When I recall those high school days when service stations provided "service" I think it's probably better that people pump their own gas today.
I was a hardworking little cuss, but I really didn't grasp the particulars of working around automobiles. While filling up a guy's radiator one day, I noticed that his engine looked awfully hot. So I cooled it down with water. Steam and smoke began pouring out of the engine. I shut the hood quickly and sent the car on its way. I learned later that the technical term for what I had probably done was "cracking an engine block."
I never actually told my boss, Mr. Yoshioka, about that incident. He was on hand, however, when I set a customer's car engine on fire. It was an accident, of course. The boss didn't want to hear about the nasty shock I received when I inadvertently touched the metal dipstick to a hot wire. A fire at a gas station tends to make everyone edgy.
What I lacked in technical expertise, I tried to make up in hustle.
I was washing the windows of one car so fast that I didn't notice the driver's window was down. Personally, I thought the driver overreacted. I mean, it was just a sponge. The boss urged me not to punch the customers.
The boss had a large map of Oahu on the office door. He loved that map. While racing into the office to get some change one day I slipped. As I went down, my fingers caught the top of the boss' map and ripped a four-inch swath down the length of it. The boss was extremely disappointed.
We were lowly gas monkeys. But we were called on to do things that seemed beyond the scope of our responsibilities.
Next to the station, we stored cars that had been involved in accidents on the Leeward side. Sometimes we were asked to remove any valuables and lock the cars. Once, when I was reaching across a pool of blood to retrieve a jacket, a piece of bloody scalp fell on my arm from the broken windshield. I still think that was asking a little too much from some kid who was making 90 cents an hour.
If someone couldn't pay for their gas, we were supposed to make the person leave his spare tire. This struck me as being a dangerous responsibility when the boss wasn't around. Especially the night a stolen car full of mokes came in. I noticed there was no key in the ignition, but filled the car up anyway. As I recall, the following conversation then took place:
Me: That'll be eight dollars.
Driver: Sorry, brah, I no more money. (Smiling at his buddies.) I wen' forget my wallet.
Me: Well, I'm supposed to take the spare tire.
Driver (indicating the hot wires): Yeah, but, I no more trunk key, eh?
Me: Well, you guys have a nice night, OK?
Had I been wearing a Kevlar vest, I might have been a bit more aggressive in trying to get the spare tire. But Kevlar wasn't invented yet, and I was pretty sure that Chevron patch on my shirt wouldn't stop a bullet.
When the boss and I opened the station each morning, it was dark. Throughout the morning, the boss would chew on his unlit cigar as we put out the oil cans, waited on cars and cleaned the restrooms.
Finally, the sun would come up and the boss and I would sit on the little white wall in front of the office. We'd look out over Pearl Harbor. The water would be like glass and the sky golden. At those times, everything seemed right with the world. The boss would finally light the uneaten part of his cigar, take a deep puff and say "Charley Boy, go school. Study hard. Don't be like me: work every day, fall asleep during football game."
And at that, I'd go to school.
Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite" Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802 or send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.