Chaps Billiard Palace

Hola amigo mios. I’ll be 67 this summer.  Most of my adventures are behind me. That doesn’t stop me from looking back and wanting to share some of my favorite stories with my friends.

Since my nephew Whistle returned home, I can’t help but think about the many escapades we got into. When my family and my sister Glenda’s family moved to San Antonio on a shoestring.  We didn’t know anybody but we had each other.  For two years we lived the life, I honestly think that the only reason we moved back was because of the deaths of other family members.

Not meaning to brag, but I was a cracker jack car salesman. Working in Jacksonville, I would sell about 20 cars a month and make around $2,500.  Car salesmen in Texas made 3 times that on half as many cars. There in San Antonio, I still sold my 20 and earned around $8,000.00 every month. I made so much money that the girls in the office would hold half of my check back every month to keep me from paying so much in taxes, made me mad as hell.  I was paying around $400.00 a week in Social Security with holdings.  $125.00 a week is what they advanced you as a draw against your monthly check in Jacksonville and at the end of the month, after taxes my bring home check would be around $600 to $700.

At Jordan Ford in San Antonio I sold my first car two days before Christmas, before I was even given a job. It was the owner’s wife’s “grounded demo.”  That meant it had too many miles to drive any more.  It was on the showroom floor for display.  I was standing around waiting for the bosses to get out of a sales meeting and grabbed an “up” looking at a car on the showroom floor, while hers was in the shop.  I made over $800.00 cash in fist.  Christmas cash and I was broke too.  Bonus was the name of the game in new cars.  The more units you sold, even if the commission was small, the more bonuses you got.  Every car that was financed paid $35.00 bonus cash in fist, that day.  At the end of the week you got a draw against your monthly, about $250.  But the Ford Factory spiffs came in almost every other day.  These were bonuses on cars that Ford had over a 90 day supply of, sitting on the ground.  Tempos, Rangers, Escorts, F150’s with the 3 speed Overdrive in the floor, all paid an extra $100.00 straight from the factory.  Most guys sold used cars because they usually paid high commissions, me, I liked new car customers, I watched the videos and stored new car product knowledge and went to other dealers pretending to be a customer to gather their new car info, to compare my product against the competition.

The Dealership offered a fast start bonus.  If you sold 3 cars by the tenth of the month, you got a $100.  Then $50 dollars a car over that. Then, the top man by the 10th, got a $1,000.00 bonus.  I got that bonus every month.  I told every body that it had my name on it, that they better come up with a bonus for who ever came in second.  Every morning at the sales meeting, every salesman that sold a car the day before, got to roll a pair of dice. The boss would give you ten times the amount you rolled, cash bonus for incentive.  Okay, so I had a pocket full of cash.  Since the owner also owned the San Antonio Spurs he would give two tickets to the next home game for every new car you sold.  Since I sold lots of cars, I didn’t need all of those tickets.

I practiced my Spanish every day, so I could catch Hispanic new car “ups”.  Each dealership had “Gringo” salesmen for Caucasian “ups” and Mexicans for Mexican “ups.”  Since I was pretty good at Spanish, I told my boss that my Mom was from Cuba just so they would let me catch both types of customers.  The Mexican salesmen didn’t like that at all.  I guarantee you I was the first Gringo/Mexican salesman with a Georgia accent they ever saw.

I made friends with the Mexican laborers that work for the Service Dept.  I would give my tickets to the basketball games to the Finance Manager, the Used Car Manager, the Service Manager and the New Car Make Ready Manager.  Just to build up “friendships.”  When I started giving away tickets to the guys that worked in the shop, to show appreciation for their efforts (because when you sold as many cars as I did, you needed every body’s help) the Mexican salesmen really got an attitude about it.

Spanish people have a 5 tier “caste” system I believe, where as we only have three. Rich, middle class and poor. When I gave the tickets to the ball game to guys in the lower class that made the higher class (hildagos – sons of rich people) salesmen look bad, because they would never, ever do anything like that. It was beneath their dignity.

When I got off work at night, I didn’t want to go straight home.  I lived 35 miles away on the high prairie, north of town and could see the night lights and wanted to sow some oats.  I used to go by my sister’s and get my nephew Whistle to go with me, because I didn’t make very many friends and wanted to spend my leisure time with someone I was comfortable with.  Whistle was only 15 and had to go to school the next day, so I usually tried to have him home by 3 am.  We would load up in one of my demos (I could drive any vehicle I chose) and cruise out.  Kill a six pack, hit the suburbs and find a spot where we could drink and play pool and listen to the juke box.  We made sure they had plenty of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Since the law in Texas requires you to be 21 to drink, you would think we would have a problem….nah!        ………………………………………………………
If you got a pocketful of money, people will let you do whatever you want, especially in Texas.  The places we liked the best would be called “dives” by today’s standards.  Real knife and gun clubs.  Most of them were filled by working class Mexicans, and it’s a fact of life in South Texas.  Mexicanos love cervesa.

Whistle and I never had any problems with fights or arguments while we were doing our thing.  We weren’t those kind of drunks.  We really liked to go to “Chaps Billiard Palace” on SW Military Highway.  It was a classy joint, a well lit pool hall and bar, they also served food (mostly pizza and nachos).  I think that’s why Whistle never had a problem getting in, because you could bring your kids in to a place that served food.  I would order pitchers of beer and the waitress always brought two frosted mugs.  The place had several bars, the one by the entrance had a very large, life sized crystal cowboy boot, right by the cash register.  They used it for tips and it was stuffed full of cash, ones and fives and tens, stuffed to the top and almost over flowing, at least half of it was my money to start with.

One of the guys that worked at Jordan Ford in the Make Ready Department was Jesse Martinez.  He was a good guy, always smiling and would inform me when the Mexican salesmen plotted against me so that I could avoid getting stabbed or having my tires slashed, that’s why I would switch up demos or drive a used car sometimes, trying to be one step ahead.  They really didn’t like me.

I used to go around with paper torn from a brown paper bag and write notes in Spanish and put under the windshield wiper of people’s cars at the bar.  “Por favor, Amigo. Mi jefe mucho gusto tu carro (or) tu trucka.  Yo trabajo con Jordan Ford.  Yo venta nuevo carros.  Ven aca tu mi tiendo adelante, vas ahora mismo”. I was just saying that my boss likes your car, I work at Jordan Ford, I sell new cars and trucks, come to my store quickly, follow me there.  I called this brown bagging. It worked.

When brown skinned people got out of their vehicle with a brown piece of paper in their hand, I knew they were gonna ask for me.


The Mexican people that I met, would rather buy a car from a Gringo because they were afraid a Mexican salesman would give them the shaft. If I saw a Mexican couple pull up and get out of their old car, I would raise my hand and wave, saying “Hola Senor Rodriguez,” then say loud enough for everyone to hear,  “That’s my appointment,” then look at my watch and say “Alright, right on time,” like we had an appointment or something.  When I got close enough to the customer so that no one else could hear, I would say, “Oh your not Senor Rodriguez, sim olvedo, que lastima.”  Then in English I would whisper, “come go with me, I just saved you a lot of money.”

Once I sold a car to a beautiful Mexican young lady.  Her father was going to co-sign, he was a Catholic Priest.  I took the papers all filled out for him to sign, to the cathedral.  After the services I asked him “Que es correcto Padre, escriba aqui y feldon aqui?”  I asked him which is correct father, write here or sign here?  I knew the correct answer but I wanted the padre to look important in his daughter’s eyes, I wanted to be the pupil, not the teacher.  We prayed under the altar, the three of us, asking God to make this car purchase a bright spot in the young girl’s coming future.

.      Jesse Martinez had been working in New Car Make Ready for years.  Lower classes never climb the totem poll, that’s where they stay.  I treated them as equals.  Whistle and I went by his home to visit.  He considered it an honor and it made him look good to his family and neighbors that a Gringo would pay a social call.  Jesse’s feet got burned by the chemicals he used at work to make the “trade ins” look new again.  He wore rubber boots and the chemicals would spill in and blister the bottoms of his feet so bad that he couldn’t walk, he missed so much work, he got fired.

One night, Whistle and I were playing pool at Chap’s having a great time.  We decided to go pay Jesse a visit.  He only lived blocks away.  On the way out the door, I stopped at the bar by the doorway and pointed up to the T-Shirts that they had on display for sale, advertising their Pool Hall.  I asked the lady if they had any in pink, extra large.  She said she had to go the back room to check.  Just as soon as she went through the swinging doors to the store room, I reached over and grabbed the Crystal Cowboy boot full of cash and handed it to Whistle.  He put it on the inside sleeve of his Levi jacket and we walked on out of the bar.  A few minutes later we surprised old Jesse and made him a gift of the boot and all of the money inside. When we got there, he couldn’t stand up because his feet were burned and blistered, they looked terrible.  He, his wife and kids were so happy, there were toothy grins every where, they were oh so happy, they wept.  Jesse started singing my praises.  We didn’t let him count the money in front of us, it was a gift, even if it was by ill gotten gains, but he later told me that it was more than a couple hundred dollars.  He hugged me and Whistle, promising  that if we ever needed anything, we could count on him.  It took a long time for his feet to heal and he was good to his word.  He kept me informed through the grapevine of plots against me………………………

I was in a race for salesman of the month, another big bonus if I got it.  My team was off the last week end of the month and the only way I was allowed to catch a customer, was if they came in and asked for me, or any member of my team that wasn’t there.  I was two cars behind Lee Brock.  Lee was as good a salesman I ever saw.  Good as me, no, I say he was better, if he wasn’t so lazy, I wouldn’t have a chance.

A fellow came in with his wife to buy a truck.  He had been in the week before but his credit was lousy, my boss called him a slug and  told me to blow him off.  Me, I’m not like that, I feel that good credit, bad credit no matter.  If I do a good enough job selling, the customer will go get his own money from some where.

This fellow came up with his wife and a big ole grin on his face.  His first wife had passed away, unknowingly he was still carrying life insurance on her at work.  Long story short, he had a cashier’s check for over $25,000.  He bought a new Ranger pick up for his wife with a saddle that we had on display and then he bought a Ranger pick up, that I had sold new, two months before, but the guy brought it in and traded it for a bigger truck.

So there it was, two sales.  I was tied with Lee for salesman of the month.  Lee came in about 2 o’clock, checking to see if he had any messages.  I knew Lee, he had something slick planned.  Thinking I need to be ahead of him on this, I told him that a that guy that lived in Banderas that had bought a truck from him the month before, wanted him to bring out a cab and chasis truck (1 ton), all the way to Banderas, over 60 miles away. (I can be slick too.)

Lee left out in a cab and chassis just knowing he was gonna close that guy out and win the contest.  The real reason he came in on his off day became clear after he left.  A little old lady came in and asked for him.  Since he wasn’t there and he was on my team, I got the “up.”  I sold her a grounded demo, off of the show room floor.

Since she asked for Lee and I sold it to her, it was a split deal.  Half and half.  We were still tied.  It meant a big bonus for either of us, $2,500 I think it was, if I remember right.  I still needed one more.  While the little old lady was sitting in the Finance Office, I got a call from Jesse Martinez.  He told me that he heard that Jose Cruz was gonna stick a knife in my gut if I won salesman of the month, for me to keep a look out.

Just as my customer came out of the Finance Office, Jose stepped up to her and told her that the car she was buying was his old demo and that she wouldn’t like it because he had accidentally put diesel in it one time.  Then he told her about a small dent under the door.  I don’t think she liked Mexicans because she told him that was okay, that the car should have a warranty and she knew we had a body shop to fix the dent.

No problemo.  ‘Sta jueno amigo.”  Over the curb and burning gas.  Still it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  As we were standing on the show room floor watching the little old lady drive off in her new car, I turned to Jose and asked him “What do you think you’re doing talking to my customer?  If you had something to say, you should say it to me first.”

I sorta knew what was coming, I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but that’s not how I was raised, I couldn’t stop it now.  Jose said “If you are talking to me Blankety blank, Blank You!  I laughed in his was and said “Hey man, I am from Dinsmore.  You don’t talk to people from Dinsmore like that.”  The he started reaching in his back pocket and said “Blank You, Blankety Blanker”  Just as he was pulling his knife out of his pocket, I let him have it.  Two punches, a left and then a right, it was over, his eyes rolled back in his head.

I got fired for that, I couldn’t believe it.  The bosses said they couldn’t have fighting on the premises.  Fighting?  That wasn’t no fight, I told them it was a set up,  Jose had a knife, they were coming after me anyway.  I should have sold ring side seats.  My team was off that week end and I sold more cars than every one else, yet I’m the one that got fired.  No bonus for me after all.

A week later I was sitting in the rocker on my front porch, high up on the prairie over looking the lights of San Antoine.  I could see the headlights of a car get off of the exit on I-35, about 5 miles away, passing by George Straits “Blue Bonnet Inn”  then slowly meandering towards my house.  They had to be coming to see me.  I was the only one that lived out this way.

It was a new Ford.  After it parked, two familiar faces got out.  It was Lee Brock and Jesse Martinez, grinning from ear to ear.  Jesse showed Lee how to get to my house.  Lee brought me my half of the sale bonus and Jesse brought me a 12 pack of cervesa.  Oh what Karma, see, what goes around, comes around.  Jesse said “I love you Mike Frailey, You sell cars and don’t take no s–t.”

.Hasta Luego Amigos, Vamanos Muchachos.

One thought on “Chaps Billiard Palace

  1. Great story, as per usual. Your characters live – I can hear them talking. but the story . . . You pack so much action and life into a few pages. I don’t know anything about sales, but your writing put me right there on the sales floor with you looking for the next “Up.”


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