Clear-channel 50,000 watts of all-night radio, broadcasted across the vast Midwestern prairie and beyond.
John McCormick, “the man who walked and talked at midnight,” was there for our listening pleasure; with the best music and conversation to keep us company.
McCormick had a deep-timbered voice, that either soothed, or lulled listeners to sleep. That was his job, I supposed. I would have preferred raspy-voiced Wolfman Jack.
“We’re gonna’ play more music for you–all night long! Can you dig It?” Interspersed with a few Wolfman howls and I’d stay wide-awake. Dad wouldn’t dig any of it.
My job was to assist with loading and deliveries. More importantly, to keep my father awake on his all-night delivery route through four Illinois counties.
It seemed odd to me then, dad being such a firm disciplinarian, to see him kibitzing with guys at the full-service, Standard Oil station, on a busy corner in Springfield, Illinois. He was obviously a regular visitor. It was around eleven, the station brightly wrapped in neon–topped with trademarked red torch.
An experience, not unlike seeing one of your teachers, away from school. Refueled, candy bars and coffees in hand, off to the second, and most important stop.
The blue and white Chevrolet, faithful beast of burden, loaded past midnight; after the State-Journal Register’s press run. There’d been a delay–probably a late-breaking story that couldn’t be left out.
Worried my father would fall asleep at the wheel, thus killing us both in a tragic accident, I kept talking. Awkward talking–so awkward, it was more like an interview than normal father-son conversation.
“How many miles does this truck have on it?” I asked. “It’s got 127,000 miles right now,” Dad answered.
“That’s an awful lot of miles.” I surmised. “It’s all highway miles,” Dad answered. “That makes a difference. This route covers 200 miles per night–give or take.”
“What were the worst weather conditions you’ve encountered?” I asked–not in exactly those words.
“Ice and snow–I’ve had to drop off on the shoulder to gain adequate traction. There was more traction on the grass and gravel, than on the road; but, I made it home safely. It was almost noon–barely time for a nap before starting out again.”
The next question was risky, but I went for it, anyway. “What were some of your biggest boneheaded mistakes?”
“I missed some stops and had to go back. Then, one night I accidently threw a delivery right through an unopened screen door.”
Route 66, blue highways, towns that railroads, interstates forgot, passed by all night long.
That night may have been the source of dad’s war story about a ride to Chicago, cruising at 80 mph on Rt. 66, in a Chrysler Airflow–after hitching a ride. That struck me as daring–even though it happened before I was born.
Winter sun rose as we arrived home, just in time for a bite of breakfast, light conversation with mom, then straight to bed. It had been a good night, we’d arrived well before noon.
—Image, Standard Oil Indiana, from blogsite: PleasantFamilyShopping–