It was the 1970s. I’d just completed my B.A. in Theatre Arts, so naturally all the big corporations were looking to hire me. Yeah, right. Hence, I was delighted when I found the cheapest gas around at a Texaco station just blocks away.
Behold: the era of the service station! Not only was the gas cheap (25 cents a gallon!), but it was pumped by a guy in a spiffy bow tie who also washed your windows and checked your oil! My station even had a loyal customer point system–with prizes on display. Before long, I’d acquired a shiny new toaster!
Why the smiley overkill? In a word: money. Sure, there was a bit of residual old-style gentility, but the real reason was that gas stations back then were fronts for auto shops. And that, not the gas, was where they made their money. The more they checked your car, the more they could find things to fix. “Oops, those tires are looking a mite bald, sir. I can put a brand new set of Firestones on there for you today!” “Engine’s running a smidge rough, m’am. Better have us rebuild the entire engine for ya before it blows a head gasket!”
And then the oil crisis struck! Suddenly service stations became gas stations. People waited…and waited…and waited…just for the privilege of buying gas–when it was “their day,” that is (odd or even license plate number). Overnight new pumps were installed displaying three digits because–inconceivably–gas had soared to more than a dollar a gallon! And service guys in bow ties?–or, heck, even station owner’s nephews in tie-dyed tees recovering from doobies they’d just toked out back–pumping your gas? Gone.
We had to pump our own gas now! After waiting, that is. If only there were simulated coffee from robotic brewing machines or those yummy little factory-assembled pastries to nibble while we waited. That was when the auto shops disappeared and the mini-marts appeared. Because one thing hasn’t changed–for good or for bad–
It’s still about the money.