“The economy has turned my old car into an expensive, high-performance vehicle. It now goes from 0 to $60 in less than 60 seconds.”—Internet humor
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Keeping cars fueled has changed the way many of us live. Just last week, I had to apply for an increase in my credit limit at the bank, and that was just to buy enough gas to get to the service station. Or, more accurately stated, the inconvenience stores that sell gasoline without service. I heard last week that someone called the police claiming they were robbed at the corner gas station. When the dispatcher asked if they knew the thief’s identity, the caller responded, “Yes, it was pump number 6.”
Along with affordable fuel, I miss the days of real service stations. Places where drivers bought a tank of gas for less than five dollars without getting out of the car, and received an under-the-hood checkup, tire pressure check, a windshield cleaning, and an interior sweeping at no extra charge. That’s a far cry from last week when I paid $3.29 for “regular” gas in Center that I pumped myself, and after selecting ‘yes’ for a receipt at the pump, the message read “clerk has the receipt.”
That’s tantamount to being robbed, then being invited inside to thank them for robbing you.
It’s also a far cry from memories of buying a dollar’s worth of gas at the local station, knowing that would get me to school, to work after school, and home again for several days.
Those after school jobs for me were often at service stations where the life of a high school kid working a part-time job was not only educational but came with perks.
Recounting a few of those experiences to a friend last week reminded me of just how far we’ve come in automobile technology and how much we’ve lost in customer service since then.
Perks included washing your car on slow nights or changing your oil using the station’s service rack and tools just for the cost of the oil and filter. That sure beat doing it across the front yard ditch at home, lying on my back using the few worn-out tools dad owned. While I don’t remember how much a quart of oil cost in the 1960s, I do recall the advertised price for an oil and filter change at Rex Kidwells’ Fina station on South Jefferson was $5.
It wasn’t a bad job either when the cute blonde in algebra class you were too shy to ask out on a date happened to drive in to fill up her car. Just enough time to get better acquainted and find the nerve to ask if she might be interested in going to the midnight show after Friday night’s football game. It was, after all, a sci-fi flick, “Terror From Outer Space.”
The job even had its humorous moments. Like the night the ’57 Chevrolet squealed in the driveway with strains of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” recognizable through rolled-down windows. The driver barked, “Two bucks of regular, check the tires, and make it snappy, kid. I’m in a hurry.” He then returned to swaying with the music of “Maybelline, coming over the hill in her Coupe Deville.”
Gas pumped and tires checked, I leaned across the fender for the obligatory free windshield cleaning when the radio’s volume suddenly dropped drastically. The startled driver turned the knob up and began pounding on the dash. Finished cleaning one side, I stepped back to walk to the other side, and the volume blasted back.
I was halfway around the car when it dawned on me. With the driver’s side clean and sparkling; I smiled and walked back to the other side for a “touch up.” Sure enough, when I leaned across the fender, reaching for the windshield, my arm touched the radio antenna. And just like before, the volume vanished. The driver sprang into action again, attempting to “fix” the radio’s volume. I let him go through his antics one more time before moving my arm enough for the sound to boom back.
Apparently, the antenna had a short or a loose connection, and my touching it was enough to ground the signal. Realizing I was in control, I bumped it a couple more times just to have some fun with “Mr. Make it Snappy” before collecting his two dollars.
America has lost more than just money out of working people’s pockets for over-priced and over-taxed gasoline at service-less stations. It has lost one of the best places for a high school kid to work: the full-service station where gas was 29¢ a gallon, wash jobs were $1.25, and every day was fun.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.
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