The year was 1973, I was just released from the Navy; one of six thousand Marines and Sailors discharged after the cease-fire of the Teenagers war, I was 21. What reminded me of the episode in my life that I am going to relate is all of the name-callings we as a nation are experiencing for the past few years.
“Hey! Scrotum!” What in the heck I thought as I turned around “Yeh, you!”
I accepted a job working overnight in a gas station located in a small Central California town, which I will not name. The place was all Cowboys, Farmers, and Truck Drivers, every one of them was a tough guy it seemed.
I looked at the Cowboy in the beat-up pickup, with a pretty girl next to him, both were about my age. “You, c’mere.” he said.
I turned my back to him digging my feet as a Cat does burying scat. “Did you see what he did?” The girl said in a squeaky voice.
“Yeh, I saw it.” The Rhodes scholar shouted.
After a few threats, he drove off down the deserted main street leaving me to confront the next oddball that rolls in.
I didn’t have to wait long, about 1/2 hour later loud country music, accompanied with squealing tires, a huge 60’s Buick or Oldsmobile came roaring up to the station.
“Hey!” the driver screamed over the music, “You’re the only person I’ve seen since I left the highway, Man! This is my song, that’s me singing and playing the guitar, it’s number 1 man, I made it!”
This is a guy I wanted to talk to, he was obviously drunk either with alcohol or excitement I couldn’t tell. I walk up to him and shook his hand, I had just met Merle Haggard, I forget what song it was. He didn’t have to tell me his name, he had been writing music for a long time and was well known in that part of the state. I congratulated him and whooped it up a bit. Squealing tires, rubber smoke, and loud music left me in silence once again waiting for the next explosion.
It was about 3:30 am and I was doing whatever gas station attendants do at night alone in the drive next to the pumps when a man younger than I stepped out of the shadows.
“This is a stickup,” he said.
“OK” I replied, “What do you want?”
“All your money.”
“All of my money?” I didn’t have any money “You probably have more than I do.” I answered.
“Stop fooling around, give me the money from the safe.” He pulled a zippo lighter from his pocket and opened the filler lid for the gas tanks.
I had just spent 4 years on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, a lot of that time was spent fighting jet fuel fires. I know what happens when a tank explodes. I backed up to the street, I was thinking of just walking home and leaving the crazies to the night.
So the guy lights the lighter, holding it over the filler spout he said he’s going to drop it if I don’t get the money. “I hate to break it to you,” I began “but if you drop that in that tank you’ll be the first to go, it won’t affect me at all.”
He got a confused look on his face, he closed the lighter lid and ran back into the shadows, good grief I thought, what’s next.
Almost daylight it was now about 4:30, I’m not making any of this up, it’s exactly what happened at that gas station. A smoking pickup drove by, top speed was about 5 mph. I wondered what was going on now, it crawled to a stop and a cursing lady jumped out. Grabbing the hood the pearls dropping from her mouth would embarrass a Sailor, and they did, her truck was on fire. Upon lifting the hood the flames shot up, I grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to help her.
“I don’t need no help from you or any other man!” She was coming from a place I couldn’t predict. “Leave me alone and mind your own business, cuss, cuss, cuss, you so and so.”
“I’ll leave the fire extinguisher.” She didn’t hear me as I retreated to the safety of the gas station. I watched the truck burn up, her shouting was beyond reason now. I remember here biggest issue at that point was “what am I going to do now?”
Talk about cutting one’s nose off to spite their face, it could have been avoided, she didn’t even have to be nice to me just let me put the dang fire out. When I returned to work 12 hours later the only reminder of that night was the blackened spot on the road.
“How’d it go last night?” The owner asked me.
“Same as every night.” Was my reply.
“Were you here when the truck caught on fire?” he asked.
“Yeh, I watched it burn.” I continued “the lady said she had it handled.”
“I went to school with her,” the boss replied, “she was OK then.”
All I said was “really?” I found it hard to believe.
It didn’t take long to figure out why he couldn’t hang on to night attendants, it didn’t bother me too much, the activity kept me awake at least. But that’s the way every night went that I worked there, this stuff cannot be made up. I don’t remember selling even one gallon of gasoline or bag of potato chips. I couldn’t figure out why the place was even open all night. My impression was as it is the only occupied building downtown, one block long and both borders of the town could be seen from the main street, someone had to be somewhere. I was there to control all of the crazy people, that’s all I could figure, but relief did come one morning, opportunity only knocks once.
“Hey,” oh great I thought another drunk Cowboy, at least he didn’t call me a name.
“Yeh, what.” I was beyond being polite after working there for a month.
“Do you want a job?” he asked
Oh, brother, I thought, “doing what?” was my reply
“I need help on a well drilling crew, you’re about the right size.”
“OK, when do I start?” I asked.
“How about in about an hour?”
“No,” I said
“OK then, tomorrow morning at 5, what do you say?” His rapid change of mind should have been a bright red alert, but it wasn’t.
“Alright, I’ll be there.” It didn’t surprise the boss when I told him I quit. I told him a guy offered me a job drilling wells.
“Oh yeh, we went to school together, he was OK then.”
Whatever that meant I was off to another adventure, that job is another blog and it’s a doozy. That well drilling job was unbelievable.
Jacques Lebec Natural Self Reliance