Saturday, November 7, 2009

January 2, 1973

I was listening to a story on NPR about 1973 and they asked people what they remember about that year. After a moment, which wasn't a long moment, it was easy to remember that year. On January 2, 1973, I was discharged from the US Air Force after my 4-year elistment was up. I've written about some of my experiences during my service, but not about that day.

When I was discharged, due to previous circumstances with my bosses, I was given my full and complete discharge. Normally you're given a discharge from active duty and put on 2-year inactive reserve (the 6 year service). They decided that them and I should part company, so I was excused from inactive reserve duty and given a full and honorable discharge.

I can't remember much about January 1st, only I was married, we lived in an apartment in a suburb of Sacramento, California. I had already registered for classes at American River College, and was already working the graveyard shift at a local gas station. This meant, working nights, school during the day and sleeping evenings. While it worked for me, it didn't work for Linda (wife).

She worked days and didn't like coming home to find me sleeping, getting up at 11 pm to work midnight to 8 am. I also grew to dislike the graveyard shift. It was the only shift where one person manned the station. We were just off an interstate and one of the few stations open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And graveyyard was when you locked the station except for two doors (the front service entrance and the lobby to the bathrooms.

Since the station was just outside McClellan Air Force base, we got the civilian shift workers going home. Midnight to about 2:30 am (when the bars closed at 2 pm) was always busy. But then from 3 am to 6 am was pretty much quiet. My job was to clean the outside of the station, the gas service area (one on each of two sides), the windows, they lobby and bathrooms, and whatever else the boss left a note to clean.

All had to be done by 6 am for the morning commuters. Most nights I was done between 4 and 5 am so I had about an hour to find something to do. Fortunately next door was a 24/7 restaurant, so I would lock the doors, turn off the pumps and sit in the window booth getting warm. Remember it was winter when I started and worked this shft. The waitresses knew to leave my coffee cup and table alone when I left to service a car.

We were a full service station then, no self-service, and we checked the engine, cleaned the windows and anything else on the car the customer wanted. At that hour, most people just want gas to go home or back on the Interstate. The only other work was the service contract we had for the cars with a package delivery service. All 6 cylinder white Plymouth Valiants.

They were a Sacramento based company and serviced the entire middle San Jaquin-Sacramento Valley, going about 60 miles north and south and to San Francisco (downtown). They worked mostly overnight so their cars were coming in at all hours for gas and service. They were the only customers I was allowed to unlock the service bay door to work on cars. After that I could only do that for travel emergencies, for the mechanic in the morning.

In some ways I liked the job, the free time after the cleanup. I could read, study and do homework for the day. What's ironic is that I never got robbed. Only the occasional person who drove off without paying. The boss allowed some loss to that (if I reported the crime), but not too much as it may appear I'm selling gas on the side.

Anyway, after about a year at graveyard I moved to swing shift, 4 pm to midnight. It was always busy until about 9-10 pm when there was little to do, but there was always two people there. Once they learned what we could do as mechanics, we were often working on cars in the bays for the next day, usually just routine or minor service and maintenance. And we could sell and service tires.

After that, beside the job and school (went year around, even summers - GI Bill), there wasn't much time for the marriage, but we managed, which was mostly pack the 1971 VW Bug and travel around the area and visit San Francisco. At least one weekend and often two weekends a month just travelling and visiting.

In retrospect, it was probably one of the best years I've had. Nothing spectular, just ordinary, but free of the service and exploring life. In hindsight, Linda was and still is a great person and woman (divorced in 1984), but our marriage was almost always tenuous at best, a compromise between to disparate personalities and characters. I cherish the time, but I also realize how naive I was not to have done more and better.

But that's all history, a year in a life. And thanks to NPR, a jog to remind myself of a time when.

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