Tony stories #1
witness protection program
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what was his real name?
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I was the operations manager for a trucking company terminal. We used Tony's services to provide vending machine services for the truck driver's break room. Tony's company provided the usual variety of machines: soft-drinks, coffee and hot chocolate, sandwiches, salty & sweet snacks, frozen desert treats [ice cream]. The price for the items was very reasonable - not over-priced. Tony would come in and refill the machines daily, to make sure everything was full and fresh.
Our arrangement provided that a percentage of the income from the machines was paid to our business. Whenever Tony came in to refill the machines, he would bring the coin receptacle box from each machine into the office. He'd dump the coins on the desk and count out the money. He took 50% and we received 50%. This was the absolute highest pay-back arrangement I had ever encountered. When I entered into the original agreement, I asked how he could pay out that kind of money. He responded it was merely a matter of competition, and his ability to keep his overhead low.
I was naive...although over time I got a little more 'street-smart'. I had accepted Tony's explanation at face value. We had been doing business with him for a couple of years when I was promoted and transferred to our company's headquarters in the Detroit area.
My new job eventually had me in the Chicago area a lot. I would visit our company's terminal there as part of my regular responsibilities. One trip I was there when Tony came in to refill the machines. We chatted and arranged to go out for dinner together that evening - for old times sake. After all, I was the one who gave him our business as an account.
In the time I had been away from managing that terminal, I had occasions to ask other local managers what kind of arrangements they had with the vendors of similar machines. Ours was the best - by far.
During dinner conversation with Tony, I asked again. How could he afford to give such a high pay-back on those machines? He gave me a quizzical look, like maybe I was joking with him. He finally decided I was serious. So, this time he responded to the effect that, yes, it did have to do with competition...and yes, it did have to do with keeping overhead low. He then let me in on the reality of the whole thing.
It was one of those "Duh!" moments.
He commented that certainly I realized that in his particular trade, especially in this part of the country, that there were organizations and groups that helped small businesses like his. Like any business, the cost of goods sold was a major factor in setting his prices and paying the 'commission' he paid. Well, the costs of goods sold in his business were extremely low. If I understood the 'wink' that went with his explanation, I began to understand what kinds of organizations he was referencing.
We shared a few drinks and talked for hours. At one point I asked him what his last name was - all I knew him by was Tony. It was then that he went into this long elaborate story about how he had been a witness against a major organization head in another part of the country. As a result, the Feds put him in the 'witness protection' program and he now lived under an assumed identity. Tony was his business moniker. His real and former name was Thomas Jablonski [this is not the name he gave me, but I'm not sharing that one] - not any where near being Italian or Sicilian. To be active in this trade he knew he needed to use a name that suggested an ethnicity like those who ran the trade in that area. So, he was now 'Tony'. He was hiding from his past. It was a matter of life and death. And all it took was an evening of drinking and I became his best friend and confidant.
Was that his 'real' real name? Was that all true? I suspect that it was not. What a way to live.
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After that get together with 'Tony', I would see him occasionally on my trips to that area. I'll share some other stories from time to time. I was naive in many ways before I worked in the Chicago area. I thought all that stuff was for television and movies.
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