SEVEN HILLS, Ohio (April 17, 2002)—“Are they closed? For good?”
He had a lot of questions, the young man with the short-cropped brown hair and piercing brown eyes who came ambling across the deserted parking lot. Questions…but most of them unanswered.
He wore a striped shirt with a well-known oil company's logo on the collar and faded, grease-stained blue jeans. Had worked for about a year at the now-shuttered Penske Auto Center in Seven Hills, a Cleveland suburb. Did he know it was closing?
“No, not really. We'd heard rumors and figured something was going to happen, something might be coming down soon.”
The first inkling that his job had dried up and blown away like the candy wrappers swirling about the empty parking lot? Last Saturday, when he showed up for work to find the store closed.
“Nope, didn't tell us,” he muttered. “I just did general types of stuff.”
Lubes and routine maintenance?
“Yeah, pretty much.”
It wasn't hard to tell, judging from the darkish stains covering his pants.
Eighteen years old. Taking some auto mechanics courses in high school. And now hoping to get a job somewhere doing what he liked: working on cars.
“I guess it'll probably work out. It's not too bad in this area trying to find work. There's probably some other jobs around.”
As for the four others who worked there with him, who knows? This Penske post now wore brown paper coverings over the bay-door windows to screen out curious eyes. The signs boasting another buy-three-get-fourth-free tire sale? Gone, as were the weekly advertised specials and “SpeedLane Oil Change Service” banners that had flown over the entranceway. Maybe they flew away.
All replaced by a small, square black-and-white apology over the doorway where a “Welcome to Penske” sign had been: “We apologize for having to permanently close this Penske location….”
That and a big green dumpster filled with empty barrels, broken shelves, chairs… the refuse of a tire and auto service business gone bad.
Severance pay? “I dunno,” he said. “Some kind of pay, I hear. They haven't really told us anything. Lots of people losing their jobs.”
He looked toward the dumpster, then down at the multicolored oil slick on the pavement where he was standing—a remnant from a customer's car? Maybe one he'd worked on.
“They're all dummies, the people who run these big corporations,” he whispered, almost as if afraid “they” were listening. “They don't care about the people who work for them. Just making money. That's all.
“It's not right.”
His last words faded as he walked back across the parking lot, turned for a moment then urged: “Don't write a bad story about it. Write something good.”