Free gas

Sticking it to the wrong man

In the ’60s, when we were gonna go out looking for a party on the weekend, we’d first chip in for gas, usually a dollar or two at a time. I didn’t buy a full tank until I started working at the language lab at college. In Chicago, the Clark station at 95th and South Park (South Park Way was later renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, now sometimes called “Junior Drive.”) was a favorite because it was a penny per gallon cheaper than the Standard station just across the street and 3 cents cheaper than Shell.

There was a legend about how my friend Elgy could get free gas from the Clark station any time Rudolph was working. That made sense, because we all knew Rudolph, and while his elevator might go all the way to the top, it took a helluva long time about it and made you wonder if it was worth the effort. He was a nice guy, placid and affable, and I hope he’s well and happy now.

Elgy would pull up to a pump and tell Rudolph that he wanted a dollar and a half or something, and after Rudolph had gone back to get the hose nozzle and found the gas tank and put the nozzle in the intake tube and turned on the pump, Elgy would get out of his car and ask Rudolph a random question.

That didn’t make sense at first, because no matter what you might want to know past “Where’s the restroom?” you would never consider asking Rudolph, not if you knew him. Elgy might ask Rudolph, “What’s the quickest way to get to the Loop?” or “What time is the next bus?” only because Rudolph had no answer and it would take him a while to realize it.

When Elgy asked his question, Rudolph would swing his focus from the gas pump around to Elgy, and as Rudolph rattled on trying to find an answer where there wasn’t any, gasoline continued to gush into Elgy’s tank, far exceeding the amount requested. Back in this particular day, you paid for only what you asked for. The rest was “sticking it to the man.”

The one time Big Bob asked, “Hey, Rudolph, when’s the next election?” Rudolph said a lot of people had tried that trick, and we had been in school together, and he would have to make up the difference out of his pay, and “Why would you want to cheat me like that?” That’s when we realized that Rudolph wasn’t “the man” we thought we were sticking it to, and we didn’t have an answer any more than he did.