In the summer of 1954, there was a gas war in the Mississippi Delta, and at one point, Rose and Billups were selling regular for $.16 per gallon. My summer job was working as general flunkey at Luper Cole’ Gulf station at the intersection of Hwy 8 and US 49. Gulf never lowered their prices below $.22, and a whole lot of our customers were opting to Ride “with Rose” and “Fillup at Billups.” Things were slowing down by the day, and if we hadn’t had the Denton Dairy tire changing account, Mr. Cole would have probably let me and Jack, the mechanic go.
Most of the roads in the Delta were un-paved gravel, and every day we’d change anywhere from two to six tires for Denton. Changing a truck tire with a split rim was dangerous work. If things weren’t done just right, the rim could blow apart while you were filling it with air and decapitate you. Jack was our resident expert in such matters, and since Mr. Cole didn’t want to do it himself, and I was needed to tend the front while Jack took care of the tires, we both had a certain amount of job security.
Mr. Cole paid me minimum wage, which was $.75 per hour, and I was bringing home $30.00 per week before taxes. In 1954 that was a bunch of money to a fifteen year old, and I even managed to save some for a rainy day. The fact that I was relatively flush was no excuse to overpay for gas. My best friend and I had solved the gas problem even before the gas war. We devised a sure fire method of keeping our tanks filled. We mastered the use of a siphon hose.
Now there are those who would describe siphoning gas from someone else’s tank as stealing. Benny and I found that rather harsh. We preferred to think of it as finders, keepers. We were only taking something that was carelessly left lying about. Why heck, our favorite source didn’t even bother to lock the gate on their parking lot. Well, they did actually lock the gate, but you could still find a place to crawl under it. Sloppy security, if you asked Benny and me.
Our usual routine was to fill up our tanks for the weekend by hitting Bale’s Construction Company’s parking area late on Thursday night. Bales stored all of its equipment in a fenced-in field next to the City Sewage treatment plant on Yale Street, the town’s southern boundary. The chain link fence was topped with barbed wire, but we had dug an entrance point beneath it. We had unfettered access to the gas.
On this particular Thursday, Benny and I had gone to John Wayne in The High and The Mighty, and the Duke was at his heroic best. After the movie we stopped by the El Rancho and ate a couple of BBQ sandwiches. We would have loved to have a couple of beers, but Coach Wig Riley had eyes all over the place, and getting caught drinking beer was not worth the wind sprints with a bell dummy on your back.
We left the El Rancho just after eleven, and stopped by the FHA building behind the high school to gather our equipment. We picked up two five gallon jerry cans we had borrowed from our National Guard unit, and a five foot length of rubber hose that Jesse had scooped up from West Implement Co. You might wonder how 10 gallons of gas would get us through the weekend. Only I had a car, and it was a 1950 Ford Business Coupe, with no back seat. The big V8 engine was surprisingly fuel efficient, and considering that our little town was less than a mile wide no matter how you measured it, there was only so far we could go. We also took off our football practice jerseys and slipped on black t-shirts. We were ready to roll.
The Bale’s Construction lot was on one side of Yale, and there was a forty acre cornfield just across the road in the city limits. There was a turn row on the backside of the cornfield, and we pulled my car into it until it was invisible from the street. We unloaded the jerry cans and started walking through the cornfield. Fortunately, the rows ran in the direction we wanted to go.
When we reached the edge of the cornfield across from the equipment lot, we eased down in the roadside ditch and began to carefully recon the lot. There was one mercury vapor light on the front of the lot near a small office building, and we had just enough light to make sure there was no one lurking about. We waited until no cars were in sight from either direction, and crossed the road to the ditch on the opposite side. We were now committed. We’d never be able to explain the Jerry cans and rubber tubing.
We low crawled along the outer edge of the fence, dragging the empty can along with us. We found the dug out portion of the fence, and eased under it. Carefully, we crawled until we reached an army surplus deuce and a half on the edge of the lot. We crawled under the back of the truck until we reached a point just opposite the saddle tanks, and paused to catch our breath. I eased out until my head was just inside of the front tire of the truck, when we heard a man cough. Talk about an “Oh S—t” moment.
I looked at Benny, and he looked at me, and neither of us had a plan. I froze with my head against the truck’s tire, when we heard the door to the truck’s cab squeak open, and I saw a very large boot step down to the ground. All I could see was his legs up to about his knee, and I never saw it coming. He had gotten out of the truck to take a leak, and was pissing on the tire above my face. I was catching the splatter full in the face. I closed my eyes and held my breath, hoping that he hadn’t been drinking beer.
It’s difficult to estimate time when someone is peeing in your face, but it seemed like he had the bladder of Man O War. When he finally finished, he shook a few more stray drops in my face, then climbed back into the cab. I looked at Benny and he was holding his hands over his mouth, shaking like a leaf. At first I thought he might be scared, but soon realized he was attempting not to break out in gales of uncontrolled laughter.
We gave it a full ten minutes, then began our retreat. We left the cans and tubing in the name of mobility, and crawled back to the hole under the fence. When we were half way across the cornfield, Benny couldn’t hold it in. He fell to the ground in convulsions of laughter. After I gave the evening a little thought, I joined in. On Saturday morning I filled up at Luper Cole’s Shell, and decided that it wasn’t all that expensive.
Categories: Flash Fiction