Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Time Flies!

Today, after officiating at a funeral service, I had an appointment at my oncologist's office for the monthly blood work and the flushing of my medi-port. When the nurse called me back into the Chemotherapy Room, it was unusually empty. One lady and another young fellow were called back at the same time, and like me, they were only having lab work or getting an injection. In a recliner in the far corner of the nearly empty room, one man was receiving his chemo drip. I said "Hello" and he smiled and returned the greeting.
He looked vaguely familiar, but I didn't particularly recognize him.
After being in the ministry for 35 years (28 of them as a bivocational insurance agent as well) you meet a lot of people. I have to confess that I can't always put a name with a familiar face as quickly as I once could, so I didn't really give it too much of a thought. My procedure was nearly done when the man spoke up and asked me, "Aren't you C.J. Adkins?" When I answered in the affirmative, he said, "You don't remember me, do you?" Now, that always makes me feel frustrated (and a little old). I confessed that although he did look familiar, I couldn't place exactly where I knew him from.
"Well", he grinned, "You made my picture one time."
That wasn't much help, so I asked if he could give me a little hint.
"I was your first sale in the car business", he said.
That brought it all back. I think I took him by surprise when I said, "You're Jeff Williams, aren't you?" When he smiled and said "Yes", I said, "Actually you weren't my first delivery, but you were the first person I ever ordered a car for. It was a 1977 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon (similar to the one pictured above). That's only been 31 years ago. I know I haven't changed any, but you look a little different", I deadpanned. "You don't look like you did in the picture!" Jeff laughed out loud, and the nurses and the other patients got a kick out of the exchange as well.
It was the Spring of 1977 and I had just been hired as a new car salesman at Steenbergen Oldsmobile in Ashland, KY. I lived in Huntington at the time, and didn't know a soul in Ashland. The six of us "green peas", who were hired at the same time, had just completed our two weeks of training and the first customers I met on the lot were Mr. & Mrs. Poe J. Williams and their children. They were looking for a station wagon for their growing family. Keep in mind those were the days before minivans and the only SUV's around were Chevy Suburbans that only a few strange folks drove to pull campers, etc.
There were two wagons on the lot, and neither one caught the fancy of Mrs. Williams, so Jeff asked if they could order one. "Sure!" I replied, and, with the help of the Sales Manager, we sat down and spec'd out a dream car for the Williams family. He was forced to pay a hefty deposit for us to order the car. When I asked the General Manager, Harry B. Jackson, why so much was required, he quietly told me that the two tone paint job and the unusual interior color were a combination that Oldsmobile considered a "non recommended combination". Harry B. said, "Get as large a deposit as possible. If this guy decides not to take this car, we'll NEVER get it off our lot!" Jeff didn't protest, he paid the deposit, and the vehicle was ordered.
He sure was in a hurry to take delivery, but it does take a little time for an ordered vehicle to be assembled and shipped to the dealer. Jeff was stopping by the dealership every few days, asking if the car was in yet. In that day, before computer processing, we received order updates by mail every week. Jeff would stop by and the Sales Manager would give him the latest update, with the assurance, "We'll give you a call as soon as it comes in!" He may have believed us, but that didn't stop him from dropping by every few days, just in case...
Finally one evening, just about dusk, Jeff had walked in the show room with his usual question. While the manager informed him that the vehicle had indeed been shipped, the carrier pulled up right in front of the showroom with 7 cars to off load. Jeff's wagon was one of them. He was happy, to say the least.
While we stood, watching as the truck driver unloaded the vehicles one by one, another salesman walked up to the window to see what had arrived. "Holy Smoke!" he cried out. "Who the heck ordered that funky looking wagon?"
"I did", Jeff said, and the salesman mumbled something and walked away pretty quickly.
Well, by the next day, the vehicle was prepped, undercoated, washed and waxed and ready for the Williams family to drive home.
During our training sessions, Harry B. had told us about a salesman he knew in Alabama who made photos of every customer and their new vehicle when they came in for delivery. I thought that would be a great idea. After all, no one is ever any happier with their new vehicle than the day they drive it off the lot for the first time. Also, I thought it would be a great way to remember my customers, and something I could use as a sales tool as my office wall began to be covered with photos of happy customers with their new cars. So I invested in a Polaroid camera and began making photos of the satisfied customers and their shiny new vehicles. Jeff and his Vista Cruiser were added to the small but growing collection.
The wagon may not have been a "recommended" color combination, but the Williams' seemed to love it. I snapped the photo of the smiling young man with his new car, and he did look happy. I have seen that photo hundreds of times, in fact, I still have that picture (and all the other photos) somewhere. I don't know why I didn't recognize Jeff when I saw him today.
It's only been 31 years!

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