One of the benefits of working at a service station all through college is knowing some extremely helpful people.

My service station was Samish Way Chevron. I was a ‘booth girl’ there for six years. I sat in a bullet-proof booth between the two islands, where I could keep an eye on the customers and take their payment. This was before the invention of pay at the pump. I had an intercom that I could use to speak to the customer at my window, to either of the islands, or to the guys in the repair shop.

I had heat, air conditioning, a radio, and my own private bathroom. I used to win a lot of stuff on the radio in those days, because I also had a phone in the booth.

Besides collecting payment for gas and oil and instructing the Oregonians on how to operate the pumps over my intercom, I also sold cigarettes, rung up work orders for the repair shop, and occasionally stepped out of the booth to help with Christmas decorations, or to load the vending machines. I liked loading the vending machines, because Marvin (my manager) would frequently toss me a Hershey bar and a Diet Coke when we were done. He knew I was hungry.

One thing I never knew before I worked there, is that mechanics sometimes ‘flip’ cars, although I never heard any of them use that terminology. This ‘car flipping’ generally works out for everyone.

The Case of Patti’s Mustang

A lady sputtered in with her 1978 Mustang blowing black smoke. The guys took a look at it, and gave her an estimate of $350.00 to repair her blown head gasket. Like many owners of old pieces of junk, she opted to ditch the car rather than repair it. Marvin bought it from her for $50.00.

Since he didn’t have to pay for his own labor to repair the car, and he didn’t have to pay markup on the parts, he could fix the car and sell it cheap for a modest profit… in this case to a poor college student who worked in his shop, and who had recently totaled her 1978 Toyota Celica.

Fast forward about a decade. Now I’m out of school and working at The Boeing Company. I’m dating Marvin, and my little sister is living in Bellingham. Marvin has a Toyota Camry, and she WANTS it. Since he’s my boyfriend, Marvin agrees to let us take the Camry on a road trip, as a long test drive.

Just for the record, I never liked that car.

My brother was in town, with his little daughter. We were headed to Canada to hit the water slides. On our way to the Sumas border crossing, we were between pastures when the car gave out in dramatic fashion.

We were rounding a corner when the wheels stopped turning, completely. We had good momentum, and kept scooting for about a quarter mile, tires screaming, black smoke pouring out of every fender. When we finally stopped, both front hubcaps sprung from the car, shooting off in opposite directions. The right one landed about 30 feet away in a pasture. The left one bounced off a car that was parked in the lot of a small country service station. We got out to survey the wide strips of black rubber on the road, and to phone Marvin.

“I’ll call Kim.”

Kim had been the towing manager at Chevron, but now owned his own towing company. Marvin gave him the spare key to my car, and Kim stopped by my house with his flatbed tow truck.

When he finally arrived, he dropped my Accord, and loaded the Camry onto the truck. The mechanic from the auto shop stood with us, chewing a toothpick.

“That’s good service,” he commented, “What you got, AAA?”