Archive for July, 2013
At Liberty, once in a while we take some time out from selling cars to enjoy the arts. A favorite around the car lot is the woodwind quintet Wind Sync. They’re a group of five musicians who bring classical music to life with exciting, modern performances for all ages. Based in Houston, they perform at many local schools and are involved in the Play Different Project, an anti-bullying program that reaches out to elementary schools. Wind Sync also travels throughout the country and internationally, performing at a variety of venues and competing in very prestigious competitions. We were fortunate enough to have them play for us at the Liberty Autos Christmas part last December. My twin girls loved hearing their cd even as newborns!
Liberty Autos is thrilled to support Wind Sync and have a small part to play in the local arts scene. The quintet invited my dad to attend the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mr. B, as we call him at Liberty, works six days a week and never takes a vacation; so when he said he was going to the music festival, we were all so happy for him. When he said he was going white water rafting on the Snake River, our jaws hit the floor! Thankfully, he texted me afterward to let me know he survived. It’s wonderful to see him enjoying himself in such an amazing setting and taking in the beautiful music of Wind Sync.
For more information about Wind Sync, visit www.windsync.org
Liberty Autos opened in 1981 when I was 1 year old. With both of my parents striving to make the business work, I basically grew up at the car lot. I would push two office chairs together to lie down and take a nap on them. I helped the porters paint the prices on the windshields. I pretended to read my story books to the salesmen, even though I was too little to actually read. When I was older, I helped my mom do payroll by writing entries in a huge ledger book.
When we first started using computers in the early 90s, I was impressed with how high tech we were! When we started taking credit cards, I thought we were pretty cutting edge! This week, we started taking credit applications through our website www.libertyautohouston.com. Now I’m all grown up and love to bring my own daughters to the car lot. I can only imagine the advances that will be made in their lifetime.
When I was little, my dad told me that he believes in providing a good car for a good man. While Liberty will continue to seek out the best way to accommodate our customers through the latest advances in technology, it will always boil down to the same principle. We’re all about putting good people behind the wheel of good cars.
I am the descendant of legends. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but nonetheless a true one. I’m the 3rd generation of used car dealers. My dad’s a car dealer; his dad’s a car dealer; his uncle, my grandfather’s brother, is a car dealer. Yet, go back one more generation, and my great-grandfather was a Baptist preacher. To go from clergy to car dealers, now that must be the work of legends.
My grandfather is Elmo Baker, and his older brother is T. H. Baker, the sons of a preacher. As preacher’s kids are wont to do, they gravitated toward the wild side. They both loved ladies and making money.
Elmo is the type of man who wears a diamond-encrusted watch in the shape of Texas. He runs a veritable financial empire from a trailer office. He’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet, but he’ll never remember your name. He’s generous, but he doesn’t know when your birthday is. He’s a business genius, but he never stepped foot in any kind of institute of higher education.
For many years, Elmo lived in an undisclosed location, so that if anyone wanted to visit him, it had to be at his car lot. A little more than five years ago, his residence became public knowledge, because his health isn’t what it used to be. A few years ago, he had a heart attack, not his first or last. As the paramedics were loading him into the ambulance, he insisted that they let him call his broker about a stock he wanted to sell. Lying in his hospital bed, he told my little brother to take a look at the big ring his girlfriend Betty was wearing, and then said, “Most people look at an old man with a young girlfriend and think he might be rich. I want them to KNOW I’m rich.” Elmo and my grandma Mom Joy divorced over 40 years ago, yet she is still hopelessly in love with him. That’s the kind of charm Elmo possesses.
T. H., short for Thomas Houston, similar in stature and character to his younger brother, ran away from home as a young teenager. He made it to San Antonio, where he got a job as a dishwasher at Kelly Air Force Base. As a wily 16 year old, he married a beautiful 21 year old woman named Dorothy. She was not aware of his age, since T. H. was not forthcoming with that information. That marriage lasted long enough for them to have like 2 or 3 kids. T. H. has a total of 11 children from 4 different women, most of them his wives and then some of those kids are adopted. It gets confusing. Anyway, he was a man with great ambition, and dishwashing wasn’t going to cut it.
He took a job selling pick-ups at Don Benson Chevrolet. Clearly he was a man of great charm and charisma. How many 16 year old boys could get a 21 year old woman to marry him, after all? His “people skills” only improved with age, not to mention he was a relentlessly hard worker. Year after year, T. H. sold the most Chevrolet pick-up trucks of all the Chevrolet dealerships in the entire nation. After earning this reward multiple years in a row, in his opinion, he deserved a raise.
T. H. went into Don Benson’s office and told him that since he’d worked so hard and been recognized for selling the most Chevy trucks in the nation, he should get a pay increase. Don Benson was not of the same mind, telling T. H. that he hadn’t sold anything! Don Benson, the owner, had sold all of those trucks, and T. H. wasn’t getting any kind of a raise. T. H. told his boss that if he didn’t get that raise, he would put in a used car lot right across the street from Don Benson Chevrolet. Don Benson told him to go right ahead.
Elmo had recently returned to Texas after being in the Army for the Korean War. Fortunately, Elmo had won some amount of money playing poker in Japan. T. H. called up his little brother and told him to get down to San Antonio. They were opening a used car lot.
The brothers opened that first lot and haven’t stopped since. T. H. got into horse racing and bought a ranch. He owns 500 of the most beautiful acres in Texas, yet he lives in a trailer parked in the middle of it. Aside from the car business, he made a killing racing quarter horses all over Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mexico. For years and years, he’d have a great big Easter party on his ranch. There’d be an Easter egg hunt for the kids in the grassy field in the center of the practice racetrack. There was also an egg hunt for the adults. T. H. would get up very early Easter Sunday morning and hide plastic eggs over several acres of the ranch. He’d hide them in the Spanish moss hanging from trees, in snake holes, hollow logs, just about anywhere. This hunt was serious, the kind of serious that starts family feuds. What made the Easter egg hunt so cutthroat was that T. H. put money in the eggs. Well, he did at first, but then not all the eggs would get found, and there’d be hundreds of dollars lost in a pasture. He refined his technique after a few years and would write a dollar value on a scrap of paper and put that in the egg. There was one $50 egg, but there were many $20, $10, and $5 eggs. Dozens of adults would be running wild for hours looking for those eggs, which would result in bitter disputes and malicious quarrels. The egg hunt was also dangerous because there were snakes, stinging insects, and poisonous plants out there. Nonetheless, it was T.H.’s favorite yearly event. He also struck oil on his ranch. See, I told you he’s a legend.
After T.H.’s lot was up and running in San Antonio, Elmo returned to Houston and opened his own dealership. Elmo’s kept the car business going all these decades, with multiple stints in apartment building, house building, and neighborhood development. His favorite topic of conversation these days is the Stock Market. He keeps his portfolio jotted down on a piece of paper, which is folded and tucked into his shirt pocket so that at any moment he can examine and discuss it. Even after having a couple of heart attacks and being over 80 years old, he still goes to the lot on a daily basis. After all, a legend would never retire.
All offices have policies, expectations, standards, etc. At Liberty Autos, we have The Rules. Visitors often notice that we have a sheet of paper taped to the wall that outlines The Rules of conduct while on the job. For all employees, The Rules are as follows:
- No drinking
- No drugs
- No friends
- No pets
- No guns
The Rules are posted in the office; however, they were developed as a result of a few incidents that occurred on our clean-up lot. The clean-up lot is where all cars go when they first arrive at Liberty. The porters clean them, and the mechanics make any necessary repairs. Once the cars are ready, the porters drive them to the retail lot to be sold. The clean-up lot is not adjacent to the retail lot and office, but is located further down Domino Lane towards the dead-end. The porters and mechanics exploit their seclusion from time to time; hence the advent of The Rules.
The first four rules were created after one unfortuitous Saturday. After realizing that no cars were being brought over to the retail lot by the mid-afternoon, my dad decided to walk back to the clean-up lot to see what the guys were doing and surely give them a good chewing out. He expected to find them lolling about or pretending to work. What he found was much more activity than anticipated. The guys were having a full blown party. They were dressed in their starched jeans, crisp shirts, and shiny boots. They were grilling fajitas, drinking beer, and hosting a large group of their friends. What the occassion was, we will never know. My dad pointed at them and said, “You’re all fired.” There is often a communication break down between the outside workers and my dad since they don’t speak the same language; however, this time they got what he said. So obviously, the rules of no drinking, no drugs, and no friends were created. I don’t know that they were doing drugs, but Dad threw it in there for good measure. Now the no pets rule was also made at that time, because the porters had collected a menagerie of animals on the clean-up lot. There were chickens, cats, and dogs, including some Pomeranians. I don’t know what little, fluffy Pomeranians were doing on the clean-up lot, but a lot of things that happen there don’t make sense. Up until that dark day, Dad had tolerated the animals. After that unkindest cut, he took away their animal privileges. Two of the workers, Rolando and Angel, got their jobs back the next week. Rolando still works here, but Angel is the cause of the final rule of no guns.
Angel had managed to get a bullet lodged in the chamber of his gun. Without permission, he decided to bring the gun to the clean-up lot to work on dislodging the bullet. He secured the gun in a vice grip so he could work on it with both hands. By some chain of reasoning I will never understand, he had the index finger of his right hand over the business end of the gun. Rather than dislodging the bullet, the gun discharged and shot half of Angel’s finger off. For the rest of the time he was employed at Liberty Autos, he was called Nueve y media, or Nine and a half. It was not the kindest nickname, but I suppose you have to take some ridicule for shooting off the last digit of your own finger.
For a while The Rules disappeared. I think we painted the office, and the sign was thrown away. Unfortunately, I was the cause of the re-instatement. The Rules were posted again after I started bringing my dog Gigi to work. Gigi is an 8 lb Brussels Griffon who is about as intimidating as a teddy bear. She is very high strung and neurotic, and I think the work environment was a bit too much for her. She clearly defined who was acceptable in the office or not. There was no problem with any of the regular office workers. She loved them and would greet them every morning. She also loved my dad and would try to sit on his lap all day. She also found no problem with customers, since they stay on the other side of the pay counter and do not enter into the inner sanctum of the office. However, if a porter dared enter into her domain, he did so at his own risk. Her first victim was Julio. Several of us were standing around talking, including my dad and myself, and Gigi was standing in our midst as if part of the conversation. Julio walked around the back of the group, behind Dad, and Gigi darted out and bit Julio on the ankle. I truly believe that in her mind she was protecting us from Julio. She didn’t break the skin, but it was quite a shock for us all. Gigi had never shown any sign of aggression, and she was eight years old. Gigi also hated Rolando, but he usually wears rubber boots so he’s protected from Gigi’s snaggly, little teeth. Julio was not injured in anyway, but he did not enter the office ever again when Gigi was there.
The same thing happened to our former I.T. guy Doug. Everyone hated him, and I think Gigi sensed it. She saw him as a threat, and he could not pass between her and me. I was proud of her attempts to protect me. There was definitely something unwholesome about that man. One day he meandered through the office and passed too close to me. Gigi got him on the ankle. Again, he was not injured, but I think it hurt his feelings that we all thought it was funny. He never worked for us again after that.
Gigi’s third strike came when my cousin Jimmy began working at Liberty. She just could not accept him. The same thing happened to him as to the others. He walked into the office one day, and Gigi attacked. Of all of her victims, Jimmy is the only one that Gigi has made peace with. Now if she and Jimmy meet up, it’s on friendly terms.
After the third biting incident, Dad reposted The Rules. I got the message and started leaving Gigi at home. I hate to have spoiled it for everyone, but the iron fist is back at Liberty. Now we all must abstain from drinking, getting high, partying, packing heat, and enjoying our pets while at work.
Sometimes the car business is very slow. Summer is a particularly brutal time for us, because people are less inclined to look at cars when it’s 105 degrees outside. When it’s a slow day, we all look for things to do to occupy our time. One Summer, my dad, the owner of Liberty Autos, decided there should be a company race.
This was not the first Liberty Autos race. Several years ago, my dad decided to race one of our employees. She was in her early 20s and played soccer for a local team. For some reason, he decided he could beat her in a foot race. He lost. She no longer works here.
For this race, my dad selected who would run in the race, the distance to be run, the race time, and the prize. Our car lot is on the corner of a very busy street and a not so busy, dead-end street called Domino Lane. He set out the starting line on Domino Lane and determined the finish line to be about 100 feet towards the dead-end of Domino Lane. As the participants, he chose three young ladies (Olivia, Nathalie, and Elizabeth) who are all in their 20s and himself. At the time, my dad was 58. He eliminated the young men and frankly I don’t think he cared to have any of the women over the age of 30 participating. The race time was set for Saturday at 11 AM. The prize was $100 to the winner.
On Thursday, my dad did a practice run of the course on Domino Lane. He did not make a good showing. Watching him trot down the street in his dress shoes and slacks did not make for an impressive display of speed. We were all a bit worried that maybe the race was not a good idea.
Saturday morning, Dad showed up bright and early, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers, and knee-high athletic socks. For two hours, he warmed up in the office, doing knee bends, touching his toes, etc. Olivia, Nathalie, and Elizabeth all showed up in their skinny jeans and high heels, not having believed my dad was serious about the race. He had them all call their families and have sneakers brought to them at work. The race was on whether they believed it or not.
Promptly at 11 AM, the racers lined up on Domino Lane. I stood at the starting line, and one of the other non-racers stood at the finish line. My job was to call, “on your marks, get set, go.” As soon as the word “go” was out of my mouth, my dad shot off the starting line and was instantly yards ahead of the girls. Needless to say, he took them all by surprise. He held nothing back and ran like no 58 year old man has run before. With his arms pumping and his head tucked down, he left it all out there on Domino Lane. To the shock of the whole company, Dad won the race. He graciously gave the $100 to Olivia, who got 2nd place.
We had to admit that we were all impressed with Dad’s speed. It was the greatest athletic feat in Liberty Auto Sales’s history. I don’t think we’ll have another Liberty race, but you never know.