I'd been out of the army for nearly two years, and had not settled into a permanent job of any kind. Then one day I spotted an ad for a "Manager Trainee" placed by Cornet Stores, a West Coast chain of what used to be called "5-10-25¢ Stores"
or "Dime-Stores" (in other words, a small-town version of Woolworth).
They sent me to their store in Tulare, California to be its Assistant Manager, while learning how to become a full-fledged manager.
Tulare is a small agricultural town in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, and getting there was no easy task.
The 1939 Chevrolet I bought for $125 had a top speed of about 50 MPH on level ground, and a lot less going uphill. Going over the Grapevine, I had to practically drive on the shoulder to keep out of the way of other traffic.
Gruntin' & Groanin' Over the Grapevine
I drove all night and arrived in Tulare about the time the stores downtown were beginning to open. I went in and introduced myself to the store's manager, who said I should take the day to find a place to live and report for work the following morning.
Well, I found an ad in the local paper for a room rental in a private home, and paid the lady of the house for a week's rent. Although she said I had kitchen privileges, I felt a little uncomfortable about cooking in the home of people I didn't really know, so had most of my meals at a small cafe around the corner from the Cornet store.
His Sister Seemed Very Affectionate
The waitresses at the restaurant were friendly and the cafe became sort of my "social hangout" since I didn't know anybody in town except my manager and a woman whom he introduced as his sister. It didn't take too long to figure out that his "sister" was actually his live-in girl friend.
This was back in the days when unmarried couples living together was generally frowned upon—so Gary's calling Sally his sister helped avoid too many raised eyebrows.
Well, the job was interesting, and since there wasn't much else for me to do, I worked hard at learning the business, and even came back nights to put in time. I was on a weekly salary, so the overtime simply meant I was learning the ropes a little faster and, hopefully, would become a full-fledged manager sooner.
Gary and Sally were very nice, and if they went out to dinner or to a movie, they would invite me to come, since they knew I had no actual social life. And going to a movie usually meant driving to Visalia, since there was only one theater in Tulare, and it showed mostly older B movies.
One of the things I remember about Tulare is my car finally dying altogether—and my leaving it on the edge of a country road while I walked back to town, where I bought a 1949 Studebaker that was in only slightly better shape than the Chevy. But it was all I could afford.
Hard Lard on the Jukebox
Another thing I remember about Tulare was having breakfast one morning at the cafe, when a fellow in a suit came in and took a seat at the counter. As usual, the juke box was playing loud country music, and it was obvious the stranger in the suit was not a country fan.
He looked as if he was really suffering as Hank Williams' Lovesick Blues was followed by Earnest Tubb's I'm Walkin' the Floor Over You and Lefty Frizzell's Always Late.
But after Hank Snow wailed through one chorus of I Don't Hurt Anymore...
...the city fellow just groaned and said, "It may not be hurting him—but it's killing me!"
Waiting for Tulare's Only
Movie Theater to Open