It’s a Gas

I started driving in 1971 at the age of nineteen. I didn’t get my license when I turned sixteen due to circumstances beyond my control. In other words, I flunked the road test even though I aced the written classroom test. The state supervisor didn’t, I guess, like the way I parked in the high school lot. Maybe it had to do with sideswiping his own parked car.

Anyway, the first time I was obligated to stop at a gas station, pull out the wallet and pay for the fuel the gas cost thirty-two cents a gallon. This was before the Great Oil Embargo in 1973. Even at this pre-inflationary time, people were complaining that it was a nerve of the oil companies to jump the price up four cents from twenty-eight cents a gallon. Back then, when you drove up to the gas pump, the car’s tires drove over a hose that caused a ding to go off and send a message to an attendant in the store to come running out and give assistance.

This was before self-service. It was against the law to pump your own gas. The attendant, dressed in a nice looking uniform, would put the pump hose into the gas tank opening, and casually ask, “fill her up?” and expect you to be a sport and say yes. Time out- I guess cars are she’s and not he’s- Time in. He would then ask you to raise the hood of the automobile and check to see if it was low on oil. He always had a quart of motor oil handy if it was leaking oil or whatever. He would then proceed to wash and wipe the front and rear windshields and side windows at no extra charge. More often than not, he would also give out a free gift. Dad would often go to the Purple Martin station so Ma could stock up on certain type of glassware. Ma would also buy a certain type of jelly container at the supermarket to collect a second style of glassware.

I would guess that in those days Dad was making anywhere from three to three hundred and fifty dollars a week on average. If my math is correct, this meant that he was spending less than a tenth of one percent of his weekly income per gallon of gas. Gas is now over three and a half dollars a gallon. This would mean that a person would need to make over three thousand five hundred dollars a week to experience the same budgetary ratio. I can assure you that if this was common, hardly anyone would be talking about the price of gas or the political situation in oil producing countries.

Not only are we paying more than ten times the amount per gallon than we did almost forty years ago, but we have to pump it ourselves and don’t get any free gifts. Plus, the economists try to convince us that ten times the cost of anything from forty years ago is an expected increase and not rampant inflation. Well, how come my income hasn’t gone up with the same enthusiasm?

I’ve visited a certain overseas country several times. I’d always rent a car so I was obligated to return it to the rental office with the same amount of gas in the tank or I would pay a higher rate per liter than I would by going to fill it up myself. Naturally, I chose to get it filled on the way back to the airport return location. 1995 was the first time I pulled into this specific service station conveniently open late at night as my flight was taking off at 1:00 am. I noticed that I was taking a step back in time in as an attendant in uniform greeted me and asked if the car should be filled up. This same course of action took place on at least ten subsequent trips. Then, on a more recent trip, another car was sitting on the other side of the pump island. The driver was engaged in chat with the attendant and gave him some cash to cover the cost. The attendant walked maybe a total of five feet to the other side of the island to ask me if he should fill up the tank.

The next thing you knew, the other car slowly began heading off and the attendant started to scream. You guessed it- he had not yet removed the hose from the car tank. The driver had presumed it was done and didn’t realize that the clerk was trying to be courteous to me and then finish the job with him. At the time, I was thankfully out of the car looking at the pump price trying to figure out in their scheme how much cash I needed to hand over. Once the attendant screamed, I saw what was about to happen and we both ran for cover. It ended up like a scene out of a Three Stooges short with the hose dancing about in the air as gas spritzed all over the place.

On my next visit, I drove to the same station before heading to the airport and this time no one walked out of the office to greet me. After waiting a minute or two, I honked the horn and still no one came out. I walked to the kiosk and asked what was going on. The station manager behind the cash register explained to me that they were now self-service and prepayment was required and how much did I want so he could program it into my pump number. Ah, progress.

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