Sometimes Change is Good
BAM! Stunned by the loud gunshot, the girl fell backward and onto the floor as the chair rolled out from under her. BAM! The second shot rang out. “What the hell are you doing?” she yelled as she cowered from her place on the office trailer floor. Her ears were ringing and for a moment she thought she had gone deaf. The gunman pulled the .357 caliber handgun back from the open window and the summer heat and set it down on his desk.
“Just chasin’ the stray dogs,” he laughed, reaching over to help her up from the floor. Flustered from the commotion and embarrassed that she fell, she tried to hold in her laugh and just looked at him as she brushed herself off and fixed her skirt.
“I was told working here would be a lot of fun, but next time give me a heads-up, okay?” she demanded with a smile. He nodded. “Is the boss coming in today?” she asked as he walked out the door.
“You just never know. He might show up every day for two weeks or we might not see him for a month,” he replied.
That was the young girl’s first day on the job at VP. I laughed really hard the first time I heard that story and to this day remember it fondly. The owner had hired her to answer the phones and keep the books but had never offered in the interview any hint of how present or absent he might be. Little did anyone know from that small site located thirty miles south of the Alamo in San Antonio, a young man named Steve Burns would lead a classic American success story and take so many of us on the ride of a lifetime. His VP Racing Fuels would evolve and grow to wage epic David versus Goliath battles and wars that continue today. Miles away, while the history of VP’s earliest days in the racing fuel business were being written in Texas, I was living a much different life in the Northeast.
On a particularly cold winter night in the suburbs of Philadelphia I found myself in a precarious position, carrying precious cargo. The evening had started out awkwardly enough. As I entered the warmth of that family’s living room my eyeglasses immediately fogged over and I couldn’t see a damn thing. I quickly took them off as I began to introduce myself but it left me legally blind and struggling to read the faces of the people who were greeting me. To make matters worse, the weather was turning. While we were inside the house attending to the grieving family and the deceased, a frosty mist had fallen and everything outside had begun to freeze over with ice. So there I was, backing down the front steps of a row home, wrestling with the heavy end of a stretcher. Not only were the steps very steep but also there seemed to be a small mountain of them. We were headed for the silver station wagon that we’d double-parked in the street.
Suddenly I started to slip and slide on the steps, and this caused the guy on the other end to stumble too. Off we went, very quickly and somewhat unprofessionally down the steps. I managed to jump backward onto the hood of a car parked at the curb as my end of the stretcher slammed hard into the front fender. How my helper managed to maintain his footing I will never know. Luckily, our precious cargo was unharmed. The family and many of the neighbors had been watching and seemed relieved none of us were hurt. One of the relatives slipped his way down the steps and checked his car for damage but there was surprisingly not even a scratch. The best thing about the funeral business, and especially just then, was that the person left in your care never complained. Okay, they rarely did. On the drive to the morgue, after laughing off the tension, I reminded myself, “This is only short term. I won’t have to do this forever.”
My father owned a very successful funeral home and encouraged me to be a part of it. He had always wanted me to follow in his footsteps and hoped that by working in it I would take a greater interest. When I wasn’t in school, working a regular job, or out trying to have a good time, he paid me to put on a suit and