Friday, December 9, 2022


The story I blew: The flyswatter repairman of Needles


By Chuck Woodbury
I would like to tell you a story from many years ago that I didn’t write about. It was back in the day when I was just beginning my life as a writer. It was before I could come upon practically any situation and feel compelled to write about it.

It happened in Needles, Calif., a desert town along Route 66 best known for its sizzling summers and Snoopy’s brother Spike. I now call my non-story “The fly swatter repairman at the Texaco station I never knew.”

I was on a car road trip to the Midwest from my home in northern California. My gas tank was low so I pulled into the Texaco station to fill up. It was unbearably hot — a day when you want nothing to do with sunshine. As folks sometimes say in and around Needles, it was so hot “you could fry an egg on the hood of your car.”

THIS WAS A LONG TIME AGO, when an attendant would pump your gas. While my tank was being filled, I stretched my legs. In those days, gas stations did not have mini-marts, only coin machines that dispensed a bottle of Coke for a quarter.

So, in telling you that I was an adult in an era when Coke was a quarter, you know that I am of a generation that is commonly referred to as “old people.”

Quarter in hand, I walked toward the machine, which was near the big window of the gas station’s greasy, cluttered office. Inside, an old man sat on a chair. I couldn’t tell what he was doing. But then on the window I spotted a handmade cardboard sign: “Fly Swatters Repaired.” Sure enough, he was repairing a fly swatter.

For you youngsters reading this, I should tell you that fly swatters were not always made of plastic. They once had a wire mesh webbing that was superb for obliterating a fly. I can’t remember now exactly how the man repaired his fly swatters because I was not curious about everything then like today. But I do recall thinking that a person could buy a brand-new fly swatter for less than a dollar. So how could anyone earn any money repairing one of the old-fashioned kind?

Old fashioned fly swatters

I watched the man for a minute then went back to my car, paid for my gas and drove away heading east on the Mother Road. About 20 miles down the road I realized that I should have talked to the flyswatter repairman. But I was too lazy to turn around.

A couple years later I passed through Needles again. I stopped at the Texaco station. The flyswatter man was gone, and no one had ever heard of him.

I am mad myself and always will be about not talking with him way back when.

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Jim P Smith
2 years ago

This article reminds me of the many stories my father used to tell. now that I am older and he’s gone I kick myself for not finding out the details!! The how,when,why and who !!

Matt C
2 years ago

I just read the “Fly Swapper Repair” story. I want to let you know that you are not the only one to let a opportunity to witness history slip by. As a child on the east coast, I spent a lot of time in the small shipyards. I sometimes watched and marveled at the shipwrights craft, but paid little attention. I never would have believed that this world end. Many years later I returned to one of the yards I used to know well only to find that it is now a natty modern marina and there is no building and none of the marvel remains.

Mark Polsue
2 years ago

I like to write about things, mainly to find out what I really think about whatever the subject may be. I think all writers, like fishermen, have at least one story or blog, etc., that got away. I stopped at the Chevron (?) station in Needles back in the late 80s or early 90s, one of the times I went across country while I was still in the service. A big Indian pumped my gas. It was a day like you had and was 105 degrees. I did talk to this gentleman, although he was very stoic and didn’t say much.

2 years ago

Chuck you mentioned the 25 cent coke & you as being old people, hmmm when I was 10 years old & just starting my paper route the price of coke was 5 cents a bottle at Killians grocery store from the outside Big Red vending machine. I’m not that old, am I?

Sink Jaxon
2 years ago

Chuck, the story about NOT getting the story is still a good one. It was short, but it fascinated me. The sign of a good writer. Thanks for that!

M. Will
2 years ago

I have two old style wire mesh fly swatters. One in my shop and one in my trailer. They are still the best. Found them at a ranch supply place here in Medford, Oregon about ten years a go. Don’t know if they still sell them. I’ll have to look!!

Sharon Boehmer
2 years ago

As my father (he’s 82) reminds me (I’m 61), we have become a disposal society. Instead of saving a little money and fixing what can be fixed, we choose to throw away everything and buy a new one. Yes, I know its just a flyswatter, but it is just a sign of things to come.