selling machine. He didn’t walk the retail floor. He sold over the phone from that attic office. All day long you’d hear the receptionist page, “Dave Barden, please pick up extension 555.” I always got a kick out of that. Dave smoked three packs of marbs a day. He wore the same suit a week straight. He was a practical joker who’d give you the shirt off his back. He was the best car salesman in Albany.

Soon the other sales managers dubbed me a lackey of sorts. There was Vince Speciale, John Galuski, Dave Mosher, Dave Passanno, Bob Carr, eventually Paul Vasko. I’d gas their demos and collect their laundry. While my friends were away at college I ran errands for Orange Ford. Those guys made me part of the team. I idolized their hard-living style and love for selling. So when the opportunity to become Dave’s full-time assistant came up, I begged for the job. At first Dave said no, get your education. But I persisted so he relented. No more driver. I was an administrative assistant. As long as I kept up college.

I answered Dave’s phone calls and typed sales quotes. I gained 30 pounds in 6 months from Mr. Subb. Every Friday I got to drive Dave to the Beff’s off Central. That’s where all the salesmen got gassed after work. I waited in the corner with a cola and the car keys while they drank and talked about Orange Ford. The scene was way too old for me. But I loved it. I was convinced these guys lived the best lives.

A year later Dave was dead. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in October and died the following March. He worked that sales phone right to the horrible end. I sat ten feet from him every day for the last year of his life. I’ll never forget that. He was 33. Shortly after that my time at Orange Ford was over. I hated VP Carl Keegan for taking me away from Orange Ford. But today I say he did me the greatest favor of my life. A few months later Dave Passanno died by falling down and breaking his neck. Passanno didn’t have a family. It took days to find him. Later on Paul Vasko died of a heart attack at 40. A lot of hard life lessons were learned back then.

Six months later, feeling directionless and trying to recapture the Orange Ford magic, I took a job at Armory Garage: assistant leasing manager. But magic can’t happen twice. With all apologies to Donald Metzner, I hated everything about Armory Garage. Still do. The place was overrun with soulless robots, no genuine passion for the business. They didn’t swallow down a fast-food lunch at the sales desk and sell three cars at the same time. They robotically ate Caesar salads in a stuffy “staff lunch room.” The GM at the time was the biggest stiff in the business. Think Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. The phones never rang. The showroom was like a museum. And don't get me started on that awful Armory Center and that dark, depressing "indoor" car lot. There was never any Orange-Ford action, and bustle, and noise. It was like working in a glass-walled cemetery, rigid, a lot of corporate rules. It was where the human spirit came to die. Think Joe vs. the Volcano. Need proof? Visit their super-boring, cookie-cutter website at It's a graveyard. I never fit in there. I had a will to live. I wanted the action-packed, fast-selling style of Orange Ford. Orange guys loved the customer, knew the biz inside and out, lived the biz. Still do. Armory Garage had the personality of a porch swing. Still does.

The day I got fired from Armory, two feet of fresh snow fell on Albany. I was called on my desk phone, told to report to the HR office at 9A.M. The two people who worked right next to me played dumb when I told them about the HR phone call. So I trudged through the falling snow to the HR trailer, and some drone who looked like Miss. Piggy gave me my walking papers, “conflict of personality.” No duh. I still remember sitting in that trailer-office when a knock on her door came. When she opened it, two hands holding a cardboard box with my belongings could be seen. No face. Those two cowardly, no-good snakes who worked in that leasing office had packed up my crap the second I left. The leasing manager, my boss, was nowhere to be found. And some used-car slob I didn't even know laughed in my face as I made the cardboard-box walk of shame. The last thing I remember about that day was standing coatless in knee-high snow at 9:30A.M., locked out of the Armory building with my cardboard box, staring down at the Albany skyline. It was cold. I was 20 credits short of an associate’s. My time in the car business was over. It was time to find "my" calling, "my" destiny. So I did.

Now I have 3 college degrees, my master's finished in the St. Rose building Orange owner Carl Touhey donated. I’ll buy every car I ever drive from Rich Bell at Orange Ford. He was there when Dave died. He stepped to the plate in his place. He’s family. Orange Ford was the best car dealership in the world when I worked there. Still is. The moral: magic can’t happen twice. In these hard economic times, if you have to fire somebody, do it with dignity. Please. Not like that heartless bunch at Armory. And when you’re in the market, Orange Motors over Armory every time. When you go in to buy, if Carl Keegan will let you go up to the old attic office, now a space for storage, you can still see a huge framing of Dave Barden hanging on the wall.
Rich Bell - Commercial Accounts Manager Phone Extension 454

Brian Huba

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