'Pump My Own Gas?… I Can't Even'

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
pump my own gas i can t even

I’m old enough to remember when self-serve gasoline stations were an innovation. That was some time after filling station attendants stopped washing your windshield and checking your oil, or even giving you a free set of steak knives or glass tumblers with a fill-up along with actually pumping your fuel. Age perhaps makes my memory imprecise, but I believe the change from full-service to self-service happened sometime after OPEC started jacking up the price of petroleum.

Since it was a way of saving a few pennies a gallon as fuel costs were increasing, self-serve was so popular that it spread across the fruited plains to the point where in many places in America today you can’t find anyone to pump your gas, let alone provide what used to be considered full service. Self-serve was embraced at the gas pump and it has pullulated to other retail establishments. I can’t remember the last time I went through a checkout lane with an actual human cashier when buying groceries, much as it annoys me to have a machine say “Thank you for shopping at Meijer.”

We now live in a self-serve world. Well, except for New Jersey and Oregon. Until now, both of those states have prohibited self-serve gasoline stations, but it looks like starting this year New Jersey will have that distinction all to itself.Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation last year that said that starting Jan. 1, 2018, owners of gas stations in rural counties with small populations will have the option of letting customers pump their fuel themselves. Farmers are experienced at pumping their own diesel fuel for tractors and other agricultural equipment, so introducing the practice in rural areas makes sense.

For the time being, because many of those rural gas stations have never installed gas pumps that can accept credit card payments, it will be a while before Oregon drivers can pull up, pay at the pump, fill their tank, and drive away. Also, it’s not clear how much demand there will be for less service. Media reports in Oregon seem to indicate that consumers there, even in rural areas, don’t want to pump their own gas.

I can understand some consumers’ reluctance to embrace what they think may be a reduction of service. I can even understand how some might be afraid of the safety hazards of letting regular folks handle a highly flammable liquid like gasoline. There are indeed people who will use an open flame around a gas pump despite all of the warning labels.

However, the reaction of some Oregonians makes me fear for the future of society. We already have a television star as president; I’m not sure if I’m ready for a true Idiocracy.

Maybe I expect too much from a society where advertisers make women feel smart for not knowing how to change a tire, but just look at the comments above in response to a local TV station’s Facebook posting about the new law.

“I don’t even know how to pump gas and I’m 62.”

Someone who is 62 years old has presumably been driving for at least 40 years and in all that time, through scores of fill-ups, they’ve never picked up on how to unscrew their gas cap, grab the nozzle handle, put it in the filler neck, and squeeze the trigger? Then there’s the drama queen (or king, I don’t want to presume xir’s gendyr) who claims to have “almost died” when having to pump his own gasoline once when in California. A horror of apocalyptic magnitude, no doubt. I’m no huffer but I worked in a paint laboratory for 20 years and while there are health hazards associated with long term exposure to solvents, a few whifs of VOCs aren’t going to hurt anyone with normal sensitivities to solvents.

Besides, nobody is going to force anyone in Oregon to pump their own gas, whether or not they “literally,” or figuratively, park at the gas pumps in protest (raising the question of how the gas station attendants will know the difference between someone parking in protest and anyone else simply pulling up to a pump and putting it in park). The law allows station operators to offer self-service, it doesn’t compel the practice.

Just to show you what used to be considered full service in the service station industry, the gallery contains a 1944 vintage trade brochure distributed to service stations that gave them tips on how to maximize profit by providing complete service “within practical limits.”

[Images: Shell Oil, Gulf Oil, author]

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  • Ra_pro Ra_pro on Jan 04, 2018

    Reading these comments revealed to me another mental quirk of some people in the US, they are actually proud that they are incompetent and will fight to stay incompetent. To fill up your own car is just a basic and rather simple life-skill. When my wife started driving about 15 years, she said she expected me to fill up the car. I told her she had a choice if she wanted to drive she would have to fill up the car otherwise she wouldn't drive. She got the message.

  • AJ AJ on Jan 04, 2018

    I was in Oregon for the first time last summer. It was weird handing my credit card to some guy, and then was I suppose to tip him? I actually first tried to cross the Columbia River into WA for gas, but there wasn't an immediate gas station. What a weird experience!

  • Stuki Moi If government officials, and voters, could, like, read and, like, count and, like, stuff: They'd take the opportunity to replace fixed license numbers, with random publicly available keys derived from a non-public private key known only to them and the vehicle's owner. The plate's displayed number would be undecipherable to every slimeball out there with a plate reader who is selling people's whereabouts and movements, since it would change every day/hour/minute. Yet any cop with a proper warrant and a plate scanner, could decipher it just as easily as today.
  • Dukeisduke Is this the one that doesn't have a back window? Like a commercial van?
  • MaintenanceCosts My rant seems to have disappeared, but suffice it to say I agree with 28 that this is a vehicle about which EVERYTHING is wrong.
  • SCE to AUX Welcome to the most complicated vehicle you can buy, with shocking depreciation built into every one.And that tail - oh, my.
  • FreedMike Can these plates be reprogrammed on demand to flash messages at other drivers? If so, I'd like to flash "Is your insurance paid up?" to tailgaters.