Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Self-Servicing


I had occasion to drive a car in West Virginia a while back, and when I pulled up to a filling station, I got out of the car with my wallet and stared at the pump and then walked around in circles for a bit. Fortunately, I am not a man, so I didn't need to dither about it all day. I walked right up to the nice-looking fellow at the next pump, and introduced myself.

"Hi there. Say: this is going to sound weird, but I'm from Oregon, and I can't figure out how to pump gas."

"Oh sure, I'll show you," the nice fellow said, and he got me up and running in no time, while we chatted amiably.

"Thanks a lot," I said.

"No problem. It can be confusing. I don't think it's because you're from Ore-gone," he said.

Suddenly I realized how he must have heard me. He thought I was saying, "Hah thar. I jest fell off a log truck in Oregon, the Home of the Big Dummies, and I'd shore be obliged if you gave me a pat on the head."

But it is germane that I'm an Oregonian. We don't have self-service gasoline here. I hardly ever drive out of state. I hardly ever drive in state. I've gotten so used to walking everywhere that sometimes, after over thirty years of piloting a postal truck, I climb into the passenger side of my car and wonder where the steering wheel went. I can count the number of times I've had to fill my own tank on one hand. Enough times to know that whatever worked the index-finger time won't work with the pinkie.

Get out, lift nozzle, insert into vehicle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, lift nozzle, insert into vehicle, lift up the handle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, locate slot, insert credit card, lift nozzle, lift up handle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, insert credit card, lift nozzle, lift up handle, walk into store, tell clerk to turn on pump, go back squeeze, nothing.
Get out, go into store, give clerk money up front to turn on pump, insert card, lift up handle, insert nozzle, squeeze. Nothing. Perform chicken dance.
Thar she blows.

Ostensibly the reason we don't have self-service in Oregon is that it's dangerous, because we will surely set ourselves on fire. Clearly this is not true. You can't get anything to stay lit in Oregon. But every few years we put it to the ballot again, and we smack self-serve down every time. Part of it is pure orneriness.

We like that we are just about the only state that prohibits self-serve. We feel special. We like feeling special. That's why we walk around in the rain all day wearing flannel shirts, shorts, sandals and a nice pair of wooly socks. We dress that way to go to the symphony, too. We think we look grand. It might be special-ed special, but it's still special.

We also were the first state to gin up a bottle bill, requiring a deposit on bottles and cans containing carbonated beverages. We think that was just terrific of us. We're still sailing proud on that old dinghy, the fresh breeze from 1971 whipping up our hair, obscuring the new acreage of non-carbonated beverages sprawling across the Seven-Eleven that we don't require a deposit on. We're green, baby. Could be mold; can't rule that out.

But however we've stumbled into this way of doing things, I think we're onto something with the gas stations. Year after year we Americans lose more and more of our service jobs. We make ourselves, essentially, unpaid employees of every store we frequent. We keep farming all our work out to ourselves; we're like Wal-Mart and China at the same time. You can't get anyone to answer the phone. You have to navigate a website to find your own answers. You find your groceries, check yourself out, bag them up, load them into your car. There wouldn't be butchers if they could figure out a way you could back a hog into a meat slicer. Then you go home and get into a chair that feels you up. Okay, that part's cool.

Thanks, but no. I'll stay inside my car, listening to the radio, and remain dry and odor-free while some nice person, a person with a job, feeds my car and takes my money from the window. Why would I want to take her job? I don't.

The rest of you can keep piling on work for yourself, but don't blame me if one day you wake up to discover that YouTube is really a self-colonoscopy kit.

34 comments:

  1. I'm with you on the value of service pumps. When the last full-service pump closed in the rural TN town I lived in over ten years ago, I felt sad. I missed the "good morning"s, the stories about the owner/attendant's grandmother and how he was curing his arthritis by using her remedy, consuming a carefully counted number of poisonous poke berries taken over a lengthy period of time.

    New Jersey also has no self-service. The first time I visited my NJ friend and stopped for gas, I opened my car door to inquire and one of the attendants bounced over so fast, I felt like I had nearly cost him his job. 'Twas nice to be still and let someone else do the pumping for a change.

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  2. Round these parts, we call it short-bus special. And I am reeling at the thought of a self-colonoscopy kit. Also, still wondering why no spell check recognizes the word "colonoscopy."

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  3. New Jersey bans self-serve gas, also. And I don't think you could come up with 2 states more in contrast than Oregon and NJ.

    Although I know you'll try...

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  4. Elizabeth BrewsterJune 2, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    Not only do they pump the gas here but they wash the window too! Like living in Mayberry, but with more patchouli.

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  5. I hate checking myself out at stores and refuse to when there is a checkout clerk available. Why on earth would I want to do that myself??? And then bag my own groceries. I end up in a fight with the computer every time, especially when I try to bag with my own bag.
    I would love not to pump my own gas, but in GA. that's the way it is. Think of all the hs kids who can't find jobs!

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  6. I don't think it's catching on fire you have to worry about when pumping for yourself.

    I think it's blindness....

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  7. Bravo, Murr.

    As for self serve gas and catching on fore, I have one word for you: Zoolander.

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  8. I love full service gas stations. I feel so pampered at them. I like to feel pampered.

    You're not being able to figure out the gas pump story was funny. But at least you had a good excuse. Recently, my 18 yr old daughter and I pulled up to a pump and she got out to put gas in her car. After five minutes of fiddling, she tapped on the window. I rolled it down and she announced "I can't get the nozzle in my car. It won't fit." I glanced at the pump and answered "You can't put diesel in your car sweetie. Try the unleaded nozzle." The guy at the next pump and I shared a giggle.

    As always, love your post!
    ♥Spot

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  9. See, Spot, I don't even know what's funny about the gas and diesel nozzles! Why, I am world-class in ignorance. Must be why I'm so cheerful.

    I guess I'll have to rent Zoolander now, huh?

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  10. Fantastic and funny. YOU are the bomb, Murr. And I especially like your notion, "Year after year we Americans lose more and more of our service jobs." THAT is the problem and no one seems interested in fixing it.

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  11. Go read a blog post of mine from a few years back. It involves a Midwestern gal and a broad from Joy-zee.
    http://susankwilliams.blogspot.com/2008/04/jersey-girl-versus-mid-western-girl.html

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  12. I REFUSE to use self check-out at our Costco. My kids roll their eyes and try to hide in their shirt collars when the Costco lady tries to shuffle me and my cart over the self-check line.
    "I'll do your job for you if/when you discount my purchase"
    That'll never happen either. Besides, I like talking the the check-out people. (That usually makes my kids roll their eyes too.

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  13. Up until I visited NJ a few years ago, I had never, ever had gas pumped for me by an attendant. We have had self-serve pumps in NC ever since I got my license back in 1974. It was a very strange experience to sit in the car and have someone else put gas in my car.

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  14. Oh.. I miss the stations that pump your gas.. I am in Alabama. We see cars all the time with the nozzle hanging out the side of the car.. Some people are Dangerous!! Can I move to where you live ???

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  15. Another over the top post!
    If you ever get to southeastern Innyanna give me a call - I'll pump it fer ya!!! I'll even teach ya tha difruns between gas and deeeesul. (On acount ah I got one ah them deeeeesuls - which confuses people in EVERY STATE!) I kin even getcha a carwash too at tha local stashun!!!!
    p.s. In this area you would have fallen off the hay wagon (not the log truck) but with our kind Hoosier Hospitality someone would have picked you up and set you straight! Guess West Virginians must be just as nice as us Hoosiers!

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  16. My brother-in-law and I (both Oregonians) pulled into a gas station in Las Vegas and sat there, and sat... and sat... until we figured out that we are EXPECTED to pump our own gas. Between the two of us, we figured it out.

    But this totally cracks me up about living in this (supposedly) progressive state. It is perfectly LEGAL to have your physician help you KILL YOURSELF, but we are NOT judged sufficiently competent to pump our own gas.

    Which begs the question... so what if we want to commit suicide by self-immolation?

    Seriously, this is such a stupid law. EVERY gas station has two bays; one used to be for "full" service (whatever that was). So have one bayh for "self" and one bay for "wait around forever for the minimum wage kid to stop texting his girl friend".

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  17. No self-serves totally flabergasts me. I'm all for it though. Maybe they should outlaw ATMs at banks too. You could have them elsewhere but not at banks.

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  18. Hmmmm. Not to be the contrarian, but if you've ever driven the NJ Turnpike and/or Garden State Parkway, and waited and waited for the guy to come pump your gas from the *exactly like self service* pump, you may not be so down on self service. I have literally waited 10-15 minutes for something I could have done in 3 minutes. I usually have a good conversation with the guy when he finally does arrive, though, so there is that.

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  19. Full service gas stations in the Chicago area are a fond and very distant memory, even though we are adept at setting ourselves on fire (that whole "Mrs. O'Leary's cow" incident comes to mind). Our politicians are apparently too busy preparing for their numerous corruption trials to care if the masses incinerate themselves.

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  20. Susan suggested you read her historic post. Oh, I do remember that report of the road trip wherein a gal from Jersey met a gas station. The road you walk on has been trod before.

    As for danger--true, true. Just a couple of months ago, here in the capitol of PA, a young man stopped to pump gas at an all-night self-service gas station (for some reason, no one was minding the store), and BOOM, the gas pump blew up, and along with it, the young man. So, danger there is indeed.

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  21. Here some stations still offer full-service, but you pay a lot more for it. Plus, they wash your windshield, which is nice except mine is always filthy from being at the barn so then I wonder if I should also tip the guy... On the other hand, as a registered bleeding heart liberal I want everyone to have jobs.

    It's a conundrum.

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  22. I hardly ever have to wait a long time. But whenever this comes up on the ballot, someone always says "let's just have a CHOICE. If I want to pump my own gas I should have that choice." Which makes sense; but my sister, who had to drag oxygen around with her and would always have chosen to NOT get out of the car, found that practically speaking there was no choice. Most stations had no full-serve at all, and those that did charged way, way, way more for the pleasure. Way more than they charge us here.

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  23. It's the other way 'round with me. I can count the number of times I've been to a full-service station on one hand. Heck, I could count the number of times I haven't had to prepay on one hand.

    I'm right sorry I missed the days when there was hardly any such thing as self service. And you're right, it would create a lot of jobs. Plus it'd just be cooler, not having to get out and run in and rub shoulders with the rest of the sweaty, grubby motorcar drivers around here.

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  24. Also, my! But wouldn't you smell terrific.

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  25. I wish we had full-service here. In California, we face the difficult gas nozzle with the giant plastic tube over it that supposedly keeps fumes from polluting the air or something equally smug. It reminds me of a giant gas hose condom. Makes it hard to put the nozzle in the car and is only 95% accurate at drip prevention.

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  26. Murr, you seem to have touched a nerve with this one. My dad died recently, and the ONE thing my extremely independent mother is freaking out about is having to pump her own gas, which she has never done. We've tried giving her lessons, but ... does anybody know of a full-service gas station in Lakeland, Florida?

    Or maybe we could extend Portland's wonderful light-rail system throughout the entire country? Great post, as always.

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  27. I can't tell you how much I hate to pump gas. It's just such an unpleasant interruption. And you are right; I am getting pretty worn out by all these jobs I seem to have that I don't get paid for. The self checkout NEVER works without some hitch. And the automated phone recordings never have a category that applies to the reason I am calling. *sigh*

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  28. I was telling one of those "when I was your age" stories to my 16 year old when we stopped to get gas. I told her when I got my liscense a nice young man would pump my gas, check my oil and wash my windshield. Being the wonderful, funny, child she is, she looked at me and said " how did they get the dinosaur poop in the tank Mom?" I also remember when children were seen and not heard.

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  29. Hey Hi, nice to meet ya through my site.

    And this is a sca-reem. My daughter and I are the same way. Its a 'guy thing' for sure, and you have reminded me of an iincident I must put down for my site. If they ever find it, my kids will be mortified reading the stuff. Heh.

    The pic of you mullin' over the pump is precious!

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  30. Growing up in Washington State we weren't lucky enough to have our petrol pumped for us but we did have the aforementioned Full Service bays (and OMG, yes they were a lot more expensive but I was a Princess in another life and refused to touch the stinky gas pump thingy). As time went by there were fewer and fewer until there was just one left on the opposite side of town from my house which I used faithfully. Not much of a hardship because back then the other side of town wasn't that far away...a completely different topic. At some point in my thirties the last one closed down and I ran out of gas trying to make it over the bridge to Orygone (did I mention that I was a Princess in another life?).....and I had to learn how to use the stinky gas pump thingy. Sigh.

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  31. :-) The first time my wife and I drove across the country, twenty five years ago or so, we had the same experience as Robert the Skeptic. Sat there in the car thinking, "man, folks in Idaho are slow! Aren't they *ever* going to get to us?"

    Nope, they weren't.

    I also boycott the auto-checkout stuff. Call me crazy, I know they're dangerous and wreck habitat and all, but I *like* human beings.

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  32. Growing up in Washington State we weren't lucky enough to have our petrol pumped for us but we did have the aforementioned Full Service bays (and OMG, yes they were a lot more expensive but I was a Princess in another life and refused to touch the stinky gas pump thingy). As time went by there were fewer and fewer until there was just one left on the opposite side of town from my house which I used faithfully. Not much of a hardship because back then the other side of town wasn't that far away...a completely different topic. At some point in my thirties the last one closed down and I ran out of gas trying to make it over the bridge to Orygone (did I mention that I was a Princess in another life?).....and I had to learn how to use the stinky gas pump thingy. Sigh.

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  33. No self-serves totally flabergasts me. I'm all for it though. Maybe they should outlaw ATMs at banks too. You could have them elsewhere but not at banks.

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  34. Another over the top post!
    If you ever get to southeastern Innyanna give me a call - I'll pump it fer ya!!! I'll even teach ya tha difruns between gas and deeeesul. (On acount ah I got one ah them deeeeesuls - which confuses people in EVERY STATE!) I kin even getcha a carwash too at tha local stashun!!!!
    p.s. In this area you would have fallen off the hay wagon (not the log truck) but with our kind Hoosier Hospitality someone would have picked you up and set you straight! Guess West Virginians must be just as nice as us Hoosiers!

    ReplyDelete