October 1, 2016

Discovering Small Town Utah Door-to-Door

It’s summer and now is the best time to road trip to some of Utah’s best remote locations and small towns. A few of my favorites: Manti (amazing Mormon town complete with pageants and the beauty of their temple rivals our SLC temple); Salinas, an ORV lover’s paradise; Helper, amazing old architecture from the coal rush; Cinton/Sunset – enjoy the Great Salt Lake and the aromatic waves of salt and brine shrimp. Plus many more not-so-well-known stops in this issue.

Just after I graduated from high school I wanted a job that paid well. My options were limited but I knew if I went into sales I could earn enough to buy a decent car and possibly have a more promising future in attracting ladies. All I could find, with my high school diploma and no sales experience, was a job “wholesale distributing” meat for Tyson Foods. Despite the job title, I found I wasn’t actually “distributing,” but as he explained in the interview, “setting up distribution routes.” In training I soon learned I wasn’t actually “establishing routes” so much as just selling boxes of meat door-to-door from the back of a pickup truck. Most who entered the doors of America’s Pride and discovered the actual nature of the work weren’t up to the challenge. But I was a fearless teenager with nothing to lose.

dog mirror

The journey begins with me and Keeks, who is ready for adventure! My other dog Louie (not pictured) is a little scared.

I received two blue shirts embroidered with “America’s Pride,” and was instructed to wear them daily. A tag with my name wouldn’t come until I proved I was worth the investment. After two weeks of training from Bill Stacey, who was the company’s top salesman from Oklahoma City, I officially became a “sales rep” but in reality a door-to-door meat salesman. On a daily basis I leased a pickup truck with a giant freezer in the bed attached to a generator packed full of boxes of various meats.

I knocked on doors in Salt Lake City and said, “Hi, my name is Richard and I’m a wholesale distributor for Tyson foods. You’ve probably heard of Tyson right?” “Wrong” or “Not interested” was the typical city-dweller’s response.

I quickly learned small towns were much more receptive to the concept of purchasing flash-frozen, steaks pumped full of chemical tenderizer that came from a freezer strapped to the back of a Nissan Pickup. It was in my journeys to these towns that I fell in love with small town folks.

I’d show them the marbling in the rib eyes (Oooohh!) or the giant T-bones (Ahhhh!). I’d comment on a stuffed cougar they had in their living room, and there was always an interesting story behind how they “bagged” the mountain lion. They didn’t call them cougars, but mountain lions. I always wondered why.

Small town folks always took me as not just a visitor but a friend. They took the time to tell me about their lives, their kids, and the things they were proud of; which was usually their taxidermy. Some of these folks maybe looked and acted strange, but many had hearts of gold.

Sometimes they really wanted the meat, but maybe they couldn’t afford it. So we would work out a trade. I could work with my commission on sales. Once I took a large bag of pinenuts for a box of pork chops. Another time a beautiful pocket knife for partial payment towards the six box variety case of meat. The best part about small towns is everyone had “deep freezes,” which were giant freezers full of processed game or frozen corn, creamed corn and corn dogs. A common objection was, “I’d love to buy, but we just don’t have the space.” So I quickly became an expert at packing meat into deep freezes.

“If I could fit this box of steaks in your deep freeze then would you be interested?” I would offer to get rid of all their freezer-burned corn products replaced with my T-Bones, chucksteak or McRib.

My meat selling career and business dealings with small town folk only lasted for three months. Although I had success as a meat salesman, my boss was a former sergeant in Vietnam and suffered from post-traumatic delusions of grandeur. His common penalty for under-performance was push-ups or laps around the office complex. We were required to arrive at the office at “0800 hours.” Eight a.m. was early for me and after my third tardy I was fined $100. He didn’t see this as excessive or unfair. So I quit.

Ever since I was 18, I’ve always wanted a good excuse to go back to small towns and knock on some doors and meet some interesting people again. This issue of Utah Stories is my excuse.