Even in the face of an international crisis, there are those among us who derive serendipitous benefits.
In the summer of my 17th year, the United States was in the midst of a worldwide gas deficit. During two separate oil crises in the 1970s, Americans from coast to coast faced persistent gas shortages as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, disrupted oil supplies. Gas was wildly expensive and scarce. Radio stations would advertise which gas stations had the shortest lines and which ones actually had gas left. In order to get a fillup, gas stations went by an odd/even day license plate system. Unlike when a similar system was put in place during Hurricane Sandy seven years ago, they really meant it. In Brooklyn where we lived, you didn’t want to find out what would happen if you got on a long line with an “even license plate” on an odd day. Supply was so low that lines for gas could easily be 10 blocks long. If you weren’t near the front of the line you were pretty much making a day of it.
My family had only owned a car for a few years when this occurred. Growing up in Brooklyn, we didn’t very much need a car. My grandfather had one and he would drive us to important things when we needed, mainly when my mom needed to go to the hospital to have more babies. I cannot imagine what it was like living in the suburbs during this time, well, actually, I can easily imagine what it must’ve been like. It must have been pretty much like it is now, except you could go outside and hug people, you just couldn’t drive to hug somebody who lived far away, because you didn’t have gas.
Anyway, having turned 17 that summer, I had just gotten my driver’s license. My older brother worked in the city and took the subway. My dad worked at the phone company and he took home the work van that he used when he went out with crews to climb telephone poles. They had their own gas supply at the garage. So, it fell to me to get on the line for gasoline in the morning for our family car. My dad would wake me up at 4:00 AM to queue up with the other drivers at a gas station near our house anticipating its opening at 8 AM. I remember my phone number from back then (212–824-0737) [please don’t call it, the folks who bought our house seemed real nice], but I don’t remember our license plate so don’t ask me whether these were even days or odd. It may have been at that early age that I developed the talent to sleep anywhere. I would get on the gas line and promptly fall asleep stretched out across the front seat of my dad’s Buick. My slumber would usually be interrupted by 27 angry car horns and a guy banging on the car window, “What the @&%# … oh … Donald… pull up… tell your dad I said ‘Hi’”. I’d get a fill up with cash my dad gave me. I was home before most of my siblings were even out of bed. While most kids across history have had to earn the family car keys through good behavior and feats of unusual household chores, I was a hero to my family because I was the 17 year old that put gas in the car.
What’s a teenager have to do during this global crisis to emerge the hero? Score a case of toilet paper? Stay home MORE? Use your imaginations kids! One day, when we come out on the other side of this, I’ll be eager to hear your stories!