— By Larry M. Jones
How long has it been since you made such a statement? If you’re under 60 years old, you probably don’t know what I’m even talking about unless you’re a nostalgia buff.
Thanks to the contrived oil shortage brought about by the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, filling stations, or service stations as we knew them, have become a thing of the past. Emerging with the introduction of the automobile, gas stations quickly became a prominent fixture on the American landscape. You could pull up to the pump and be greeted by an attendant who would proceed to tend the needs of your vehicle.
With a fill up, he would normally check your oil, coolant level in your radiator, check hoses and belts, air up your tires and wash your windshield while pumping the gas. This was the typical routine for motorists from the 1940s up into the ‘70s.
While your car was being looked after by the handsome, friendly and neatly dressed service station attendant, you could go to the spotlessly clean restroom. Then you could enjoy an ice cold Coke, Nehi, Cream Soda or Grapette while you picked up a new, free road map. Service bays were conveniently located in the station so that any necessary repairs could be quickly made. Since gas only cost 20-something cents a gallon, paying the bill never necessitated hocking the family jewels. Those were the days.
In the real world, it didn’t always work out that way. I also remember some surly slobs that would wipe your dipstick with the same rag he used to clean your windshield, and would “finger” the dipstick to make it appear you were a quart low in order to sell you oil you didn’t need. There was also the character who would cut your fan belt so he could sell you a new one.
How about the restrooms? I’ve seen some that didn’t appear to have been cleaned since Custer’s Last Stand and flies were dropping dead from the odor. More often than not, the soda water machine would steal my nickel, and the only maps available were of Idaho and New Jersey.
The demise of full service filling stations was a dramatic change in the American way of life. For many years some stations would offer a full service aisle for those customers willing to pay an extra few cents a gallon, but I can’t recall seeing one in years. Convenience of full service was especially popular with the ladies. My mother was about 60 years of age when she had to learn to pump her own gas. She was not amused. She would drive 20 miles out of her way to find a service station attendant.
In today’s fast food and self-service world, we’ve eliminated a previously inherent part of the economy. We have almost dehumanized the process of fueling and maintaining our vehicles. It’s almost like using an ATM machine.
Pull up to the pump, swipe your card, dispense your fuel, and drive away without ever seeing or speaking to another human. Maybe that’s not all that bad – today they probably can’t speak English anyway.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.