January 1975 and my first part-time job
The turn of the calendar always prompts thoughts and memories of new beginnings, resolutions kept and abandoned—I’m particularly familiar with the abandoned category—and just how breathtakingly cold it can be in January.
At this time of year, I spare a few moments to reminisce about my very first part-time job at a Leaside institution, Gyro Motors. It was January 1975 when I stood in front of the founder, the now sadly departed Joe Kovac, for my interview. He eyed this skinny kid up and down and in his heavily accented English asked me a series of questions I cannot recall. I must have given the impression that I was a reasonably stable, polite, and responsible young man (well, two out of three ain’t bad) because he hired me on the spot. What I do remember was Joe’s kindness. He put his hand on my shoulder as he walked me around the 1975 version of Gyro Motors showing me what I’d be doing.
Back then, Gyro was an Alfa Romeo dealership and had just become a Mazda dealer as well. I worked five days a week from 4 to 7 p.m. Every day after school I’d zip home, don my oil-stained working clothes and steel-toed boots, and ride my bike through sleet, slush, snow, and rain down to Gyro to punch my time card. My job had two major components. First, I worked in the Esso gas station that was then part of the business. I pumped gas, squeegeed windshields, and provided all-round courteous and prompt service in my fancy Esso jacket. I also balanced the cash each night and measured how much gas we had left in the underground tanks using a giant dipstick.
The second, less appealing and more time-consuming part of my job was straight-up cleaning. I mopped the showroom floor every day, cleaned the bathrooms every day, and then the big enchilada, I swept the entire service garage every day. It was a big garage. Still is. To a young guy holding a push broom, it seemed the size of a football field. Whenever a little oil would spill onto the floor—and that happened every 30 seconds or so—the mechanics would spread sawdust on it to absorb the oil. Judging by how much sawdust was on the floor every evening, I urged my parents to invest in forestry stocks.
My first day, I started at one end of the garage, under the stern scrutiny of the service manager, the other famous Joe at Gyro, Joe Kmet, and began to sweep. I was quite familiar with brooms and had certainly swept before. After all I was 15 years old and thought I knew my way around. I was sure I knew how to sweep. Turns out I didn’t actually know how to sweep, but Joe Kmet schooled me in his own special way that afternoon. Man, did he school me. I made sure I never forgot the technique because I really didn’t relish the prospect of a second remedial garage sweeping class. I’ve met very few people in my life who worked harder than Joe Kmet. He taught me a lot in those years about putting your shoulder to the wheel and getting the work done. I’m glad to know that, while now retired, he still ventures into Gyro now and then, perhaps to inspect the garage floor.
Not to dwell on the sweeping odyssey of my job, but it would take me a good 45 minutes to sweep the entire garage. And when I’d finally reach the far end and shovel my oil-soaked sawdust into the garbage bin, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and utter relief. And then I’d turn and survey the garage floor to find that another layer of sawdust had just been applied to another set of oil spills. Those mechanics worked hard, too. So back I’d go to start all over again while dreaming of a modified Zamboni.
At 7 each night, I’d punch out, say goodnight to everyone and then ride my bike through the snow back home, dirty and oily and exhausted. My mother made me come in through the back door and head straight down into the basement, the only part of the house where work boots and oily clothes were permitted, though under protest.
I worked at Gyro for a couple of years and have great memories of the people and the experience. It was brought to mind again recently when I took our family Mazda into Gyro for service. That gigantic garage looks a little smaller now that I’m no longer sweeping it.