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?
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.