Saturday, March 17, 2012

Road Trip: Jacksonville, Pt. 1 (May, 2008)

When I got picked to be on a store setup team in May of 2008, I was all over it. Not because I'd been dying to see Jacksonville--and not because I wanted to drive almost 400 miles to the other end of I-10. There are several forts close by--the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, and Fort clinch up in Fernandina Beach.

The store setup would take a week; I had to be in Jacksonville Sunday to check into the hotel, make it through to Friday, and then the weekend was mine!

I planned out the trip, made note of several campsites, and waited for Departure Day, May 18th.

Yeah, there was a slight snag to that plan. There always is, but I won't spoil it just now.

The 18th brought clear skies and plenty of heat. I was driving the Tracker with all the windows open and all my crap packed in back. The trip was a big test for the little truck; I'd rebuilt the engine the year before, bringing it from "ready for the scrap pile" to "slightly less ready for the scrap pile." For all the stuff I'd been able to fix, there were some more expensive things wrong with the engine.

For its part, though, there were no problems. I pulled 35 miles to the gallon the entire trip--and gas was around four bucks. Forty-four bucks to fill up a Tracker.

So anyway, I howled along I-10 (at 55 mph--the howling was the Tracker's engine and gears; it's a truck), made it to Tallahassee in late afternoon, stopped for dinner, took a short tour around my former home town, and got back to it. Nothing but miles of the same scene: gray concrete road, trees clear-cut way off to the sides, and clear blue sky. No radio, either. Man, that engine only seemed to get louder and louder until it was the only sound in the world.

It was close to 10 at night by the time I made Jacksonville, found the hotel, and got checked in. I was numb from hours in the seat and hours of engine noise. Waffle House first (across the parking lot; I walked), then bed.

May 19th was another bright, clear day. When I found the new store (several miles from the hotel in rush-hour traffic), it was already a beehive of activity, with boxes and shelving stacked everywhere, guys from the phone company trying to finish up their wiring, pallet-loads of car parts staged in the parking lot, and several big trash containers.

We had five days: the store would open for business on Saturday the 24th.

Most of the work is tedious; once the shelves had been set up, we started stocking them. Clutch kits, brake pads, brake hardware kits (holy crap, there was a lot of that), brake shoes, batteries, tune-up parts, air filters, oil filters, transmission filters, anything that's kept behind the counter. By Wednesday, we had knocked out almost all of that and started filtering out onto the sales floor to help the other crew. Cleaning products, air fresheners, light bulbs, more air filters, more oil filters, more batteries, jacks, tire repair, tools, signs, and floor displays. By late Thursday, the guys handling the boss end of things were acting nervous--holy crap, we're not going to be done in time!

If the days were hectic, the time after work was quiet. I spent some time in the pool, or just watching TV, too tired to explore Jacksonville or go very far afield for dinner. I had a room all to myself (my roommate never showed).

Friday morning brought some clouds and the threat of rain, but we only cared about pushing to get everything done. Nearly everything had been stocked, but there were little details, things that hadn't been accounted for, things that hadn't been stocked properly. We went up and down the aisles several times apiece, occasionally having to fix something, sometimes having to reset an entire 4-foot section because some numbskull had screwed it up. I pushed a broom around, then a dustmop, hoping it would finally be over soon.

They let us go a little after noon. We had filled the store (and several trash containers) and had emptied several loaded semi-trailers of parts and fixtures each day, dulled our knives on shrink-wrap, inhaled several pounds of warehouse dust, and somehow had the place ready to go.

Now I was ready to go. I'd loaded up the Tracker and checked out of the hotel, so I found my way over to US-1 and ran south to St. Augustine.

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