It was my first Christmas working at Channel Home Center in Harrisburg, and as I recall the present that Channel gave to all its employees that year was a bottle of wine and a set of wine glasses. The glasses were real crystal, the wine was nothing to write home about. Mateus, if I remember correctly.
We still had our original philandering manager Jerry, but assistant manager Bob Hughes was able to keep his worst impulses in check a lot of the time. Truth be told, most of the time Jerry had no idea what was going on in the store.
Christmas fell on a Sunday in 1977, and the day before was just a normal workday for most of the staff. But Bob decided we needed some spirits to help keep up our Christmas spirit, so he provided some spiked punch in the break room starting around lunch time.
And so it came to pass that Channel’s customers were greeted by a very merry band of employees that afternoon, and probably that evening as well, but since my shift ended at 5:30 PM, I can’t actually report on what happened during Christmas Eve at Channel.
I needed to make my way to the Zellers family Christmas Eve gathering.
Now I had been nipping at the punch all afternoon, and I was in truly high spirits. I have no idea how much alcohol I had had to drink, but since it had been spread out over four or five hours, I was in a state of what you might call high functioning inebriation.
The family gathering was in a new location that year, but I had directions for how to get there, but I must have taken a wrong turn or maybe I just didn’t realize that I was getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, because I sailed right through the gate where you get the ticket, and as a consequence, I had no ticket. In fairness to me, I’d like to point out that this was not one of those normal Turnpike entrances where there are a dozen or more gates and it’s clearly obvious that one is getting on the Turnpike. No, this was a single-gated entrance directly off the exit of one of the main highways.
Well, since I had no ticket, when I got to my exit, I was charged the maximum amount, which I think was about $20 in those days. According to the inflation calculator, that would be about $84 in 2019 dollars.
I did make it to the family gathering, and that became the Christmas Eve to remember, at least for my cousin Kim, who every Christmas Eve ever after would delight in reminding me of my performance and encourage me to do an encore. I, however, recall very little of that evening.
Except, I remember, my grandparents’ present to me was an envelope containing $20, for which I thanked them as I explained it would cover my Turnpike expense.
Somehow, I managed to make it back to Harrisburg in one piece.
The following year there was no spiked punch in the break room at Channel.