Columnist slows for the cone zone at CarMax opening


CarMax, Inc., the country's largest retailer of used cars, opened its first Bay Area location in Pleasanton this month and asked me to demonstrate my car skills at its opening day ceremony.

Frankly, the speeches by Joel Merrier, general manager of the new Pleasanton facility, and Mayor Jerry Thorne were more to the point of detailing CarMax's expertise at showing and handling cars for sale than my bungling of some simple assignments.

Even so, I earned enough points in the "CarMax Road Rally" competition to qualify for a $2,000 donation to Stanford Health Care/ValleyCare Charitable Foundation, the charity of my choice. Its directors, Joyce and Bob Shapiro, were there to accept the CarMax check, although they were clearly nervous as I fumbled my way through the "rally" that they might not get the money.

They weren't alone. Members of the my downtown Rotary Club, Thorne, his fellow City Council members and about 100 city, civic and business leaders I know were standing on the CarMax tarmac cheering me on as I competed for the top prize in parallel parking, trunk stuffing and identifying the make, model and color of a car under wraps.

Their cheers soon turned to moans as I backed my red Camaro into cones placed about where the stripes are painted to mark Main Street parallel parking stalls. Atop each cone was an egg, which brought more moans as they tumbled to the pavement. Even with the help of a CarMax saleswoman who stood through the Camaro's open rooftop window, it was obviously not my day for squeezing into the space, although the crowd applauded my partner's gestures more than my turning of the wheels.

Packing the trunk of another car was no better. As another saleswoman handed me Christmas-type wrapped packages of different sizes, I wrestled with the proper placing of large ones over smaller types to get all 11 in the boot and close the trunk lid in roughly 90 seconds. I thought I'd won the test and slammed the lid shut as time ran out, only to look over and see my helper holding three more packages that I had missed.

Moving down the aisle of charming new-ish cars, I reached the covered one -- which I quickly identified as a 2014 red Nissan DX. When the wrap was removed, I found I was close. It was a Nissan, but a 2015 white Juke model. Oh well, by then the CarMax folks had taken a liking to my humor, if not skills, and gave the white-faced Shapiros the $2,000 check anyhow.

The Road Rally is just one of numerous events CarMax sponsors in the communities it serves, with its contributions particularly focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) organizations.

At the Pleasanton grand opening celebration, the retailer announced that The CarMax Foundation will invest approximately $95,000 for building a playground in the Bay Area through a partnership with KaBOOM!, the national nonprofit that seeks to ensure that all kids get the balance of play they need to become healthy and successful adults.

"Our commitment to our local communities is rooted in CarMax's culture," said Bill Nash, president of CarMax. "As CarMax expands in this region, we are especially excited to support and develop partnerships with area nonprofits that are making a positive impact in the community."

CarMax is also investing approximately $35,000 to donate a Rigamajig to the Palo Alto Fisher House, and CarMax is currently identifying an organization to receive an Imagination Playground. The associates of the Pleasanton CarMax also chose the YMCA of the East Bay to receive a $10,000 grant from The CarMax Foundation.

"The Pleasanton community has been very welcoming to CarMax," Merrier said. "We are excited to be able to support the community in addition to bringing the unique CarMax experience to the Bay Area."

Thank you, CarMax.

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