Squid Fry for Nov 21, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Rest In Peace… Mehdi Shahbazi, the Marina Shell gas station franchisee operator who used to call Squid “gentleman,” a first for this cephalopod, lost everything in his fight against Big Oil. He lost his Carmel home in May 2005. Later, his wife and sons moved to Los Angeles to stay with relatives. And just last week, Shahbazi, who waged a hunger strike and fought Shell in federal court, lost his life. The 65-year-old died at Stanford University Hospital of liver failure, according to the Associated Press.
Squid’s former colleague, Raul Vasquez, first wrote about Shahbazi in November 2005, after the Iranian-born gas station operator erected large signs on the Marina Shell gas station property, protesting “Big Oil’s unearned profit” and alleged unfair franchise fees charged to him and other independent gas station operators. Shell asked him to remove the signs – he didn’t – and then the company sued. Years before, in 2000, Shell Oil offered Shahbazi $600,000 to buy out his franchise contract, but again, Shahbazi chose to fight back. He sued Shell and other associates, alleging they unfairly charged him more for wholesale gas than he could have paid at nearby gas stations.
After his attorney quit – Shahbazi ran out of money and couldn’t pay his legal fees – Shahbazi acted as his own lawyer, often staying up all night writing legal briefs to file in federal court. He had the doggedness of Squid’s Papa, Giant Squid, having attached his tentacles to a drunken sailor, aka dinner. Once Shahbazi began his crusade, he wouldn’t give up.
After the Weekly broke Shahbazi’s story, other local and national media picked it up. In May 2006, the San Jose Mercury News published a story about Shahbazi’s ill fortune. In June 2006, AOL News posted Shahbazi’s photo next to Jennifer Aniston’s on its main news page. “Who’s having the worst week ever?” the caption read, following the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s baby. A couple of days later, a CNN television news crew interviewed Shahbazi for its national broadcast. But despite Shahbazi’s newfound fame – or infamy – Shahbazi always insisted the story wasn’t about his personal struggle. “This is not about me,” he repeatedly told Vasquez. “Don’t make it about me, but about what consumers are going through.”
Squid admired the man. Squid remembers Shahbazi advising homeless people who would stop by the Shell mini-mart to buy candy, to stay off drugs, and not destroy themselves.
Ultimately, Shahbazi didn’t take his own advice. In October, after he was hospitalized following his hunger strike, Shell took control of the gas station.