The September 8, 1998, edition of The Hometown News included A.J.’s latest discourse. Not a week went by that Fryerson didn’t write a letter to the editor, and on slow news weeks, they often found their way onto Iris Long’s opinion page.
His latest rant had to do with the only gas station in town, Buford Levitt’s Sinclair Oil. The problem with complaining about Levitt’s was obvious to anyone in the Valley. Along with Perry Pratt, Buford was just about the most liked and respected merchant in the community. A.J. wasn’t going to attract many allies.
His latest diatribe had to do with the way the gas pumps kept track of his purchases. It started when Buford introduced “self-service” pumps at his station in 1997.
Prior to that, customers would pull into the station, order their gas, and pay the attendant. More times than not, the rotating cylinder would turn over by a penny or two, but the attendant always charged only what the customer ordered.
Buford replaced his old gas pumps during the same period he introduced self-service. Instead of the old cylinder models, Levitt’s now had electronic pumps with digital displays that indicated the amount of gas purchased.
This apparently upset A.J. to no end. He penned his letter on Monday, September 7, and dropped it off at the newspaper office, saving him the cost of a 32-cent stamp.
Unlike most Valley residents, Iris saw A.J.’s rantings as harmless. She figured she was doing the Valley a favor by letting him blow off steam in the paper rather than finding a more violent method of expressing himself. And sometimes, as was the case with this letter, she found A.J.’s thought process rather amusing.
“Dear Hometown News,” he began. “I have been a customer of Sinclair Oil for more than 30 years. When I purchased my first car in 1963, I bought my first tank of gas from Buford Levitt himself.”
Like many of A.J.’s letters, this one started out peacefully enough. But as was often the case, his tone quickly changed.
“What I want to know is,” he continued, “when gas pumps went from calculating the cost of your gas to robbing you like a slot machine in Las Vegas?”
The crux of the matter came down to the precision of those new pumps.
“Before Sinclair got those new pumps, you knew what your gas was going to cost. Now, you might as well close your eyes, because those numbers keep on rolling until they decide to stop on their own!”
He went on to call Buford the worst kind of thief: one who would steal from his neighbors and friends.
Yes, A.J. Fryerson made a lot of enemies, and as his list got longer many folks figured it was only a matter of time before he complained about someone who wouldn’t take it as calmly as Buford Levitt.
The letter to the editor on September 8 would be the last anyone would hear from A.J. in 1998. Yes, he liked to complain. But as the good folks of Lennox Valley would soon discover, A.J. had just complained for the last time.
Writer Kevin Slimp is a Johnson City native known for his expertise in publishing technology. “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” is fictionally based on people he has met in years of travel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on “Lennox Valley,” go to www.lennoxvalley.com.