When I was 19 years old I got married. While I won't look back on it as a bad life decision I do look at it as one powerful learning experience. I was extremely independent and felt that I had something to prove. Through those early years, I learned what real struggle was all about. I voluntarily gave up my driver's license for over a year because I couldn't afford the mandatory insurance cost. It was mandatory because I just could not seem to slow down, and had a list of speeding convictions as long as your arm. So I walked, bicycled, hitchhiked, and was completely dependent on my spouse for transportation. We could not afford a telephone, so we simply figured out how to live without. We did that a lot. I had student loans and a car payment and I was a gas station pump jockey making the lowest of low wages. Because of the OPEC gas embargo, the gas station I worked for was shuttered. Those were rough times for people who pumped gas because the public was extremely agitated about rationing. Confrontations with angry customers was a daily occurrence. However, I considered myself extremely lucky to find another pump job just days after being laid off. The new job was at the Park Street Mobil Station in Hanover, N.H.
At any given time the Mobil Station had three pump jockeys. The other guys I worked with knew deprivation from their own unique perspectives. One had done federal prison time for weapons violations, had a family, and a real binge drinking problem. Another had also married young and was struggling to make ends meet. He had poor eating habits and smoked about three packs of cigarettes a day. Both men did not live long lives. I learned quite a bit about the world from them, and I found qualities in them that I liked and respected. I also got a sense of what I did not want to do with my life. I did not want to work outside in all sorts of weather. I did not want to be treated like a second-class citizen or someone to be pitied. In the filling station environment, we were the lowest of the low. The mechanics were the upper class, and when we weren't being abused by the general public at the pumps, we did the bidding of the mechanics and got all the dirty jobs. I learned to adapt, to accept my low station in life, and to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, as the saying goes. The first order of business was to make an unpleasant situation tolerable.
I kept a journal to help me gain some perspective, and when I look back on the way we were treated at that job, I needed it. I found that old journal recently and read through a couple of years worth of really hard sledding. Every evening at closing time I would trudge across the parking lot to the Hanover Food Co-op and buy a six pack of beer. Then I would go back to the station and drink those beers while waiting for my young bride to pick me up from work. It was sitting in the back room of the filling station drinking beer with the other employees that developed into what we called the Park Street Home for Wayward Boys.
It was simply a time for decompression and sharing our life experiences. I hadn't lived enough to share much, so I listened. Several of the guys had served a hard time, so I heard a lot about prison life. A couple of the older mechanics had serious drinking problems, and they were only too willing to share their stories of bar fights and DUI convictions, along with their tales of economic woes. We all smoked cigarettes, so the back room smelled of cigarettes and beer, and each and every one of us was usually covered in grease and sweat. I hadn't thought of those times as anything but a waste, yet it was something that contributed to my world view.
As time went on I found myself purchasing a few more beers at the store down the street after I would get home. On one very memorable evening not long after I had gotten my drivers license back, I stopped by the local store for more beer on top of the six pack that I had already consumed. When I got to the checkout I did not have enough money for the beer. I asked the cashier to wait while I went out to the car and nearly tore it apart looking for spare change so I could buy three more beers. That was when the epiphany hit me. I needed those beers and I was desperate to get them. I got into the driver's seat, drove home and never bought another six pack of beer after work again, and I have never been in a position to need alcohol or cigarettes since. In a way, it was graduation time from the Park Street Home for Wayward boys.
Within a few short months, I had found a better job at Dartmouth College. Eventually, I was able to take courses and pursue the career in media that I had chosen before my young marriage. My life didn't turn around overnight, and I often find myself looking at life from the perspective of a Park Street boy. It is at those moments that I am so grateful for what was learned and what had been overcome since the days when I was enrolled at the Park Street Home for Wayward Boys.