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A tear for the service station

Marc Legare writes about the loss of full-service gas stations
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A Distant View

Marc Legare is a philosopher and motorcycle adventurist.

He has travelled extensively, worked and lived in Australia, US, and across Canada.

He has a varied working career including: Firefighter, Lawyer, Navy, Motorcycle Importer, plus others.

He chose to return to southern Saskatchewan because of his family's deep roots here.

As a columnist, Legare's columns will offer food for thought.  

If we want to understand what we have lost in our society, we need look no further than our local service station. As featherbrained as this sounds, gas station history  is a painful reminder of just how much we have lost in our race for speed and the illusion of betterment.

A mere three or four decades ago, a stop at the local service station was not just a speedy refueling, it was an event in itself. For those of us who remember this, little explanation is required. For those who are too young, a critique of recent gas station history is necessary. Be prepared; it is a sad trip...

In the past, getting gas was anything but drudgery, it was a social event. When you pulled up to the pump, every service station had an  attendant who asked, "fill 'er up"? Then he went to work servicing your car with washing windows, checking oil levels and tire pressures. He literally attacked your car with service.

Sometimes, an extra ambitious attendant would wipe the remaining streaks left by the squeegee with towel in hand. If you needed an air filter it would be changed the instant you asked for it. Labour to change that filter was free. Some stations even had uniforms with the gas company logo and the attendants name embroidered on the pockets.

Few, if any, service stations of times-gone-by were without a mechanic. Generally, they were always available without an appointment to do minor repairs. Tires, batteries, hoses, belts and all routine maintenance items were available and their immediate installation was a mere request away. Most often the mechanic knew your car intimately. The list of previous repairs were known by that mechanic because they were likely the one who did those repairs. In short, that mechanic had a "relationship" with you and your car.

Now let's return to our ugly modernity.

Very few gas stations still pump gas for you. Tires are not checked and wiping your windows after the squeegee treatment is a forgotten art form. Some modern stations don't have washrooms, and as for the ever present mechanic of the past, he is gone. You need to check your air pressure yourself and if you do need air, many of the present-day gas stations either don't have it or charge for it.

Personal interactions provided by the old stations have vaporized. This depersonalization is only heightened due to the now ever present plexiglass panel that separates you from the contemporary cashier.

The greatest tragedy, however, in turning away from those once hallowed old-school service stations is the loss of trust. The vast majority of gas stations no long allow you to fill your tank unless it is paid for first.

The service station of old was in business to make money, yet in doing so, it provided a certain level of humanity and trust in addition to the business end of it. They offered more than just gas, they provided real, personal, up close, service. Hence the word "service station". The modern gas station does not deserve the name "service station," at best, they should be relegated to "fuel store".

While we are galloping along in search of an "improved life," it would be good to remember just how  much we have lost. The loss of the old-time service  station is one of countless high prices we have paid for our purportedly more sophisticated lives of today.

Wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to pull into one of those grand old stations just one more time. However, that is a foolish want, because we are living a superior life now, aren't we?

It is disconcerting to recall the words of John Steinbeck who wrote, "A dying people tolerate the present, reject the future and find satisfaction in past greatness and half-remembered glory".

Steinbeck's quote is revealing if you are similar to me and have the longing for a stop at an old-styled, now non-existent, service station. It may well be that we may not be exactly dying just yet, but maybe we are living a not so wonderful life in our own time.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.