Standard Oil Company sign painter had just finished installing the sign on the front of my newly re-opened service station. It read: MILLER’S ESSO. The station had been closed during the war, but I was the new dealer. Fresh out of the Coast Guard. Nineteen years old. I am now in business for myself. The Standard Oil Co. thought I was 24. A typo of the birth-date on my discharge read: 1922 instead of 1926. That made me four years older on paper, and enabled me to sign a lease and dealer contract.
When I opened, I placed a company supplied sign on the sidewalk in front of the station that read: TIRES REPAIRED. This simple act was to affect the rest of my life. A very attractive lady drove in for gas in her ‘39 Pontiac sedan. As I wiped her windshield, she asked if I could repair a flat tire in her trunk, and would I deliver it to her house just a block away. “Surely”, I said. She could become a regular customer I reasoned, and what I needed now were customers. Later, I happily learned that there were five cars in the family. WOW. Hopefully, they could be five new customers.
I closed the station at 9 PM, and put her tire in my jeep for delivery. The customer told me to leave the tire on the front porch, then come into the house where she would pay me. I waited as she looked for her purse. Looking about the room, I noticed a picture on the fireplace mantle of an exceptionally beautiful girl! Oh Boy, what a looker. I walked up to the mantle to get a closer look. As I was admiring the picture, the customer returned to the room. She observed my interest in the picture and said, “The girl in that picture in standing right there on the stairway.” When I turned to see the girl, I saw a young blonde barefoot lady, no make-up, hair up in curlers and wearing a tattered pink chenille bathrobe, with cold cream on her face. I turned back to the picture, re-examined the photograph, and gave the girl a double take. My amused customer watched me and my disbelief. She smiled and said, “Yes, that’s her.” I could only say, “Boy, what they can’t do with cameras!” As a retort to my comment, the girl on the stairway glared at me. Obviously offended, she remarked in a disgusting tone with a long drawn out “S H I T.” I apologized for my thoughtless comment, took my money, said thank you and left. The girl, still standing on the steps glared at me. I thought that would be the last I would ever see that customer, or her sister again. But that was only the beginning of this story.
A few days later, another car drove into my station for gas. I was wiping the windshield and noticed a gorgeous young lady sitting in the front passenger seat. She looked familiar. Holy mackerel! It was the same girl in the picture on the mantel at my flat tire customer’s house. She pretended not to notice me. Looking out the other side of the car with an aloof demeanor, she held her nose high in a “stuck-up mode. She intentionally ignored me. I wasn’t too savvy at 19 years old, but I was smart enough to know that her sister, my customer, could have gone to either of the other two gas stations in the same block. I know she wanted me to see her, made up and dressed up. I heard her sister call her by name. She was Winnie.
Winnie wanted a pack of cigarettes and asked me if I had a vending machine. “Yes”, I said, “in our office. I’ll be happy to get them for you.” Her standoffish response was, “Never mind. I want to see what brands you have.” I opened the car door for her, bowed and tipped my hat. When she got out of the car, nose and chin high, I could see why she wanted to walk into the office. Her dress fit like a new coat of paint. Cleaned up and made up, she looked like the movie star Betty Grable, but better. No need to say more. She made her point and set the trap.
Opening that car door for her that day, opened the door to the next 63 years of my life. But that is another story, which I will tell in THE CHASE OF THE #23 TROLLEY.