I remember the first time I ever pumped my own gas at a service station. It was back in the early 1970’s, not too long after the Arab oil embargo. The cost of gas had risen to somewhere around forty cents a gallon, and using the self-serve pump was a way to save the cost of one gallon on each thankful.
Even back then, I was an an old dog, reluctant to learn new tricks. However, after riding with my super-frugal neighbor, and watching how she confidently got out of her car, took off her gas cap, lifted the nozzle, turned the lever, and squeezed the trigger, I thought, “I can do that.”
I didn’t try it on my very next trip to the service station. I waited for a time where there was no one else at the self-service island and the attendant was busy helping at least two full-service customers. I didn’t want anyone watching me as I physically performed the procedures I had played over in my mind so many times. I don’t know how much gas I wasted circling the block, waiting for just the right moment. Once or twice I had to give up and slink ignominiously into line at the full service island because I was running on fumes, and there was always someone at self service who would most certainly watch my fumbling maiden attempt to fill my tank.
One day the stars aligned: self service was empty and the full service attendant was busy. I swooped into the station and, coached by my second grader, I successfully filled my tank. The elation I felt was all out of proportion to the difficulty of the endeavor. Even the fact that I had to drive back and ask for the gas cap that I had forgotten didn’t dampen my feeling of accomplishment. It was a tremendously freeing moment, for I was no longer at the mercy of the service station attendant.
Prior to the advent of self-service islands, you sat in your car and waited to be served. There was always someone there to pump gas for you, but he might be serving another customer or changing the oil on a car in the service bay, or he might just be talking with his buddies. In smaller towns, the local service station was a congregating place for teenage boys. I’ll save a digression into the service station as a social club for another day. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t always someone running out to get you gassed up and on your way.
On the other hand, along with gas, you usually got your oil, tire pressure and radiator checked and your windows washed. That’s something I don’t do for myself every time I fill up, but even on cold and windy days, I much prefer self service.
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