"The Trouble With Wars"

It was in the news yesterday - "Gasoline is .47/gallon at a gas station in Michigan!". I immediately thought back to the late '50's when I had an after school job working nights at a gas station in Aberdeen, Washington. Gas was normally selling for around $.28/gallon, but there was a regular cycle of 'gas wars', when competing gas stations would drop the price as low as $.12/gallon!

Of course some dealers were dropping water hoses into the underground gasoline storage tanks at night and doctoring the meter gears recording the amount of fuel coming out of the pumps to mitigate their losses. But the vehicles we had back then were not like the sophisticated machines we drive today - so those cars could handle watered down low octane fuel. It seemed like half the vehicles on the road back then left a smoke trail of oil and water vapors - especially if you were driving behind them with your windows rolled down.

By the age of 16 I knew how to rebuild almost any part of an automobile (except what we called 'the sissy shift' - automatic transmissions), and as always, my education came from doing. Diagnostic equipment was simple and no computers! Part of the time I helped the garage mechanic at the gas station and of course there was all the necessary repairs on my own car that I had to do because of my love of 'drag racing' on backroads late at night. Back then the vehicles and their various parts were not built to last long - and the roads were bad too. So car maintenance and repairs took up a lot of everyone's time.

But perhaps the most important lessons I took away from this experience of working at this combination gas station/repair shop/sporting goods store came from my interaction with the public. Time moved at a slower pace in those days and many customers would come into the store and talk to me about their experiences in WWI, WWII, and Korea. I got to know a lot of Vets and their war stories. It was not uncommon to see people around town with hooks for hands or doing an ungainly shuffle with a wooden leg - all reminders of what they went through in one of the wars. One friend had been blinded by mustard gas in WWI and went everywhere with a white cane, another friend showed me the scars on his cheeks and the missing teeth from a bullet passing through his mouth. He was a Lithuanian shot by a Russian soldier in 1940 during their resistance movement.

These personal stories demonstrated to me what war was really like - not one of these storytellers romanticized their experiences. Of course this was in stark contrast to the John Wayne and other hero type movies that glorified the war experience. The indoctrination you get from the media. Some of these vets were a little off - in those days we called it 'battle fatigue'. Their families would sometimes let it out that the vets would have screaming nightmares, inability to have meaningful relationships, and of course alcoholism. Some things never change. Reality can be a bitch.

So if there is going to be 'wars' - let them be 'gas wars' that benefit most of us, and not the 'perpetual wars' that only benefit the few who crave power and wealth at the expense of the rest of humanity. That said - I'm now going to go out right now and fire up my five speed Mustang GT and enter the 'car wars'. After all these years - the need for speed is still there!