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Living in Stockholm

Went to the service station today.  For those of you whose earliest memories include Power Rangers, a service station is what we used to, sometimes, call gas stations.  They really did provide service.  Not only would a man work the pump and put fuel in the car for you, but another guy would clean your windshield, pop the hood, check the oil, and sometimes even check the tire pressure.  If you don’t know what this would look like, please refer to Marty McFly’s arrival in 1955.

This is all, of course, gone the way of the dodo bird.  It was already fading in the 1970s, even before self service came along, due to rising wages.  Now it just flat does not happen, except at a few concierge filling stations in very rich areas.

The reason I think of this is because, every time I go to a gas station now, I am confronted by one of my personal pet peeves.  A few years ago, events conspired to return me, somewhat permanently, to the land of my birth: Long Island, New York.  Here in New York, when one fills one’s car with gasoline, one is obliged to hold the nozzle the whole time.  That’s right!  The little clicky thing in the handle isn’t there.  It was there.  You can see where it was forcibly, surgically removed from the nozzle, but it is gone.

You do not see this in any other part of the country.  Even the two or three states that have outlawed self service – to “create jobs,” I am sure – have allowed the clicky thing.  Here, either by law or insurance company fiat, they just do not have them.

This upsets me so much, because I cannot use the time while my tank is filling up to clean my windshield or check my oil, things I have to do myself now, due to self service.  No, I have to stand there like a monkey, holding the nozzle open with my opposable digits.  So, if I want to clean my windshield or check my oil, I have to wait until I am done filling the tank – which of course I cannot do, because by the time I am done, there will be another monkey with opposable digits waiting for my pump.  It is a shame, of course, because it would be nice to be able to use the window-cleaning equipment they leave out so freely available and it would be nice to find out that my car needs oil while I am standing at a place that happens to sell it.  But, it is just not to be.  Not in New York, anyhow, where we are apparently very different.

Now, when you ask people here about this, they are sure that it serves a purpose, that there is a good and true reason why New Yorkers cannot be trusted with a device that other states in the Union have used for decades with reckless abandon.  People here, who know about the device from their worldly travels, will chime right in and tell you that they are not safe, that they cause too many spills, are dangerous and harmful to the environment.  They would not have been banned otherwise.

Yet this attitude is demonstrably wrong.  If the wondrous labor-saving devices were too prone to error, they would have been banned long ago, across the country, either by politicians or insurance companies.  But go to Indiana, go to Nebraska, go even to California, and you will see them there, still in use, after decades of experience.

Sadly, this attitude is nearly universal.  No, not about the clicky thing, but about laws and conventions in general.  Go somewhere that garbage pickup is municipal and the people there will assure you that it is the only practical way, although cities and towns of any size can be found across the country that thrive with private garbage pickup.  People with municipal power or sewer or water will also assure you that any other way will not work or would be open to price gouging.  Most of my neighbors in Southampton Township believe that the only true path to leaf removal is through the town’s Highway Department.

This is basically Stockholm Syndrome at work: over time, one tends to identify with one’s captors.  Choice is taken away and we assume that it was taken away for good reasons or with the best of intentions or aren’t those guys really nice, after all.  Some people will vocally support a woman’s right to choose abortion, while others would champion the right to choose a personal firearm, yet very few around here would allow a gas station owner to decide whether a he can offer his customers a simple, proven convenience.


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