I’ll Just Call You Taco 

This is the story of a young kid from Orlando.  Early 1970’s just as The Mouse discovered thousands of acres of dead citrus groves devastated by back-to-back freezes.  A few creative land deals with the County leaders and ‘voila’ we have a new industry – welcoming tourists while ruining a great place to live and raise a family.  postcard that says Greetings from Orlando

Following graduation and after a few months working at a Sunoco gas station next to the Lake Barton Fire Station, I got tired of listening to my jackass boss.  On his best day Rick couldn’t poor piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel or find his butthole with a funnel and a roadmap. Luckily, my friend asked if I wanted to be a “fireman”. “We work one day and then get two days off”, Ronnie said.  “And you get paid $4400 a year!”  I’m in! So, I complete the one-page application, roll it up and stuff it in the door handle at the fire station at 5am after I get off from the gas station and wait for the call.  Three days later the fire chief calls and asks me to come in for an interview.  How hard can this be?  I’ve worked at a neighborhood feed store. I had to quit soon after starting because I couldn’t stop sneezing – who knew I was allergic to seed dust. I worked at a Tom’s Pizza.  Back before Caller-ID there were many pineapple and peanut butter, grape jelly and ketchup pizzas ordered on Friday nights after the football games.  So, after shift I would take them to Susie Baby’s house where we enjoyed (?) a mystery pizza night with her family.

This interview is going to be a breeze. I sit down in front of Willard Harold Mayo, a stout, round-faced man of about 55 with gold-rimmed glasses.  As a former Navy CPO his uniform is impeccable. He’s ready for business. Chief Mayo begins his sharply-honed interview process: He starts off with “Do you drink?” Wow, I didn’t see that coming! I stutter, “Uh, no, sir. “I’m not old enough.”  He doesn’t flinch.  So far, so good.  He follows up with – “Do you smoke?” In my mind I ask – “Is this a test?” My answer -“No, sir.” Chief CPO asks, “Do you read the Bible?” Yikes, I am in the South! Although Central Florida has never been accused of being southern. “No, sir, I answer…  I’m, Catholic, and Catholics don’t read the Bible.” How long will this inquisition last? My head starts to hurt.  If I lie, I could go to hell according to my parish priest.

Just as my head is about to explode, the chief inquires, “How do you pronounce your last name, son?” I proudly and phonetically announce, “Montez day Oka”, it’s Mexican-American.” He doesn’t react.  Did I commit the ultimate sin of showing pride for my heritage?  Within a nanosecond he says, “Okay.”  “But I can’t pronounce it, so I’ll just call you Taco.” I sheepishly answer, “Uh, okay, I’m good with that, sir.”  And, that’s how I started my 40-year love affair with the fire service.

These posts will highlight the many heroes, characters – including assholes and idiots that molded my career – and life.  The characters will come in two flavors – mentors and morons… all of whom taught me to lead.  Included in each post will be the “moral of the story” or a “Leadership Learning Moment” based on my interaction with the individual. If you have a favorite mentor or moron or a comment in general, please let me know and I will elaborate in follow-up posts.