Wherein I go to work full time, suffer an armed robbery and fall in love with an Austin Healey.
All good things must end and so I had to leave 70-Hi Drive In and get a full time job. Reason? No money and no prospects. I had to drop out of school in order to make ends meet.
I obtained employment with the Southland Corporation – they own the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores.
In those halcyon day of yore every neighbourhood had a little store. Down on South Pleasant in Independence we had Wisemore's. That's where your Mother sent you for tea bags, sugar and stuff. There were supermakets but not many and most folks didn't do a weekly shop. Every neighbourhood had a little store.
7-Eleven filled the gap when the “Mom and Pop” local stores couldn't keep up with the big boys and gradually vanished. It's good to know that 7-Eleven are still going strong.
Before I left 70-Hi I managed to borrow enough money from Larry Titus and Bosco Cox to buy a beautiful Austin Healey 3000 Mk 111.
I always had English cars. I bought my first, a Old English White MGA 1600 when I was about 18. Some guy at school had it and wanted to get rid of it. I bought it for $100. It had no third gear in the tranny, no side windows and no radiator – oh yeah, and no brakes. Otherwise it was good. What do you expect for $100 – even in 1966!
I persuaded Stoner to help me drag it back from near Sugar Creek to our house on Hidden Valley Road. He had an old Ford and I had a couple of old tyres. We tied the front of the MG to the back of the Ford and we were good to go. We got it back with out any real incident.
Of course, I couldn't wait to fire it up and go for a spin – so we did. I figured that if I didn't run it too long it would not get too hot. No brakes? Heck, we're only going to go for a little ride; and it is uphill from the house, so we just go up the hill, swing it around and coast back home. Easy.
Rabbie Burns was right - “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]!
Off we went, got to the top of Hidden Valley Road, tried to slow enough to turn around, failed, went over the top, headed for a busy road, US 71 By-pass, managed to swing it around sideways and get it stopped, pushed it back to the top of the hill and charged back to the house – getting it stopped - somehow. Whew!
I fixed it up. It got brakes, side windows and a rebuilt gearbox. I drove it for quite a while – time passes slowly when you are 18/19. There was one very eventful trip to Trenton, Missouri to watch an American Legion baseball game with Stoner. Eventually I sold it to a dentist from Overland Park, Kansas for 400 bucks. I've had worse days.
By the time I was in training to be a 7-Eleven manager I was comfortably esconced in the Austin Healey. It was (as they still are) a gloriously beautiful car. Mine had a white leather interior and a light blue paint job. The 3 litre straight six would purr beautifully down the road – for about two months. Then it would run very sick indeed. It would hardly run and it lost power alarmingly when going up a hill. At such times, I would take it to a local specialist who would tune it and it would go swimmingly for the requisite two months and then start the cycle over again.
It was not designed for the Missouri climate. It would only start in the winter if you liberally sprayed ether into the carbs first. Even with the radiator mostly blocked off with cardboard the temperature guage would barely move in January.
It was too beautiful to last. I was doing my training for an exciting career in convenience store management out in Grandview. 139th and Grandview Road is where the store was, s far as II can remember. Way out in the sticks. (Just checked on-line and the only 7-Eleven in Grandview is now at 6506 E Main St -that's not it!) This store was run by a franchisee – but his name is too far gone to even think about. It was one of the larger stores, for it had it's own delicatessen counter. I learned about stock and such. It was neither exciting nor challenging. I remember the Manager was consumed by his pride in his store – to the extent that he never let an opportunity slip to extol its virtures. It was a good store and it turned over a tidy sum for him and the Southland Corporation. It didn't, in truth, do much for me.
Whoa! say that again, actually it nearly got me killed! I was doing a day shift out in Grandview and knocked off about 7 in the evening. (They were long shifts – about 12 hours!) I was in a hurry to get to a party – I think at Linda Hall's house. The Healey was in one of its sicker moods and I was struggling to make much progress down 71-Bypass. My technique involved risk. I would keep the revs up above 3000 and that would stop the thing from slowing down so far as to be crawling. This meant, of course, that I had to overtake anything doing less than about 65 so I did not have to brake and lose momentum. I was cheerfully weaving in and out overtaking slower cars until I chanced it once too often. Nearing the crest of a hill I found my self ovrertaking a Ford station wagon and as I hit the crest another car came at me from the opposite direction. It was something small. We went past – all three of us side by side at a closing speed of, say, 150 m.p.h. It happened so fast I didn't have time to be scared. It was only a few miles down the road that it hit me and I began to shake uncontrollably.
I slowed and crept down the hi-way. At 39th and Lee's Summit Road I ran out of gas. I pulled it over as far as I could and luckily someone I knew was coming along behind me and recognised the Healey. I got a lift to the party.
I went to get it the next day and some drunks had come over the hill and plowed into the back of it. Cops nailed them but the insurance adjuster who came out said it was a write-off and they towed it away for silly money. I'd like to think it's still a cherished classic car somewhere.
Only a few weeks before, I was taking my Mom to the launderette at 23rd and Lee's Summit. I loaded her in the car for the return trip to Hidden Valley Road. She was a typical mother – nosy. I had some papers in on the parcel shelf – Healey's had no glove box. She reached for one and dropped it. I leant over and put it back. I looked up, only to see that the whole line of cars in front of me had stopped. Somebody was making a left turn. I looked left – a line of cars was coming in the opposite direction. I looked right – there was a telephone pole. I stood on the brakes and jammed it into first gear. I stood the poor old girl on its nose and slid under the back of a big Chevy station wagon. I mangled the driver's side front fender and pushed the radiatior back into the fan blades. Mother bounced her head off of the windscreen but was not really hurt. Thank Goodness. The Chevy was more or less unscathed. Cops had a look and disappeared, but not before they loaned me a tyre iron with which I managed to pry the radiator mounts forward a bit so I could drive it home.
The OM had a look at it. The headlight was almost detached but, as the OM said, the law says you need two headlights – it doesn't say where they have to point. (Those were the days!) So we bolted it to what was left of the front fender and it worked! Pointed up into the trees, though.
The radiator was more difficult. We got it out with a bit of fiddling about, finally. The OM had a brain-storm – right then the little light that goes off when things are about to go belly-up should have gone off in my head, but it didn't.
We tied one end of a chain to the radiator mounts and the other end to the back of the milk truck. The idea was – we start the engine – sans radiator – put it in reverse and pull the mounts out a bit. Sounds so simple.
I was in the car. The OM was trying to tie the chain on. I swear he said, “Start her up!” So I did. The fan blades caught the ends of his fingers neatly lacerating them to a depth of about half an inch. He screamed. I laughed.
This was my big mistake. I couldn't help myself. He had done the same thing to the other hand without any help from me just a week or so before whilst messing about with the milk truck. Now he had a matching pair.
I got out. He screamed, “I'll kill that kid!” I believed he meant it. I ran as he picked up a two by four to hit me with.
I stayed away for three days – sleeping in the woods. I went home in the morning after he had gone to work and Mom would give me something to eat. Happy days!
Meanwhile at 7-Eleven I had become a fully-fledged retail operative. Time to strike out on my own – retail-wise. I began by doing relief shifts at stores who were short of staff. I had a shift at the 7-Eleven at 87th and Raytown Road. According to the 7-Eleven website there is no store there now. Good old USA.
It was a small store with not too much turn over. I met the manager and did the tour – thought all stores were basically the same layout. He gave me instructions for the evening shift, left me his phone number and he left. There were some customers in the evening, but I was by no means rushed off my feet. By about 22:30 it was so slow that I took the time to stock up the coolers for the morning – maybe gaining a few brownie points in the process. It got to be 22:50. I decided to close early. Heck – I was in charge!
So I locked the doors and went back to the cooler to do some more stock.
There was a knock at the front door. I assumed it was a customer who thought closing time was 23:00 and fearing I might get into trouble for closing early I went to the door. Through the locked door, some guy was asking if I had any change. I said no but stupidly unlocked the door at the same time.
He pulled gun and sort of pushed me back inside and to the island in the middle where the cash register and counter was. He told me to take off my shirt. I did. He put it on. He told me to lie face down on the floor Oddly, despite the gun, I never had the feeling that he was going to harm me. Stupid naivety?
He told me to open the safe.
(Explanation – 7-Eleven had a floor safe. It had two compartments. The top part could be opended by any employee and containted not much of value. Slot at the side enabled valuables, like cash and money orders to be pushed down inside the lower compartment, which could only be opened with a combination.)
Naturally, as I was just doing a relief shift I could not open the safe. I explained this. He asked if I could get the combination. I said I could call the manager. We went to the payphone and I dialled the number. It rang about twice and then Mr Robber hung it up.
I suspect he realised that me asking the manager for the combination to the safe would start the alarm bells ringing.
Instead he took my wallet – with about 5 bucks in it – the money order machine, which he had to cut free of the wire that held it to the counter, some loose money order receipts – which I think he thought actual real money orders – and my shirt which he was still wearing. Warning me not to call the cops, he told me not to move for 10 minutes and left. I heard the door close.
I was lying face down behind the counter. I waited about two or three minutes. I got up, looked around and could see he was gone. I had no money for the phone. I rummaged through the cash register and, very luckily, found a nickel. I went to the phone and called the cops. Thinking that the Raytown Bulls were likley to be somewhat trigger-happy since I was not wearing my 7-Eleven shirt, I went to the cooler, got a cold Dr Pepper, went out the front door and leant on the Coke machine to await their arrival. In the distance I could hear sirens. Comforting!
Not so fast. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr Robber reappear around the corner of the building. He shouted, “Get inside!” I did. (I wonder what I did with the Dr Pepper – I have no recollection of putting it down?)
Soon I was back face down behind the counter. He had the gun and was standing in full view of anyone who came through the door. This seemed silly to me until I remembered he was wearing my 7-Eleven shirt. The Bulls charged in.
They shouted, “Where is he?”
Mr Robber said, “He went out the door.”
So, off went my would-be rescuers.
I was flabbergasted, until I put two and two together – it was the shirt that threw them off the real scent.
Fortunately, the follow-up crew arrived a few minutes later. He tried the same trick but they were intent on surveying the situation. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Mr Robber had grabbed one of the cops and was struggling to get the gun from the cop's holster.
As they struggled I could see why cops have straps on their holsters. Mr Robber could not get the gun out. More cops arrived, there was a short stuggle of which I could hear more than see and then it went quiet as the action moved outside the building.
I just lay there not really knowing what the outcome was. Did the Cops prevail? Was Mr Robber holding them all at gunpoint outside? I had no idea, so I just stayed put. The door opened and I couldn' t resist having a look. As I started to raise myself to look over the counter a cop ran around and slapped the cuffs on me!
“Hold on, I'm the victim here!” I shouted.
He got me to my feet and explained that they thought I might be an accomplice. I explained about the shirt. They took the cuffs off. I went outside where the Bulls had roughed up Mr Robber a bit and handcuffed him. Eventually, they stuffed him in a squad car and disappeared. I drove home with an exciting story to tell the OM and Mom. I remember worrying that Mr Robber might know where I lived and come to the house intent on doing harm.
A few week late I attended the Raytown Police HQ to try and get my wallet and five bucks back. No such luck. They said they were holding it as evidence for Mr Robber's trial. I never saw it again.
The odd thing was the Southland Corp insisted that I take a lie detector test, said it was standard procedure. They wanted to make sure I wasn't in cahoots with the bad guy. As if!
My career in retail was just about over. My sister Ruthanne and her husband (remember the milk truck accident?) were working at Western Electric in Lee's Summit and somehow wangled me a job interview. I left 7-Eleven and became a floor hand in the Western Electric factory.