One of my least favorite responsibilities when I was managing a tow company was enforcing uniform compliance.  Drivers sometimes don't seem to care about their appearance, but they have very delicate sensibilities, so if you yell "tuck in your shirt" too loudly, they might cry.  You get all kinds of excuses when you start trying to make people look professional, but the looks you get are all the same: the same rolling-of-the-eyes they gave their mom for twenty years when she was trying to get them to look presentable.  A favorite response was, "I'm not on-duty."  My answer to that was always, if a customer can see you with your company uniform shirt untucked and unbuttoned, that is unacceptable, even if you're walking across the parking lot of your apartment complex to get on your motor scooter and ride to work.

Some drivers have a creative spirit, and they do care how they look, but part of that is looking different.  I don't necessarily like to promote that tendency, but it's not as offensive to me as slovenliness, so I sometimes let it go when I was managing.  I was kind of like that when I was a driver, so I can appreciate it.  In my early twenties, I often wore red Converse high-tops and olive drab fatigue pants while working, which were clear violations of the uniform policy.  At one point I had blonde stripes in my hair, which wasn't so much a violation of the uniform policy as it was a general irritation to management.  I tried getting around a hair-off-the-collar rule by wearing my hair in a ponytail at one point, but that didn't even look good, so I abandoned that.

At one point our uniforms changed so that we had blue epaulets on the shoulders of our white button-up shirts.  There was a lot of resistance to the epaulets, and I put up with it for awhile, in spite of being called "Cap'n" by the homeless guys who frequented the neighborhood I lived in.  I didn't like the epaulets, but I liked even less the thin, cheap fabric the shirts were made of, so I went to the uniform company and ordered my own shirts:  thicker fabric with a nicer feel to it, no epaulets, and no company name.  We did impounds primarily, so having the company name on the shirt sometimes caused me grief in public places.  I bought the shirts, so I didn't have to pay the uniform rental fees anymore, and I tried to lay low, but pretty soon the other guys started whining about my circumventing the established policies, but no one ever made me switch back.  I think various management personnel thought someone else had given me the thumbs-up, so no one ever called me on it.

Also, early on I decided that I didn't like the uniform pants we had, which had front pockets that looked very geeky and fit poorly.  I wanted some with the side-cut front pockets, so I just asked the uniform guy one day if there were options.  Why no one had thought to ever just ask if there were options is beyond me.  So then I got the better-looking, better-fitting side-cut pockets, and there was also a lot of whining about that until everybody figured out they could have them as well.

In warm weather, when you don't ever wear a jacket or coveralls, unless you have to, it's tough to keep a white uniform shirt clean.  I always kept a spare in my car, because unpredictable things can happen.  One time I covered a motorcycle accident, and the fuel tank had been knocked off the bike, and when I picked it up, it dumped its contents all over me.  Another time I was innocently napping on a couch in our office and one of my hapless coworkers decided to drop a can of Coke on me.  The worst, however, was a very hot August day when we were running old salvage cars out to a fire department traning facility, where they were using the cars for fire practice.  My boss was a Pontiac nut, and this one old Pontiac had some godawful big V-8 in it, which he extracted, and then he directed me to tow it out to the fire facility.  First, the front suspension on the car was messed up, so I tried towing it front the front, but then a mile or so down the road I figured out there was an issue with the rear axle of the Pontiac, so I put it on a dollie.  So I'm toodling up I-5, in an area with no emergency lane, and I hit a bump, and the torque converter fell out and got wedged under the dollie crossrails.  Now I'm laying under this Pontiac, with the dollies and a foor or two of t
he Pontiac and the tow truck in the right lane of traffic, early afternoon, about 195 degrees out, trying to knock this torque converter loose with a pry bar.  Torque converters in big old ugly Pontiacs are very heavy, and they retain transmission fluid, so when I finally got it loose and lifted it up to toss it in the car, the front of my uniform shirt was a combination of sweat and purple-black transmission fluid, almost matching the back, which was covered with highway dirt from lying on my back under the car.

When I got back to the office later, my boss said, "What happened to you?"

I smiled and said, "Torque converter."

"Oh yeah,” he said, “I should have pulled that out."


Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper


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