Western Union exists today as a money transfer organization, but in 1955 when I went to work for the company, it was much more vital and multifaceted. I became a messenger for Western Union the day after I turned 16. Of course, I had worked at other jobs unofficially before that, but I was “legal” as of December 19, 1955.
Messengers delivered telegrams. That was a given. But we also were called upon by citizens to run errands for them—for a fee, of course. Further, Lion Oil Company used messengers to deliver bills of lading to the railroads and to the refinery. And, from time to time, some of the employees would call upon a messenger to do some work for them.
In fact, the big boss, a nervous little man who had a habit of adjusting the waist elevation of his trousers with his wrists, had me deliver his children to Sunday school and church. We were the only two who worked Sunday mornings and there was never much work to do on those days. I drove my 1939 Chevrolet clunker to and from work. Of course, I had to ride a bicycle to deliver messages. But the big boss would give me a couple of bucks from his pocket to drive out and pick up his two boys and deliver them to church at 10 a.m. and then pick them up at noon.
The two boys were nice, polite and peaceful, unlike their ever-edgy daddy. The big boss had several pat phrases he uttered regularly. One of these was, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.” He would say that if, for example, we had been unsuccessful in getting a telegram delivered. Maybe the address was wrong, the people had moved, died or changed their names. Inevitably, when I would come back into the office with such a telegram, he would require an explanation, then say, adjusting his trousers, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.”
I worked 17 hours per week when school was in session—after school and on weekends—and 40 hours a week in the summertime. After I signed on, I had worked over three weeks without a paycheck. I finally got the nerve one Sunday to ask the big boss when people got paid. He said, “You mean you have not been paid yet?” I said I had not. Then he pulled out a drawer and there were three checks for me. He went ballistic. “That blankety-blank payroll guy was supposed to be paying you every Friday. He just stuck your check in his drawer. He has already gone home by the time you get here on Fridays. I will talk to him about that. Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.”
Well, I felt like a rich man after I got those checks cashed. I had a pocket full of folding money. So, I bought me a cheeseburger, fries and a malt. Yeah, yeah, that’s all I could do!”