Happy to take a chance on Harry

Harry is our detail guy. I run a hot-rod shop, and Harry does the final cleaning of the fire-breathing monsters we build, right before the customers pick them up. He's a nice guy, shows up on time, and works his heart out. You can tell.

Yesterday we had kind of a panic job. A guy we had done a chopper for last year needed some detail work on his new bike. Although ours is a hot-rod shop, we get cool Harleys as well. This particular one puts out more power than most four-cylinder cars. My customer had bought it used and he needed it knocked into shape for a big event over the weekend. It had only 500 miles on it but was looking a little ratty from a year on the showroom floor.

When Harry came in yesterday morning he was willing, as usual, to do whatever needed to be done. Sometimes his day is a panic, sometimes it's not. Yesterday was a panic. So Harry dug right in and didn't come up for air until the job was finished.

Harry is about my age: middle. A lot of the young guys we work with just don't get it. For them this hot-rod thing is the first time around. They don't remember '68 Chevelles, Camaros, Corvettes, and Mustangs when they were new. Harry and I do. I'm always a little bit surprised that cars I remember being viable daily transportation come in with 35 years of wear on them. The kids around the shop must think that they were always old, just waiting for us to drag them in and give them new life. But not Harry. He and I joke about the ravages of time and we both get it. Life before iPods, the Internet, and 200 channels of satellite television.

Ironically, Harry takes the bus to work. I have owned hundreds of cars, and have about six now (if you count only the ones that run). Harry grew up the same way but is doing the bus thing right now. He's the only guy at the shop who doesn't drive a fuel-wasting pig back and forth to work with only himself as a passenger.

We got the bike delivered on time, and the customer was happy with Harry's work. I love it when that happens. There are 20 or so guys at the shop, and we have a great reputation - if I do say so myself - for quality work. But I'm still grateful every single time we deliver a project to a happy customer. Nobody really needs what we produce; It's only for fun. So if the thing isn't right, it's not fun, and we're out of a job.

I was glad for Harry's good work when I rode that chopper into the customer's driveway. To be honest, I hadn't even inspected the bike carefully before I delivered it. In the short time I have had Harry on the payroll, he has been pretty flawless.

That was yesterday, Friday. We're open on Saturdays, too, but mostly so people can come by and visit. We don't do much work on Saturday. So Harry brought some more of his family by to see where he works. A few weeks ago I met his sister, dad, stepmom, another sister and her kids. Today he brought one of the nieces I'd met before, and a brother and his wife. Harry brought his daughter as well. It was the first time I'd met her.

Nichol is 15, like my daughter Robin. Robin is doing the "reserved and studious" thing, Nichol is going the "smile and style" route. I have a lot in common with Nichol, and we joked around pretty easily. I could see obvious affection between Nichol and her dad; Harry seemed pretty comfortable with her.

I hired Harry from a federal halfway house located in one of our city's nastiest neighborhoods. Harry takes the bus because his driver's license is tied up in another state for some restitution issue. He spent the past six years in federal prison for running a methamphetamines lab. Today was the first time he'd seen his daughter in three years. The last time that Harry hugged his little girl without an armed guard present, she was 9 years old.

I think it's fine to lock up bad guys, and I suppose Harry must have been a pretty bad guy. You don't get to be a felon by doing good things. I was hard on him when I hired him. I have a terribly soft heart and have made lots of bad hiring decisions over the years in misguided attempts to "help a guy out." When Harry first came in looking for work, I told him "no," emphatically. I only hire people with strong backgrounds, I told him. I have a business to run, and I can't be filling out fancy federal paperwork from a halfway house, and blah, blah, blah. I don't cave in as easily as I used to, but Harry was very persistent.

Harry and I like cool, old cars and fast motorcycles. We like our kids, too. Maybe I'm a little idealistic, but it's my shop, and I'll take a chance on Harry if I want to.

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