In the Zone
Updated: Feb 22
By: Matt Gordon
I was in the zone the other day.
My left blinker had gone out. For several weeks I only turned right. Eventually this led to issues with local drive-thru establishments that are stuck in their ways, so it became starve of adapt. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I went to Auto Zone.
A lot happens when you go to Auto Zone. First, and most important, you are foisted into an existential quagmire regarding their choice of name. They chose that name, remember. Auto: a synonym for car. And Zone: another way of saying “place.” I picture that board meeting . . .
“We need something grand, something bold . . . Car Place just isn’t going to cut it!” an impassioned CEO passionately prompts his Board. “This is how we will be known—this is our market destiny!” the passion oozes. “So what’s it going to be!? Who are we going to be!?” he pounds the table passionately.
Silence fills the room.
Then a throat clears. It is the bespectacled nerd from the Brakes division. “Well, ahem, Sir,” he addresses the passionate man at the table’s head. “Colleagues,” he nods sheepishly to the rest. “This may be too ‘out there’ but what about . . . Auto Zone?”
Again, silence so thick you can see it. The silence is awkward at first, but then it gives way to an a-to-z awe.
“Auto Zone . . .” the CEO squints with quiet passion, uttering the name as Mary likely gazed on her boy and said “Jesus” that first time in Bethlehem. “Auto Zone,” he repeats, as if chewing on it. “AUTO ZONE!!!!!!” he pounds the table in a spasm of passionate acceptance.
The room erupts. Three cheers for Herman, from Brakes!
With name in tow, now the Board can get to digging into other issues like, “How orange is orange enough?” and “How can we insure that our establishments always have a visible boombox playing terrestrial radio?”
Blinded by the orange, I hoped to see the light. Specifically, the left turn one. I told the man at the front of the store this and he positioned himself behind the computer. Then the thing happened.
It is the thing that always happens in these scenarios.
His chubby fingers typed what his brain told them to type. It, of course, seemed like way too much typing. Left Rear Turn Signal. Jeep Wrangler. Somehow these words had become a manifesto. This was no work of Hemingway. This sprawled along like Ulysses. It is like those caper films where the tech-savvy member of the crew must diffuse the bomb or bring down the security grid—a spasmic dance of hyper-directed digits.
And while this torrent of typing is going on, and seemingly totally divorced from the man’s brain, his mouth begins making little sound effects. Odd schooshes. Tongue clicks. Mini-lasers. His hands are all business, while his mouth and tongue are a rave.
What is this? Why does this strange Tourette tic happen whenever one searches a computer for information to give to someone else?
Just the other day my brother-in-law was telling me about a million-year-long downpour that allegedly happened, like, a trillion years ago or something. I heard a zoologist recently claim—with certitude—that if you took the weight of every ant on earth and the weight of every human, that the ants would weigh more. Cool, thanks Science. But riddle me this, William Nye: Why do our mouths become little beatbox machines whenever we check inventory?
I wonder if the AZ Board decided this?
“Excellent name, Herman!” the CEO compliments, with respectful passion. “But now we come to the real question. Aside from the brilliant name and fifty shades of orange, how we can really differentiate ourselves from our competitors, from the very world!?” the passion was tactile. Janet from accounting swooned.
“Well, Sir,” sputtered Herman, fresh off the naming victory, “If I may be so bold.”
“Yes, Herman! Of course, Herman! Out with it, Herman!”
“Well, Sir. Colleagues,” he grants too many perfunctory nods, “What if we train our people to be different?”
“Different!? How!? Better service? Competence? Composure? Out with it, Herman!”
“Well, no Sir. None of those things.” Herman continues, “What if we have them, from the neck up, turn into robots for dozens of seconds at a time when checking inventory? That way a customer gets an interaction with a human and an uncanny automaton, plus gets real weirded out too.”
“You mean like unleashing a small parade of schooshes and tongue clicks and laser sounds?”
Herman clicks an affirmative response.
Silence fills the room.
“Herman. You are no longer in charge of Brakes. You are henceforth VP of Accelerators and Training. I want our people to make more nonsensical noises than the fools at Pep Boys or O’Reilly can even fathom! We may not be the best car place, but we will be an auto zone unlike any other. Bold! Orange! And now with Sounds!!!!”
Applause, schooshes, clicks, and laser zips fill the board room!
Back in my local Auto Zone, R2-D2 snapped back to humanity and offered, “Yep, right this way.”
“I’m hoping for left this way,” I joked, trying to seem relatable and using my need of a left turn signal as topical in-roads.
Silence filled the Zone. He stared at me. I stared at him. Neither could hear the radio ads for Auto Zone that played on the boombox in the corner.
This downpour of awkwardness lasted a million years. Then he shook it off like a pound of ants and led me to aisle two. Somehow, after he had become an oral drumline for nineteen seconds, I had become the weird one!
We assessed the shelves.
A couple little cabasa cadences slipped out of his mouth—thrill of the hunt or just leftovers from the hunt-and-peck? Who can really schoo-schoo-schoooo-say?
“Ah, here we go,” he grabbed it and handed it to me.
We returned to the computer. I inserted my card, and there was a chip malfunction. I tried again. My mouth made a miniature choo-choo train sound as I waited for it to go through. It did. The clerk and I clicked at one another in mutual admiration, and I took my purchase, got
in my car, and exited the Zone, taking the leftward road into a fading orange sunset, home.