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04) August 10, 1996 – Lights Out

I was 22, working as a cashier at a gas station in the Inland Empire. The sun blazed down at an angle. The heat made wavy lines like dancing snakes across the parking lot. Shielding their eyes, customers walked into the Mini Mart to buy something cold to drink. It was cool inside the air-conditioned cashier stand.

Courtesy of

The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina) Sunday, August 11, 1996 • Courtesy of

At 4pm, the power went out and busted out the satellite that powered our card readers at the gas pumps. Customers had to pay inside. The register could only do cash transactions. Within 10 minutes, we had a line of customers out the door for 50 feet. I pulled out the old-fashioned carbon copy machine, the one you have to slide the arm over the top of a credit card. Of course, everyone was using credit cards and it took longer for each transaction. The owner of the gas station came out of his office and tried to take over the register, glancing nervously at the growing line. He kept making mistakes.

“Don’t worry. I got this. The food will rot if we don’t take it out,” I said.

He started packing ice in coolers and transporting the perishables to his office. The phone was ringing off the hook. On my break, I answered the phone while the mechanic assisted the other cashier at the register. A frantic woman on the phone wanted to know if ATM machines run off of electricity.

The moment hovered like a hummingbird in my mind. I watched the people pulling out their credit cards, fear in their eyes, creases in their faces. This must have been what the 1974 gas shortage looked like. It was getting hot in the cashier stand. Nothing was working. I was told that the back-up generators for the grocery stores weren’t working either. The entire west coast up to Canada was out of power.

The sun lowered in the sky, casting long shadows of the people standing in line. It was only going to get worse. I’m never having kids.


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