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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I lost an old friend.

My old friend Wally passed away the other day. Now, when I say “my old friend”, I mean it. In fact, he was my oldest friend that I had. Not that I knew him longer than anyone else (although it was a 32 year old friendship), but what I mean is that he would’ve been 89 next month. I first met him when I answered an ad for a car stereo installer, while I was working my way through college in the late 70’s. I walked in expecting to find a big, bustling retail car audio store with all the top brand names, and young people everywhere buying and selling the best high performance gear, only to find the smallest office I’d ever seen, stacked with white boxes that said “RCA car radio” on them. And an “old guy” with a New York accent, saying, “how many car radios can you install in an hour?” I said: “Radios?” - “No, I’m lookin’ to do Custom Stereo System installs, you know, Retail, with separate amps and….” He cut me off and said “No, No, No,….too many headaches!….We do Wholesale here. You know, stock-looking radios in new cars, right on the dealerships’ lot. Right before the customer buys the car. – You’re in,- you’re out, bing bang,….no headaches!” Well I had never even heard of such a thing. And I equated RCA with the “old days”, and although it wasn’t what I thought I wanted to do right then, the money and the hours sounded great, and there was something about this guy that was very likeable, so I took the job, and although I only worked there a few years, it was the start of a journey that would lead me to owning my own retail car stereo business, and would lead to a 32 year friendship with a very fun, interesting, positive guy that lived his live through a philosophy of “no headaches”.

Wally and Gloria were sort of employers, friends, and even parental figures for me, and they went out of their way to help me out in so many ways. They also gave me some very good advice from time to time. Everything from getting over an ended relationship, to not starting my business as a partnership, and to start small, with as small a rent payment as possible. I can still hear Wally: “Fred!, Listen, I’m tellin’ you, you don’t want the headaches!” He was so right. Life is too short. I really learned a lot from him about enjoying life, day to day. We stayed in touch, over the years, as I visited them with my wife and kids, and they would stop by my store, and see my dozen employees, and Wally would say, “Fred, doesn’t all this give you headaches?” And I’d say something like “Yeah, but once I get it running smoothly…, I’ll be able to be home more….” Until I realized that he was right again, and sold the store. It’s not that he was afraid to take a chance. He just wanted to know the odds going in. And that made sense to me. I’d usually see them at the annual CES show in Vegas. And actually, If I had gone to Vegas any other time during the year I might’ve run into them as well, because they went a lot. Wally liked to gamble. “Craps…this is the only game worth playing”, he would say, as he taught me the game. They say that stress is the number one cause of a shortened life. And I think Wally was proof of that. Just last week he was up at Vegas, a drink in one hand, dice in the other, probably saying something to the dice like, “’Come on boys, bring it home, ...and don’t give me any headaches!” Thanks Wally, for being my friend, and being such a positive, fun loving guy.

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