The year was 1970, and I was sixteen years old. When school let out, I worked parttime each evening at a Texaco gas station in Anchorage, Alaska, for my father and his business partner, Isaiah Lewis. You’d also find me there on Saturday’s pumping gas and repairing tires, plus “all assigned duties” as Dad liked to say.
Having a driver’s license, one of my jobs was to take a vintage 1950s Willys Jeep truck and daily fill the bed with garbage from numerous trashcans in the garage, then drive it to the city dump once the enclosure was full. This dumping chore was usually performed early on Saturday mornings, at least once a month.
The bed on this four-wheel-drive Jeep had raised sides enabling it to carry a substantial amount of garbage. On one particular trip, I stacked rubbish to the brim, deciding to forego climbing up on top and fastening a tarp down. It was winter, with snow coming down quite heavy most of Friday night plus Saturday morning, making things slippery up there. That was my excuse back then, although now I believe it was most likely due to pure laziness.
Wanting to back out of the parking spot before brushing any snow off, I hopped in and fired the engine up. Placing the manual gearshift lever in reverse, the old Jeep rolled a few feet before its engine died. Thinking that tires were perhaps spinning on ice and then grabbing solid ground, I revved the engine up and let out the clutch. It moved several more feet before once again coming to a halt.
I kept this up for at least six times before glancing out the passenger side window, which was the only one void of snow including both side mirrors. Spotting Isaiah Lewis, hands on hips, glaring at me, I stepped out of the cab, quickly noticing that I’d skidded his beautiful 1968 Buick Riviera a good twenty feet, sideways. Telling him that I was sorry, Mr. Lewis, with a cool and calm voice responded,
“It’s time for damage control!”
That’s the first time I remember him using that term, although Captain Kirk and Scotty on Star Trek said it all the time. I’m sure their meaning was much different than my boss’s, especially where the Starship Enterprise was concerned.
Back then, after doing stupid things, which still happens to this day, I let it be known to myself and others by moaning, sighing, or sometimes even crying, that I was upset with my actions. I’ve moved on, thanks to Mr. Lewis’s way of looking at screwups, never forgetting that incident and the lesson he taught me. My boss’s plan for damage control at that point was take his Buick to a body shop and simply have it repaired. He saw it as no reason to cry over spilt milk because the damage had been done.
Figuring it best to finish my job before maybe he did explode from pent up anger, I quickly took off for the city dump feeling bad about what happened. On my way back to the filling station, garbage was strewn along the only highway in and out of Anchorage similar to that trash I’d just offloaded, mainly, empty Texaco oil cans.
Because the road was icy, it was extremely hazardous to stop and try picking this stuff up, so I kept on trucking. My trail of debris went a considerable distance along the Glenn Highway ending at the starting point, Wonderpark Texaco. Now feeling as bad about this incident as the first, I tried using my boss’s reasoning to ease a troubled mind,
“Time for damage control!”
Unfortunately, damage control would have to wait until spring, with groups of volunteers walking along the highway picking up what I and others had littered over winter. They bagged tons of roadside garbage each year, and I’m sure in 1970, those folks picked up a slew of oil-soaked paper towels and empty oil cans.
In Lake Havasu City, just the other morning, driving to Lowe’s for some needed items, I ended up behind a commercial pickup truck pulling a trailer loaded to the gills with landscape debris and stuffed garbage bags. Large palm leaves were blowing out of it like crazy while I did my best to keep from hitting them. A flashback to 1970 instantly came to mind, except this time around I wasn’t the one doing the littering.
Hoping to pull alongside this truck and yell out that perhaps the driver should look in his rearview mirror and see what he left behind, wisely I didn’t. Two beefy looking guys sat inside and neither looked extremely happy. Without doubt, they wouldn’t have been receptive to any uncalled-for advice.
Damage control was practiced in this case by merely keeping my mouth shut. Using control before damage is always the best route to follow!