My Almost Made it to a Karate Tournament Story

by Alan Kandel

What began in the late ‘70s as a noble effort to compete in a karate tournament in Denver, ended up ending right where it began – California’s San Francisco Bay Area. To boomers (be you senseis or otherwise) this will doubtless bring back memories.

It all started in 1978-’79 when I was living in the town of Mountain View, working in nearby Sunnyvale. Home and work were a scant six miles apart. Of course, my morning and evening commutes were plagued by rush-hour traffic; what we’re talking about here is being constrained by gridlocked traffic and it taking 45 minutes to go but a-half-dozen miles. Sound familiar? That works out to a speedy 8 miles per hour. At any rate, the car I was driving then, put it this way, was not the most fuel-efficient. Not just that, who knows how many times this car changed hands before I owned it?!

If my memory serves me correctly (and I trust it does), during this period in history, if one’s license plate ended in an even number, then gas could be purchased on, not surprisingly, even-numbered days, that is, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Motorists who had license plates ending in odd numbers could purchase petrol on, what else?, odd-numbered days, namely Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Where my memory doesn’t serve me so well had to do with Sundays; either everyone who drove was permitted to purchase gas or no one was. I would be inclined to think it was the latter case.

The adage desperate times call for desperate measures has real meaning here. I pulled out all the stops (figuratively speaking, course) and purchased a utility vehicle just so I could buy fuel seven days a week. twice on Sunday if need be. As it turns out, those owning such a vehicle were permitted to make gas purchases on at least six days a week, Monday through Saturday, anyway. That sure beat the alternative.

All that glitters is not gold, for one morning before heading to work, I noticed the gas gauge and I was running on empty. It was either “don’t go to work” or “brave long lines of cars occupied by other drivers waiting their turns to get gas.” Making matters worse during that era, it was not uncommon for some people waiting in such lines to become irritable to the point of becoming hostile. Combine long lines with short tempers and the outcome could be and sometimes was highly combustible. I remember hearing or reading about altercations were practically a dime a dozen in those days.

Getting back on point, that one morning when I was in just such a gas line, just as I reached the pump, the thing stalled. It was out of gas. Talk about impeccable timing.

Which brings me back to the tournament.

Despite conditions being what they were then, a bunch of us from the San Jose karate dojo intent on competing in a major tournament in the mile-high city were going, gas crisis or no gas crisis. For us, it was Denver or bust. Much to our chagrin, however, the lot of us didn’t make it. In fact, we only made it as far as Reno in the Silver State, Nevada. We had driven all that way just to have to turn around and go back, and that’s exactly what had happened.

As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, in this particular case, market conditions knocked me, at least, for a loop. I can’t speak for the others.

I, for one, experienced those so-called “gas-so-lean” times first hand. It taught me a lot. Looking back, making it to the tournament would have been nice. I’m fast reminded of another adage: better luck next time.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 11, 2012.

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