Meet Ed Pate, Salesman

My besfrinn Cameron recently sent me Bossypants and aside from leaving me in sheer wonderment of the modern-day goddess that is Tina Fey, it made me think a lot about my own dad. Tina Fey devotes an entire chapter – “That’s Don Fey” – to her dad and an adventure she had with him whilst renting a wet vac from the grocery store. It is an adventure! She makes it so. The occupational hazard for reading Bossypants is trying not to plagiarize the entire book, so I’m just going to say that it serves more as a writing prompt than anything else for this little essay about my dad – Ed Pate. Also, props go to Brother Jon for inviting us all to write about our dads today. I will take every opportunity I can to think about my wonderful father.

Ed Pate was a salesman. He was a salesman with vigor. Arguably, in order to be any kind of good salesman, you have to do it with vigor, but Ed Pate set the bar high. He sold heavy machinery for Caterpillar and he loved those ridiculous machines. The majority of our family vacations were road trips and while we were on the road, we’d pass sites laying pipeline with other kinds of equipment – John Deere, Komatsu – and Ed Pate would orate to my mom, my brother, and me exactly WHY the Caterpillar DC845673B backhoe could do it better. We’d glaze over but he was in the zone. If he was really feeling it, he’d pull off the road to investigate the site and the machines. Not to sell anything, mind you, just to see how crappily the Komatsu was doing its job. This was a necessary chore, you see. If you can’t believe in your machine, what can you believe in?

The answer is, apparently, very little, except for stale Maxwell House coffee sweetened with Sweet & Low. It’s the Ed Pate way.

Ed Pate worked at the Caterpillar office off Nonconnah close to the airport. There were picnic tables out front so my mom would schlep us down there during the summers to have a picnic lunch with him. This was fun but gross. Ed Pate’s entire office was covered in a thin layer of dust and smelled like an oil change and cigarettes. He didn’t smoke – he sang the chorus of “Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette)” whenever he saw someone light up – but smelling like nicotine was part of the job. The secretaries (this was back when people still had secretaries and called them that) at his office were all named Shirley and were likely the source of the smoke, not to mention the financial solvency of Tab.

When you are a salesman, you have to have fun things in your office to make you seem more approachable. If you play with your clients, you trick them into buying more machines than they likely need. Ed Pate heard this somewhere but obviously did not take it into consideration that since he was already the most likable and honest guy ever, he didn’t need gimmicks. Since he was a heavy equipment dealer in the South, he kept a can of tinned possum in his desk. I credit the can of tinned possum for putting braces on my teeth. Oh sure, he had the wherewithal to purchase the novelty item at the Cracker Barrel store so some of the credit goes to him. Some.

When I was eleven, he started working from home. The storage room off of our garage was converted into his home office. This was also the year he got a car phone. Not a cell phone, a car phone. It was basically the same as a home phone except it was in your car. It came with a spiral cord, a jack, and an instruction book that could be used as a booster seat for small children. And when it broke, you had to take your entire car into the shop and wait all afternoon to get it fixed. Ed Pate would often drive us to school and make sales calls on the car phone. He was a good Christian man who I never, ever heard say a swear word, so when he put the car phone on speaker and his client dropped every word in the book all in good humor, it was tons o’ fun to see him get squeamish and remind the guy that his kids were in the car and to keep it PG. The client would rarely do so, so it was extra fun to see Ed Pate try to make a sale while at the same time deciding what was more dangerous – exposing the kids to the eff word or not driving hands-free. He usually opted for both, which added the task of not taking out pedestrians to the roster.

Ed Pate had a coffee mug with a Far Side cartoon of a guy selling refrigerators to Eskimos on it. It said something like, “Ralph Smith, King of Salesmen.” My dad was the real-life king of salesmen. I miss him a lot, but I’m pretty sure he’s selling halos to the angels now and earning a hefty commission.

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83 comments

  1. Oh Emily, I loved this. Your dad sounds like he was an amazing man. Those car phones were awesome. I remember my uncle having one and thinking he must have been the most important business man in the world!

    1. I know! The first time I ever saw a car phone in person was in third grade and was invited to a slumber party at a classmate’s home. She was from Kuwait and her dad was a big time oil guy. Balla.

  2. Outstanding. I hate to tell you though, we have a John Deere outlet just down the road.

    1. NOOOOOOO! He programmed me to equate John Deere with garbage. Kids are so impressionable and weird.

      1. “If it ain’t that Green and Yella…” I think that saying is enough for me to become a Caterpillar fan.

  3. harperfaulkner · · Reply

    Excellent tribute. Excellent storytelling. Well done and thanks for sharing. HF

    1. Thank you, Harper! I really enjoyed writing this.

  4. Lovely portrait of your dad, Emily. What a character — a charming, lovable character! A fine story.

    1. Those two adjectives describe him perfectly. Thank you so much for reading, Laura!

  5. I love what you wrote, Emily. It really makes me love your dad. I just need some back ground music from The Wonder Years to complete the feeling. Seriously, he sounds like the definition of “Dad.” No wonder your so grounded and real. Awesome tribute.

    1. He was the best! And he loved the Wonder Years, so that would be an apt soundtrack for this. Thanks, Lisa!

  6. What an enjoyable story. Car phones were the bomb diggity.
    My mother-in-law still drinks Tab. It’s her only soda of choice. On her last trip out, I bought her a 12 pack to have in her hotel room and it was one of three in the store…one day she is going to be Tab-less.

    1. I didn’t even know Tab was still around! Do you have to search it out at the store?

      1. When my husband asked me to get her some, I said the same thing! It was in the soda aisle at the grocery store…it did take me a minute, because they really only did have 3 packs on the shelf, but it was there!

  7. Lovely tribute to your salesman dad, Emily. You struck many chords about what it’s like to have had a salesman father. My dad was one, too, but for Bulova watches. He didn’t have a car phone, but Bulova made every member of the sales force have an answering machine by around 1974. People were always freaked out when they called our house for my father recorded his outgoing message by saying, “Hello,” and then he’d pause. Callers often did not realize his greeting was a recording, so they’d start talking only to then hear the rest of my father’s outgoing message followed with the beep to start theirs. We had many baffled callers leaving cryptic messages. This drove my dad crazy, but I found it hilarious.

    1. That is so funny! I had an answering machine when I was a teenager and I did the Hello/Pause thing on purpose. Fun for hours when people start rambling!

  8. What a great tribute to your dad! He sounds like he was a great dad, and a funny man. And yeah, I believe you can still get Tab some places, just like RC Cola.

    1. Thanks, Jen. RC Cola is good! My parents said that when they were kids, you would always drink it with a MoonPie. Kids in the 60s knew how to do a sugar rush right.

  9. Tina Fey would be proud.

    1. Awww, thanks. She’s my fave.

  10. Very nice tribute. I enjoyed reading it. :)

    1. Thanks! I think I’m going to do more, profiling different aspects of him. There’s so much more where this came from.

  11. krugthethinker · · Reply

    I miss your dad so much. This is beautifully and hilariously written. I had actually never heard those stories, so I love it even more. :)

    1. A lot of memories came back to me when I was writing this. I will probably write more about him because it takes me to a really warm and special place. Love you!

  12. Beautiful and funny.
    I loved Bossypants, too, and it sounds like I’da gotten a kick out of your awesome dad.

    1. It’s so funny, right?! Tina Fey is wonderful. I want to be her life stand-in.

      1. I want to be her BFF and have sleepovers with her where we braid each other’s hair.

  13. This was wonderful. It made me very sad and very happy at the same time. Having someone leave you stories is so beautiful, even if it’s painful not having that person around. I don’t know what happens to people when they die, but your writing makes me hope your dad is somehow able to read it.
    Thanks for the prompt to lay paws on Bossypants. I’ve never mentioned this but my mother is obsessed with Tina Fey (she even fancies she resembles her, and she was tickled when Tina named her recent arrival after Miss P—oooohhhh, great minds!!).

    1. I think he has an awareness for where we are and what we are doing now. I’ve done a lot of big things since he died – graduated college and graduate school, gotten married, had a baby – but I like to believe that he’s been there with me all along. It makes me feel safe and secure.

      Tina Fey is kind of my idol. In Bossypants, she talks about living in Chicago, and it turns out that when I lived there it was in ALL her old neighborhoods! Like, I went to the exact same Planned Parenthood and YMCA that she talks about in the book!

      1. Totally love Tina Fey…huge admiration…would love that kind of success too!

  14. The end really got to me — made me emotional. How fortunate you are to have had such a man in your life. Like you say, he’s probably selling halos to angels and sitting down with them for a nice stale cup of Maxwell House with Sweet ‘n Low :)

    1. He was great but he could definitely keep his coffee. Thanks for reading! Your comment is really kind :)

  15. I bet he was a very entertaining guy. I love the image of there being a halo salesperson in heaven. He sounds as though he would be perfect person to fill the position.

    1. Ha! He really would do a good job! I bet he would go the wholesale route and sell them in bulk. Thanks, Em!

    1. Ed Pate rocked it out :)

    1. I agree. Memories and stories are so precious. Thanks for reading!

  16. Emily,
    Drove past a construction site the other day and there were a few “Cats” and the rest was junk. Dad LOVED heavy equipment and Caterpillar. He sold oil pipeline equipment to all states east of the Mississippi River. That was his territory. Didn’t know you were listening to the lectures on bulldozers and such.
    Miss him every day but glad he missed 9/11/01. Everything changed so much after that.
    Love,
    Mom

    1. Ha! These were the pre-Walkman days so we had no choice but to listen to his explanations of those machines. Love you!

  17. Emily,
    Who is the cute girl with Dad? :)

    1. She is likely the subject of an upcoming blog post :)

  18. Such a nice tribute, Emily. Your dad sounds like a good man. Tomorrow morning I will raise my mug of Maxwell House to him.

    1. Aww, thanks Weebs. He was a really good man, despite his usage of Sweet & Lo. (Is it obvious that I don’t like that stuff?)

  19. How wonderful to have such a wonderful dad. And you should you pass that bossy pants onto me to borrow.

    1. Will do! It is so funny and great.

  20. unfetteredbs · · Reply

    BossyPants was a great read– very funny. I love Tina Fey. This post was very sweet and loving. Kudos to the all American Dad, Ed Pate and to you, his lovely daughter for sharing his story.

    1. Thanks! We shall all raise a mug of nasty coffee to him ;D

  21. Ohshit. My dad is still with me and I am crying anyway. There’s something about a little girl’s dad. I feel like I have met your dad. This was a delight to read. Thank you. Big nod to Ed Pate!!

    1. Thanks! He was the best. I love writing about him.

  22. I loved this, Emily. You’re so fortunate to have had such a wonderful Dad. Thank you for sharing this story.
    Cathy

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I was indeed very blessed to have him. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  23. I’m trying to think of a TV or movie dad he reminds me of but I can’t think of who. Maybe he should have his own character based on him? My dad had a Far Side book. That’s about the only thing they have in common. Your dad reminded me more of my grandpa on my mom’s side; hardworker, blue collar, an every man. I think it was mostly mentioning John Deere because that always makes me think of my grandpa even though I’m not sure he specifically used that brand.

    1. Steve Martin has always reminded me of my dad because they are both super goofy and they actually looked a lot alike, although you can’t really tell it a lot from this picture. Plus, The Jerk was one of his favorite movies. The main way that they are dissimilar is that my dad didn’t waste his time writing crappy novels and being pseudo intellectual. Thanks, Tim.

  24. He sounds like quite the man, I could barely manage to sell gas and electric over the phone without wanting to take a long walk off a short pier. Anyone that’s a successful salesman earns my respect because I’ve been there…

    1. He was a pretty great guy. I think he liked selling stuff because he liked the thrill of the kill when he made a sale, like he really earned it. Welcome and thanks for reading, Pete.

  25. Your dad sounds like an awesome guy. I love your stories about him. You guys were lucky to have each other. The last line of your post is truly awesome!

    1. Thanks Lil! He was certainly an awesome guy. I miss him a lot, but I love writing about him because then i remember so much more about him.

      1. I love when people call me Lil :)

        I look forward to more posts about ol’ Ed.

  26. Emily, this is so sweet. And I too remember the eighties car phone. It could swallow about eight of today’s cell phones.

    1. I know, right!? I lovingly refer to it as the Zack Morris Brick.

  27. I love this. I have been trying to write an effective post on my dad but it always seems like there is so much to say. You have done it brilliantly.

    1. Thank you. Most of the time I am just waiting around for the inspiration to talk about him and do him justice. It comes around once in a blue moon but I love it when it does!

  28. […] off we have Meet Ed Pate, Salesman from Emily at The Waiting. We hear about Ed, the Caterpillar salesman. He owned a can of tinned […]

  29. What a wonderful tribute!

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed writing this! ;D

  30. Reblogged this on The Waiting and commented:

    My dad was the awesomest. Yours probably was too, but there was only one Ed Pate. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. ;D

  31. Tina Fey – love. Bossypants – love. Far Side – love. Your dad sound fantastic. So was this post.

    1. Thank you! He was pretty fantastic. ;D

  32. I haven’t read Tina Fey’s book, but you could write one. You write like a writer. Amazing.

    1. You are way too kind. Ms. Fey’s book is wonderful; she fuses humor and depth together very skillfully. She and I both found great inspiration in our dads.

  33. What a fun post! Sounds like you have a lot of great memories of your dad and that is a blessing!

    1. It absolutely is, Kerri! He was a wonderful man.

  34. Ed Pate sounded like a hell of a guy :) And my dad also had one of those car phones. I remember feeling cooler than you know what when I would pretend to talk on it, hoping to instill envy in every other driver we passed. I’m sure anyone who saw me really believed that some 9-year-old had such super important business that it had to be discussed right there in the Ford Taurus. But that was on the rare occasions my mom drove the car. My dad would never let us play with it.

    1. You never know. You could have made people believe you were an up-and-coming star on Nickelodeon. I mean, this was the Clarissa Explains It All era. For all they knew, you could have been her nine-year-old agent. ;D

      1. I think I would have rather been on “You Can’t Do That On Television.” And yeah, I’m sure I was totally convincing.

  35. Wonderful! i would gladly buy a Caterpillar backhoe from Ed Pate. My dad is a retired country veterinarian, so he had one of those car phones, too! i thought it was the coolest. I would sit in the parking lot at the grocery store while he went inside–in a beat up Toyota truck covered in cow manure, sporting a Visa and Mastercard sticker in the back window, pretending to talk to important people in Hollywood on that plastic phone. GLAMOUR.

    1. Giant brick phones were the height of sophistication in the early 90s! ;D

  36. I loved Bossypants. And it made me suspect that where I went wrong with my life is not having Don Fey as my dad.

    1. WORD. We should all be so lucky to have a Don Fey in our lives.

  37. […] Ed Pate insisted that I go. I was irate because I had planned on sleeping in and watching Pretty Woman on […]

  38. […] Emily at The Waiting: Meet Ed Pate, Salesman […]

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