The car business has its share of characters. Billy was one of the most colorful. He was a bigheaded old boy. His hat size was bucket. His laugh was unmistakable: a long, slow, deep HEE…HEE…HEE. His version of the John Wayne walk was to point at his left toe with his right finger and say “right, right”. Billy had held a few jobs in his time and one of his favorites besides used car salesman was being a Hay loader.
Billy told stories about things like winning a hay loading contest or almost getting hit by a mortar in Korea. The result of that was whenever he heard a loud bang, a car backfire or any whistling sound like a bomb dropping; it would send Billy ducking for cover. We were at a high school football game and the gun went off for half time, as Billy ducked for cover, he knocked five people out of their seats. Never a dull moment.
Billy showed me the three molars missing from his mouth. “I was the lucky one” is how he started. Billy and his best buddy Charlie were in Bakersfield looking for trouble. Nothing like a good scrap before getting drunk. They bumped shoulders with a guy on the way in. “Look out old-timer” was said to the wrong guy. It quickly escalated. Billy thrived on taking a punch, but not like this. Wham! Out go the molars and down goes Billy. His pal wasn’t so lucky.
They found out later that the old-timer was the retired fighter, Max Baer. The smartest thing Billy did was to stay down. Charlie absorbed a couple of punches and was trying to crawl under a truck. Max had a hold of his leg and was hitting him in the ribs. Billy said that you could hear Charlie’s rib’s cracking and the wind leaving with each punch. He just watched and laughed.
Every encounter with Billy starts with a big firm handshake and a smile. It was impossible to be in a bad mood around him. It was also great to team up with him and sell. Billy would flip a coin, so we could pick points on the lot. If we didn’t get a customer in 15 minutes we would meet at the water fountain. Billy would tell a corny joke and we would change places. We always had customer before too long. When we worked like that, we always managed to stay on top of the sales board. I learned a lot from Billy about work, like the fact that if you’re going to work, you might as well enjoy it. I never saw a day that Billy wasn’t ready to meet head on.
For being a big tough guy Billy was scared to death of blood. He was more even scared of a needle. Lucky for him I had just signed up for a Life insurance policy. A blood test was mandatory. The Phlebotomist came to work to take a sample. The tourniquet was on and the needle was ready. I asked her to wait until I said okay. “Hey Billy come look at this”. Here he comes.
Just as his eyes focus on the needle, I say “okay” and in goes the needle. That was all she wrote. He turned pale so fast. Lucky for Billy there was a truck behind him to fall back against or he would have gone down.
Gambling was also something Billy and I did. Not big stuff, just the change in our pockets. Billy would ask, “you got at least a buck?’ If I did, then we would both flip a coin. He would ask “odd or even?” Odd was one head and one tail. Don’t ask why, but the looser of the flip would then take all of the change out of his pocket and throw it on the ground. Either of us would of course pick it up because it was winnings won fair and square, not to mention it was over a buck.
One warning that I must give you about car shopping is; if you are ever on a car lot and some bigheaded old boy comes walking up to you, pointing at his boots saying “right, right”, don’t stand too close. The sound of whistling like a bomb dropping will come over the PA system from one of the guys and Billy will grab a hold of anything or anybody to keep from going down. He reacts that much. Now that is a sight to behold. Billy, on his knees, hugging a customer, laughing the whole time, HEE…HEE…HEE.