E-Commerce In Parts Distribution, Circa 1976.

As published on Counterman Magazine May 2010

Link to publication


By Mandy Aguilar


  I couldn’t possibly fathom all those years ago, that I was then in the true forefront of electronic commerce. It was during the Bicentennial 1976 and my dad drove me early in the mornings in his Fiat 128 to the dealership he used to run with my uncle in Puerto Rico. My part-time job those days was to electronically transmit points and condensers orders to parts manufacturer Magneti Marelli in Milan, Italy.

  I became a teenager that year, but I was curious enough to fiddle with that ultra-futuristic contraption that sat inside the air conditioned office in that Fiat dealership’s parts warehouse: a typewriter with a phone! Yes, an Olivetti Te300 Telex machine. Up to that point, I had always worked behind the counter in the parts department.

The idea of working in the heat of a parts warehouse in Puerto Rico was not quite the thrill for a kid my age. I figure I needed a way to get inside the air-conditioned office and learning to use that Olivetti Telex was my ticket to being cool. Well, at least being cooled off.

  It wasn’t an easy thing for a teenager to learn, but my curiosity and my ignorance got the best of me and I was able to learn it. By far the hardest thing was that you can only go back three spaces if you typed the wrong character before the transmission paper tape was punched in error for eternity. Luckily, I got the knack for it and was often rewarded with the familiar response which became first words I kind of learned in Italian:

Trasmissione ricevuta. Transmission Received!

  Yes indeed, this was e-commerce back in 1976. Thirty-six years later, all of us in the aftermarket auto parts industry are now deeply involved with ecommerce, from electronic catalogs to order-taking via the Web. From eBay to Facebook to Twitter, we all need to market our parts online. Marketing has never been more important to our industry and the tool to manage this titanic task is e-commerce.

Often times, perhaps too often, we hear that the Internet has brought a paradigm shift to this business. But here is the golden nugget for all of us in our industry: e-commerce has expanded our business. We still need our brick-and-mortars warehouses, our stores, shops, delivery trucks, counterpeople and sales experts. Our customers demand it! In our neck of the World Wide Web, e-commerce is a tool to grow our business, not a means to replace the value proposition we bring to our customers. In other words, we are B2B, true and true. By the nature of our business-to-business reality, we can all use e-commerce to grow our existing business structures by adding capacity and efficiency with very manageable costs. Now how often do we even get a chance to do that?

  I’ve been involved in this change and have seen many of my peers accomplish this; the results are of a magnitude usually only seen in our industry by way of expensive expansions, mergers or acquisitions. This is the thrill you’ll get from committing your organization at every level, not just IT, by providing the best possible e-commerce experience to your customers. As with all opportunities, there are challenges. There are no maps or scripts to show how e-commerce will evolve. The e-marketplace evolves fast and so must you


I remember the name of the diner we walked into when the movie ended: it was the “American Diner.” When we walked in the counterman asked what we wanted and I remember answering with the casual sharpness which had become my habit: “We want a hamburger and a cup of coffee, what do you think we want?” I do not know why, after a year of such rebuffs, I so completely failed to anticipate his answer, which was, of course, “ We don’t serve Negroes here.” …

When we reentered the streets something happened to me which had the force of an optical illusion, or a nightmare. The streets were very crowded and I was facing north. People were moving in every direction but it seemed to me, in that instant, that all of the people I could see, and many more than that, were moving toward me, against me, and that everyone was white. I remember how their faces gleamed. And I felt, like a physical sensation, a click at the nape of my neck as though some interior string connecting my head to my body had been cut. I began to walk. I heard my friend call after me, but I ignored him…

I do not know what was going on in my mind either; I certainly had no conscious plan. I wanted to do something to crush these white faces, which were crushing me. I walked for perhaps a block or two until I came to an enormous, glittering, and fashionable restaurant in which I knew not even the intercession of the Virgin would cause me to be served. I pushed through the doors and took the first vacant seat I saw, at a table for two, and waited.

I do not know how long I waited and I rather wonder, until today, what I could possibly have looked like. Whatever I looked like, I frightened the waitress who shortly appeared, and the moment she appeared all of my fury flowed toward her. I hated her for her white face, and for her great, astounded, frightened eyes. I felt that if she found a black man so frightening I would make her fright worthwhile.

She did not ask me what I wanted, but repeated, as though she had learned it somewhere, “We don’t serve Negroes here.” … I felt I had to do something with my hands. I wanted her to come close enough for me to get her neck between my hands.

So I pretended not to have understood her, hoping to draw her closer. And she did step a very short step closer, with her pencil poised incongruously over her pad, and repeated the formula: “…don’t serve Negroes here.”

Somehow, with the repetition of that phrase, which was already ringing in my head like a thousand bells of a nightmare, I realized that she would never come any closer and that I would have to strike from a distance. There was nothing on the table but an ordinary watermug half full of water, and I picked this up and hurled it with all my strength at her. She ducked and it missed her and shattered against the mirror behind the bar.

And, with that sound, my frozen blood abruptly thawed, I returned from wherever I had been, I saw, for the first time, the restaurant, the people with their mouths open, already, as it seemed to me, rising as one man, and I realized what I had done, and where I was, and I was frightened. I rose and began running for the door. A round, potbellied man grabbed me by the nape of the neck just as I reached the doors and began to beat me about the face. I kicked him and got loose and ran into the streets. My friend whispered, “Run!” and I ran.

—  from James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”
So much sadness

There’s so much sadness and pain in the world right now. Michael Brown. ISIS. Gaza. Ukraine. Robin Williams. Several of my friends facing hardship. And there’s really nothing to be done to fix any of it, or make any part of it ok at all.

Except. Except, I can create. I can live. And I can love. So that’s what I’m doing. Loving those around me as often as possible. I love all of you. And I can bring back maybe, maybe a bit of hope and happiness to someone. Through love, or through some other means.

I haven’t been able to really write creatively- ok, to write fiction, in a long, long time. But tonight, I did. Because that need came and overtook me, overwhelmed me. I needed to; I needed to do what small thing I could to counterman the hurt, the pessimism. Making it good didn’t even matter, only that I made it.

And I posted this, a fanfic. I wrote it eons ago and never posted it because it wasn’t perfect. But I think people need it right now, need some diversion and some hope and a reminder. So I’ve subsumed my own perfectionism and silenced my doubting voice and went for it. For the world. And, ultimately, for myself.