I had occasion to drive a car in West Virginia a while back, and when I pulled up to a filling station, I got out of the car with my wallet and stared at the pump and then walked around in circles for a bit. Fortunately, I am not a man, so I didn’t need to dither about it all day. I walked right up to the nice-looking fellow at the next pump, and introduced myself.
“Hi there. Say: this is going to sound weird, but I’m from Oregon, and I can’t figure out how to pump gas.”
“Oh sure, I’ll show you,” the nice fellow said, and he got me up and running in no time, while we chatted amiably.
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“No problem. It can be confusing. I don’t think it’s because you’re from Ore-gone,” he said.
Suddenly I realized how he must have heard me. He thought I was saying, “Hah thar. I jest fell off a log truck in Oregon, the Home of the Big Dummies, and I’d shore be obliged if you gave me a pat on the head.”
But it is germane that I’m an Oregonian. We don’t have self-service gasoline here. I hardly ever drive out of state. I hardly ever drive in state. I’ve gotten so used to walking everywhere that sometimes, after over thirty years of piloting a postal truck, I climb into the passenger side of my car and wonder where the steering wheel went. I can count the number of times I’ve had to fill my own tank on one hand. Enough times to know that whatever worked the index-finger time won’t work with the pinkie.
Get out, lift nozzle, insert into vehicle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, lift nozzle, insert into vehicle, lift up the handle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, locate slot, insert credit card, lift nozzle, lift up handle, squeeze. Nothing.
Get out, insert credit card, lift nozzle, lift up handle, walk into store, tell clerk to turn on pump, go back squeeze, nothing.
Get out, go into store, give clerk money up front to turn on pump, insert card, lift up handle, insert nozzle, squeeze. Nothing. Perform chicken dance.
Thar she blows.
Ostensibly the reason we don’t have self-service in Oregon is that it’s dangerous, because we will surely set ourselves on fire. Clearly this is not true. You can’t get anything to stay lit in Oregon. But every few years we put it to the ballot again, and we smack self-serve down every time. Part of it is pure orneriness.
We like that we are just about the only state that prohibits self-serve. We feel special. We like feeling special. That’s why we walk around in the rain all day wearing flannel shirts, shorts, sandals and a nice pair of wooly socks. We dress that way to go to the symphony, too. We think we look grand. It might be special-ed special, but it’s still special.
We also were the first state to gin up a bottle bill, requiring a deposit on bottles and cans containing carbonated beverages. We think that was just terrific of us. We’re still sailing proud on that old dinghy, the fresh breeze from 1971 whipping up our hair, obscuring the new acreage of non-carbonated beverages sprawling across the Seven-Eleven that we don’t require a deposit on. We’re green, baby. Could be mold; can’t rule that out.
But however we’ve stumbled into this way of doing things, I think we’re onto something with the gas stations. Year after year we Americans lose more and more of our service jobs. We make ourselves, essentially, unpaid employees of every store we frequent. We keep farming all our work out to ourselves; we’re like Wal-Mart and China at the same time. You can’t get anyone to answer the phone. You have to navigate a website to find your own answers. You find your groceries, check yourself out, bag them up, load them into your car. There wouldn’t be butchers if they could figure out a way you could back a hog into a meat slicer. Then you go home and get into a chair that feels you up. Okay, that part’s cool.
Thanks, but no. I’ll stay inside my car, listening to the radio, and remain dry and odor-free while some nice person, a person with a job, feeds my car and takes my money from the window. Why would I want to take her job? I don’t.
The rest of you can keep piling on work for yourself, but don’t blame me if one day you wake up to discover that YouTube is really a self-colonoscopy kit.