Lament for a pump jockey
I know it’s pointless to complain about it, but I sure am sorry that gas stations don’t have “pump jockeys” any more. Pull into a gas station and wait for some kid to rush out and say “Fill ‘er up?” and you’ll be waiting a mighty long time. There’s pretty much nothing but self-service these days.Not that that’s news to anyone. Far from it. In fact, self-service gas stations are one of those teeny-tiny little steps on the road to hell that everyone’s gotten used to.But think about how strange it is. Once upon a time, gas costs 30 cents a gallon. And when you pulled into the station, one or sometimes even two eager young bozos would come racing out to pump that super-cheap gas. And they’d clean your windshield, check your oil and maybe even check your tire pressure just for the heck of it. And while they were busy, you could wander into the station and grab a couple of free roadmaps.Now gas costs 10 times as much – it’s gone from 30 cents to $3 a gallon since I got my driver’s license – and you have to pump it yourself. Maps, if they have any, cost three or four bucks. You have to clean your own windshield and check your own oil. And if you need air in your tires, most places make you pay for that too. Air!Meanwhile, the oil companies are raking in those billions of dollars in profits. Geez, you’d think if they can’t cut the price of gas by 50 cents a gallon, they could at least shake loose enough money so the gas stations could hire some kids to pump the stuff.But what really bothers me isn’t the loss of civilized behavior or the obscene profits of the oil companies. What really bothers me is the fact that they’ve eliminated one of the first, lowest rungs on the ladder of employment. It used to be that when a kid needed to make a few extra bucks, pumping gas was a reasonable choice. It wasn’t necessarily great work. The pay wasn’t great. You had to sprint out there to pump gas no matter how cold or wet it might be. Your hands tended to get grimy and stay grimy and the smell of gasoline floated around you no matter how hard you scrubbed when you got home from work.But it was a job. You got paid. And the low wages and dirty hands were balanced by the fact that there wasn’t a lot of stress. Wasn’t any stress, actually. Aside from that faint odor of distilled petroleum, you didn’t take the job home at night. You didn’t lie awake fretting over what you could have done, what you should have done or how you were going to do it better tomorrow.Nah. You went home, scrubbed your paws, changed your clothes and headed out to grab a beer. Or two. Or five. Hell, it didn’t much matter if you were hung over the next morning. You could still pump gas.And you met interesting people along the way. There were other young jerks like yourself working the same shift – hanging out, telling jokes, swapping lies and waiting for the next car. There’d be oh-so-beautiful, oh-so-distant women in oh-so-fancy cars for you to dream about later on. There’d be rich jerks who might look down on you while you were cleaning their windshield – but you could have a great time mocking them once they pulled away.And then there were the occasional whackos who’d wind up working with you. Much older burnouts with crazy eyes who’d mumble to themselves the whole day long – for a month or a week or even just a single shift … however long it took before they wandered off to whatever came next in their strange lives. And they were great reminders of the fact that you needed to be careful you didn’t wind up pumping gas – and breathing those toxic fumes – for the rest of your life.But that’s all gone now. Maybe it wasn’t much of a world, but it was real. There were lessons to be learned. Jokes to be told. Beautiful Mercedes-driving women to dream about.A good first step onto the ladder. My first job in Aspen. And that’s all gone now.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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