New Jersey ponders new world of self-service gas

April 3, 2012

It seems that everyone is talking about gas prices these days. Well, at least if you are running for public office, it better be at the top of your agenda. I was in New Jersey recently, and it's true, the talk on the radio was about gas, but it wasn’t about the prices, but rather about the gas stations themselves. It seems they are toying with the idea of having the state go totally to self-serve gas stations. Right now, anyone who has pulled in and dealt with the little man who runs out knows it is full service.

It does seem odd to those of us who are now used to the conversion to self service. But I remember a time when it struck fear in the heart of every woman who thinks of her car as something that starts, takes her somewhere and stops, nothing else.

The idea of actually getting out and fooling with anything remotely connected to this moving vehicle was incomprehensible, a matter to be dealt with by throwing yourself onto the street and babbling.

Women my age grew up with the Texaco men on “The Milton Berle Show,” decked out in their starched tan uniforms, singing as they filled up the tank and washed your windshield. Heck, with a full tank of gas they threw in a set of matching water glasses. Sometimes they came in a little red carrier. And we loved it.

But then the self-serve station came into being, not everywhere, but enough so that you would drive miles out of your way to find a kind, elderly man who would fill up the car and ask all about your day. The self-service stations were, to us, like the pod people from outer space, infiltrating until they took over the entire civilization of the planet Earth.

I can vividly remember a woman in my office who left at lunchtime to try a self-service station for the first time; she figured she would fill up her gas tank before she went home later.

She came back after a couple of hours wearing what looked like a prison jumpsuit. Her hair was sticking straight up, and an unusual odor was seeping from every pore; the odor actually made your eyes water worse than peeling an onion.

It seems she went in to pay for her gas and left the gas pump on top of the car and it was still running. She forgot about it and drove off.

The bill for the cleanup was around $500, and she had an interview scheduled for later with the Department of Natural Resources; she was told to bring her toothbrush. Never a good sign. At least we think that’s what happened; it was hard to make out, since we all had handkerchiefs over our mouths and noses.

I also remember the first time I went to a self-service station. It was a dark and dreary night, much like in a vampire movie, and I pulled into a dark and dreary station where all the pumps were self service.

The clerk inside was reading a tattered copy of a magazine called Winnebago Thrills.

It was the moment of truth for me. After we established the color of the pump, where I was located, the type of gas, the amount I wanted to pay, I not only was all set to start the process, but had also passed the first part of the entrance to law school exam.

Two hours later, it was looking good, especially since it was about the time I found the part in the manual that tells you how to unlock the gas tank. If you press enough buttons, something is bound to happen; that’s the great thing about technology.

It seems odd to hear other states talk about stuff we’ve already done, like self-service gas stations and no smoking in public places.

And they call us lower, slower. Really?

  • Nancy Katz has a degree in creative writing and is the author of the book, "Notes from the Beach." She has written the column Around Town for the Cape Gazette for twenty years. Her style is satirical and deals with all aspects of living in a resort area on Delmarva.