top of page
  • Writer's pictureMel

When I Was 16 in 1974...

...I was working weekends and summers at the Fina Station on the corner of Main and Oak Streets in Ada, Oklahoma. I was getting paid the princely sum of 75 cents an hour. Of course, I was working for my dad, so my transportation was covered. I'd recently gotten my license, so I was able to get some drive time behind the wheel every day.

The truck was a 1968 Chevy pickup with a four-speed floor shift. First gear was pulling gear so I always took off in second gear and worked my way up.

I worked the drive (pumped gas, checked oil, aired tires, and cleaned windshields) and fixed flat tires for a buck. I plugged a tubeless tire or patched a tube, and I'd already earned back the money I was getting paid.

It was hot back in that little one-car garage. There was no air conditioning in the whole building, only a box fan in the front office and sometimes one in the garage. My dad made extra money doing mechanic work.

I got time in at the desk reading and writing, but I fixed a lot of flat tires!

On those blistering hot July days, I'd be back there with sweat streaming off me. Dad also sold tires and usually people would buy four of them because he sold them low to keep them moving. It also kept me moving. I was dirty and nasty from the work, and thought I'd never get the smell of vulcanized rubber out of my nose.

Lunch was usually a baloney sandwich with pickles and onions and a small package of chips eaten whenever I had time. I had coke box privileges, and there was a water fountain that was mostly cold some of the time.

Across the street was a small family supermarket that sold used paperbacks and Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and Mike Shayne mystery magazines. You could get a lot for a quarter back in those days, and I did. The building next to the supermarket was a domino and pool hall. Young white hippies and druggies (no, they weren't the same people all the time) shot pool and old black men played dominoes for money.

Every now and again, there'd be a fight that spilled out onto the street. Not often. It wasn't the hippies or the druggies. It was the old guys playing dominoes. Sometimes it was over money, and once it was over women. I didn't get all of that story because it was loud and quick, and over about as soon as it started because police officers rolled in. The cops watched the pool hall for drug trade, I think, and every now and again one or more of the young guys would get hauled out in handcuffs.

On the corner diagonal from us was a small used car lot that didn't do much business. I don't know how it lasted, but it did. Next to them was a small café that I think I ate in twice. They had good hamburgers and shakes. I went there those times to eat, but it was expensive to eat there when you made 75 cents an hour, and I always felt uncomfortable eating around adults, though I was practically one myself.

Plus, I felt like I was slacking. Those flats never fixed themselves.

A 7-Eleven (they spelled out the second number back in those days) sat on the other corner. I went there to get comics, which were cheap enough even on my budget, and new paperbacks off the spinner rack. The Aramark truck arrived every Tuesday. It was the distribution service for periodicals. I always walked over after they cleared out to find out what was new.

I loved shopping the new comics, books, and magazines. They kept the Playboy magazines behind the counter and out of sight. You had to be 18 to buy one, and when I finally turned 18,

I drove to a 7-Eleven across town where I never went so no one would recognize me. I felt guilty buying it, especially when the clerk was a woman old enough to be my mom. She told me she hoped I enjoyed my magazine.

It was years before I bought another one, and then it was at the Ada Book Stall. They had a small, walled-off section where they kept the adult books and magazines from view. I never felt comfortable buying Playboys. Later, after I got married at the tender age of 19, I got a subscription to the magazine because it was one of those benchmarks of adulthood. At least, I thought it was.

Just down from the 7-Eleven was the Glendale Park. My mom took my brothers and me there when we were little. They had a three-story (not real stories, just different levels to crawl up) rocket ship that we thought was awesome.

By 1974, the druggies moved into the park and I was too old to go there really, and families didn't visit as much as they had.

I met a lot of people who lived around that corner. There were six apartment units, all single-story, that were right behind the service station.

One of the guys there had gotten cancer, had his voice box cut out, and had a permanent hole in the hollow of his throat that he kept covered with a cloth he wore around his neck. He would lift the cloth, blow through the hole like a whale I thought, and wipe away whatever came out with a handkerchief. I watched for weeks and hoped to get a look at the hole. I'm curious by nature. Now I just ask. I remember when I first saw it, I was grossed out, but it was all healed over. It just looked...alien.

He came around and hung out at the station because he was medically retired or on disability or something. He and dad talked a lot, but I didn't get in on the conversations too much.

There was a Salvation Army just down the street. The captain there talked to my dad a lot because Dad worked on the Salvation Army vehicles. I learned about the captain's side hustle which I'm pretty sure wasn't legal. At least I was told it wasn't legal. He took in cotton clothes (mostly shirts and dresses), bundled them up once a month, and drove them up to Oklahoma City. He sold them to a paper mill for rag content and kept the money for himself.

One of the guys who worked at the Salvation Army was an old guy named Johnny. His real name was Hosea something. He showed it to me on a check once. He brought me science fiction books that came through the Salvation Army every now and again. He had a 1964 Mercury Comet that was almost emerald green.

When I went to take my driving test for my license, my mom's car wouldn't pass inspection (they did that back in those days), and I was ready to die because I was 16 and was ready to drive. I wanted the license. It didn't matter that I didn't have anything to drive.

Johnny was gracious enough to loan me his car and I passed with a 90, which I thought was pretty good, but I still wanted to be perfect. According to my wife, I never will be.

A year later, I discovered Johnny was a recovering alcoholic. I'd never met one before. He held it together for over a year, then one summer he fell off the wagon. He still came around and hung out at the station to talk to my dad. That summer one of my brothers fell in love and ran away from home on a ten-speed bicycle. He was 14, as I recall, and he threw the household into a tizzy. He did that a lot.

My dad gathered a search party of uncles, and Johnny came along. I was at the house when they were talking. Johnny got the shakes, DTs, which I had never heard of. I watched him drink aftershave in the living room to try to get rid of them. It was the oddest thing. Alcohol wasn't kept in our house because my mom didn't allow it and she used to load all of us kids up to go looking for my dad at the "joints," beer halls and such. Those years weren't a lot of fun.

I've strayed farther off topic than I'd thought.

I have to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that kicks in during the dark months. I don't enjoy Christmas because everything is stressful and I don't get to go outside and work in the sun like I do when I garden. Or when the kids played little league for so many years.

SAD has hit pretty hard today. I went to the graduation this morning. Being around a LOT of people and having to sit still for so long usually sets it off. In the spring/summer, I can come home and go out in the garden, which usually calms me down.

This afternoon and evening I've found little things to do to distract me. Writing has always calmed me, which is probably one of the biggest reasons I'm so prolific. Didn't set out to do that. It just happened.

Getting back to why I posted that particular video at the beginning of this, I play music every now and again as a distraction. I'm not big on music. I like Elvis, Bonnie Raitt, and Delbert McClinton, and a whole lot of blues artists. I like a lot of individual songs.

"Little Willie" by the Sweet was released late in 1972 and was still hanging out in the Top 40. I happened on it tonight and, just like always, I was back on that corner sweating my guts out while I was fixing flats.

I probably overshared. People sometimes ask me why I don't write more stuff that I experienced. I don't think it's very interesting to read, but all of it shaped me as a writer. I can look back and see that.

44 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page