In each installment of the Working Life series, a local worker describes what his or her job is like. The stories are taken directly from interviews and told in first person with minimal or no editing of the subjects' natural speech patterns.
I didn't land here on purpose. I was placed here by a temporary labor agency, and I didn't think I'd stay. I was looking to leave where I was, so I went to them and they placed me here. They actually had to talk me into it. And I'm still here. [laughs]
You have to have a lot of basic skills that you would think most people would possess, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case — you know, basic math, basic computers. We choreograph a lot in this office, between the scrap that goes out, all the tow trucks, all the buys, all the vehicles, all the paperwork.
Probably the biggest misunderstanding is we're not a junkyard, we're an environmental salvage company. Our primary goal is to feed the parts yard to sell the parts. We're buying the cars keeping in mind what parts will sell. I've been here a year and a half, and I'm still learning. There's cars that come across that I think, "Oh my gosh, nobody will touch that," and two days later, it's down to the frame and I'm scratching my head, kind of like, "OK." And then you have beautiful cars come in that you think, "Oh, I scored on this one," and nobody touches them.
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Our secondary goal is the environmental salvage side of it. Every single thing is recycled, and a lot of people don't get that. I mean, the Freon, the oil, the electrical wire in the car — there is nothing that goes in the trash. I'm almost 50, so I think back to when I was a kid, you'd see junkyards and the cars would just sit there and rust and drain and rot away, and you know, we buy 500 or 600 cars a month. So if we weren't here, how would people's yards look, and where would all the junk and the chemicals go?
The hardest part is being female. You get a lot of, "I want to talk to the male car buyer." It's nice for my female customers because I can hear a sense of relief in their voice when they call. You know, you have so many single women, they break down on the side of the road, and they call me and want to know if we can come get the car right away. They don't know what to do and they need advice, and they hear a woman and you can relax and build some trust. With the gentlemen, it's a little more difficult. They don't think I know what I'm doing or what I'm talking about, so they'll ask to talk to my boss. But it is what it is.
Everyone has a heart. In the beginning, you feel for everyone's situation and you want to give them every penny you can. Over time, you learn what to spend money on and what not to spend money on, and little things like the catalytic converters. With the economy, a lot of dealerships get hit all the time by people who steal the catalytic converters from under their cars for precious metal, and they go sell them to the scrap yards that buy them. So they have all kinds of ingenious ways of hiding that they're missing the catalytic converter. It's a $100 deduction when you buy a car, so nobody wants to lose $100.
Most yards in the area pay by the pound; we don't. We pay by year, make, and model. The weight is only one of the factors in the equation we use to buy the vehicles. So people will put oil and dirt and heavier stuff in the radiators and the gas tanks thinking it's going to make it heavier. What do you do? Or mechanic shops, they don't want to pay to dispose of their oil, so they'll dump it into the radiators of cars we buy from them and make us dispose of it.
Most days are challenging, but I'm still here, so obviously I love it. I like that the days go by so fast. I love the environmental side of it. That matters to me a lot. For instance, yesterday is when I learned that we even recycle the Freon. That's important.
The most interesting thing to me is, this isn't Manhattan or L.A., and to buy 600 cars a month from the Charleston metro area — per capita, it's really crazy, and probably 90 percent come from within 20 miles. That is something I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around. I keep waiting to come in one day and they've just all dried up and there's no more. It's hard to fathom. It really is. You go out there and you see 1,500 to 2,000 cars, and you think, "I bought every single one of these cars." It's weird, but that's my moment.