Believe it or not


Believe it or not, gas prices were once 18-cents a gallon. People were aghast when it rose to 24-cents a gallon. What the heck was going on, where was the limit? It was common to shut the car off and coast down hills because it was easy with mechanical brakes.

Thirty of us friends would chip in for gas being barely legal to drive. A good friend was anyone with a running car — he was indeed a good friend. One of the guys bought a 1928 4-door Buick for $200 with no trade-in and no financing or lease. What a ride! Plenty of room to cruise the neighborhood just to be seen. 

It took a few of us to change a flat but we were seldom without a patch kit. Once we found the leak we cleared the area, huddled close in the rain, applied glue and with our lighters applied the patch, pumped up the tire and we were on the road again. We only had manual windshield wipers which always worked except for arm cramps. There was some grinding when gears shifted but finally after finding the magic one, it became more efficient. Speed shifting was out of the question. Parking was available and easy if you helped turn the wheel. 

A friend bought a 1941 Buick convertible from a relative and it was beautiful with its all-steel body and midnight blue lacquer paint several layers thick. It was like looking in a mirror. Talk about power: 8 cylinders and 4 carburetors — massive performance — except it had a voracious appetite for gas. People used to let their cars idle while filling but not this one — turn it off or you’d never leave the pump. 

Gas has been surpassing the $5 mark and it is funny how a mere 48-cents worth in the tank was just enough to make it to West Seattle way back when. A statement by a cars salesman in the 1950’s was, “Sir, the cheapest thing purchased for this car is gas.” Siphoning gas in 1973 was how people made do because when gas was available, it was 39-cents a gallon. I left my house for work one day and was almost blinded by all the gas caps lying on the parking strip. 

When I worked at an office on 3rd and Vine I would leave our neighborhood early in the a.m., averaging about 41 mph. I could make all the lights to work except the one at Aurora and Denny. Sometimes I could make that one ever so close to yellow and very near red. One morning an officer followed me into the company parking lot with lights flashing. He stepped out of his car and asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Since it looked like we were playing a guessing game, I answered, “No, how fast was I going?” He replied, “Over the speed limit!” He didn’t know either. He did smile and say, “You were trying to make all the lights, right?” In a moment of honesty, I answered in the affirmative to which he let me off with a warning. We both laughed.

I worked with an engineer who received a ticket issued at crossroads in Des Moines known as Five Corners. The officer was in a very bad mood and went so far as to threaten my friend with jail: something about endangering others and proceeded to write a ticket. All the while, this soft-spoken engineer insisted the infraction was issued in error. Shortly thereafter this diligent coworker of mine showed up at work with a table depicting duration of the traffic light, number of cars at the intersection and pronounced, “I’m right!” 

He asked for my help in taking photos of the intersection and created a flip chart along with his tables and elected to have a hearing to dispute the ticket. I tagged along just to see a grumpy police officer come to court on his day off. There he was with no smile whatsoever and seemed to be saying, “I am going to make this day unpleasant for you and maybe there will be additional charges, Yah, that’s it. Then I’ll handcuff you and….” (Sorry, I got carried away) 

The judge looked at Ken and asked him to present his case. Ken, the usually soft-spoken engineer, suddenly became Perry Mason referring to his charts, tables, illustrations and few well chosen words. The judge carefully pondered all the materials and asked the officer if he was aware of these statistics to which he distinctly and clearly replied, “Huh?” The judge then asked the officer, who was not doing particularly well at this point, “How many tickets have you written improperly?”

The officer turned a brilliant red, Ken smiled smugly with a “this-was-my-day-in-court” look and was later further vindicated when they changed the timing of the lights at that intersection. The judge shook his hand and congratulated him on presenting a good case in record time. 

I noticed the judge and the arresting officer having a conversation as we left the building; the judge was doing all the talking. On the way out, observers shook Ken’s hand and remarked on his delivery. The judge stopped him again and told him he would make a great attorney. 

In the mid 1960’s I was assigned a signal standardization task. The primary goal was to set traffic lights to comply with traffic flows at prescribed times of the day. Again, that was the mid 60’s and if you’ve noticed lately, it seems the plans of the 60’s have not carried over into 2024.