Remember when we called them “service stations”? That was back in the good old days when service was one of their chief products. I never called them “filling stations”. That seemed more appropriate for dentists’ offices.
You would drive up to the pumps and, while they were topping off your tank at 35 cents per gallon, a team of uniformed attendants swarmed over your car, washing the windshield and checking the oil and antifreeze levels. Before you left you’d get a free monogrammed ice scraper or a ballpoint pen and as many road maps as you needed. Now you can’t even count on getting free air for a sagging tire.
Worse yet, forty-eight states have been duped into allowing self-service gas stations. Only New Jersey and Oregon have seen through the false promise of cheaper gas if we’re willing (Grandmas included) to emerge in all kinds of weather in our Sunday best to wrestle with the stubborn hose, inhale toxic fumes and dispense a very explosive fluid hopefully without spilling any on the ground or on our new wingtips. Oregon has since caved and allowed self-service in rural areas. The New Jersey price per gallon of regular is widely available at less than the recently published average of $2.50 for the 168,000 stations in the USA.
When former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine (2006-2010) suggested we join the ranks of the unenlightened and allow self-service stations, there was a storm of protest and the idea was dropped. ( I’m sure the governor’s chauffer was relieved. ) A 2015 Rutgers University poll revealed that more than 75 percent of New Jersey drivers were against making self-service legal.
But back to the “Good old days”: I remember a golden moment in 1954 when I was trying to survive on my G.I. Bill’s monthly checks while going to college. A buck’s worth of gas would propel my jalopy about 80 miles, and more if I coasted down hills. “One dollar regular please,” I told the pump jockey one day.
“There’s a price war on,” he said. ” It’s down to 18 cents a gallon today. How much do you want?”
“Just a dollar’s worth,” I said, happy to learn my horizon had been widened to 100 miles. Years later during the so-called fuel crisis, I waited in a gas line for an hour, expecting to be gouged – and I was.
If you want to gain some modicum of consumer control, check Google and outfits like GasBuddy.com to find stations with the lowest prices in your area. If most of us patronize them, we might start another price war and maybe even get our windshields washed again.