Mike Garcia, 63, has worked at Coca-Cola Refreshments in Houston, Texas, since he was 21 years old. He was a route salesman for the first 28 years, delivering Coke products to area businesses. Fourteen years ago he became a transport checker at the Southpoint Distribution Facility. Mike took a break to talk to us about the changes he’s seen over the years and the rewards of having a lifetime career at Coke.

Q. When you were a route salesman, what was it like driving around Houston every day?

Mike Garcia: I clocked anywhere from 25 to 50 miles a day, about 10 hours of driving and delivering.

Q. Why did you switch to becoming a transport checker?

I was at the point where I was looking at how I wanted to end my career at Coke. Staying on the route was too physically demanding and I knew I couldn’t keep doing it until I was ready to retire. After 28 years, I was ready to get out of my truck. When the opportunity came around for the transport checking job, I applied and got it right away.

Q. What did you do before you joined Coke?

I was a helper on a lumber truck.

Q. So you were used to heavy lifting?

I got all my exercise at work. At Coca-Cola I used a two-wheel dolly to cart cases of cans and bottles and syrup. The syrup is the heaviest. When I started at Coke in 1971 they were in 55-pound drums. Twenty years ago we switched over to bag-in-a-box and that weighs about 60 pounds. I lifted them over and over all day long. I would say I was in pretty good shape.

Q. Have you stayed in shape now that you’re in a different job?

I do a lot of walking, but I'm not anywhere near the shape I was in when I had my route. Now I have to go to the gym.

Q. What is it like to be a transport checker?

It’s more mental. Drivers come in and I have to check them in with paperwork, make sure they’re at the proper location, what kind of product they’re bringing, note down what time they arrive and what time they leave. We check in about 60 to 70 trucks a day in the facility and I do about 30 of them myself in an eight-hour shift. Fifty percent of the time I’m on my feet and 50 percent I’m putting information into the system.

Q. Have you become a better typist?

Not really. You’d think I would be.

Q. Can you tell me about your family?

I’ve been married to Anita for 45 years. We have two daughters and six grandchildren, five boys and one girl, ages 13 to 18.

Q. What do you like about working at Coke?

The thing I like most is the people. It’s the reason I’ve stayed here so long — the camaraderie. They hire good people who are friendly and easy to work with. I’ve outlasted many of my friends on the job but I like the new people, too.

Q. What is your job like on a day-to-day basis?

I’m in contact with a lot of drivers. Since I used to be one, I can relate to their situations if they’re late or early. Drivers come in and might not be having a good day, maybe they got held up half a day waiting for the product to be ready, waiting to get loaded and then they’re half a day behind getting it delivered. I have to try to look at things from their point of view and make them feel better, say, ‘I’ll get you out of here as soon as I can.’ If you tell people you understand and you apologize, that usually calms them down.

Q. How has your job changed over the years?

Just the amount of new products we bring online. When I started with Coke it was just Coke. Now it’s a challenge to keep up with all the new products — vitaminwater, juices, energy drinks. We couldn’t do it without the technology system we have now.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge in your job?

Trying to keep up with technology. When I started at Coke we wrote everything down manually. Now we’re in the computer age and I wasn’t born in the computer age. We just went through a major change a year and a half ago with a new online system. I picked it up okay. This new system is more efficient. We’re selling over 25 million cases a year from this facility so we have to keep track.

Q. What has been the biggest reward from your career at Coke?

I’ve been able to provide for my family and give them a good lifestyle. We bought a house and my wife was able to stay home and raise our two daughters. I was able to pay for their weddings. They’ve always had everything they needed. You don’t always get what you want. They had what they needed.

Q. What characteristics are important to have to work at Coke?

Patience. And you have to like working hard. You have a lot of demands put on you, but if you’re willing to work hard you’ll be okay. When I was on my route I was the only Coke person my customers saw, so anything that went wrong I was responsible for it.

Q: What do you say to a friend who wants to work at Coke?

I tell him to apply because it’s a great opportunity. As long as they understand there will be long days, and some days will be more difficult than others, then it’s a great job with great benefits.

Q: Do you have to retire in two years when you’re 65?

I might work longer. I used to couldn’t wait to retire but now that I’m a couple years away from it, my thinking has changed. When I get to 65, if I feel as well as I do now, I’d like to stay longer. It would all depend on if I felt I could still contribute.