Ah, modern conveniences… like “self service!”
-Fred Stock

           Was looking through some old photographs that my family had sent when Dad passed on and they were closing up his stuff. He had lived in a very different time than we. An Atlantic gas station was located adjacent to Grandpa’s house in Depew New York, at the intersection of two “main routes”, before Interstates. The station had two pumps;  one on the entrance from Highway 78 and one at the access from Highway 20. You bought “gas”. It wasn’t high test or regular, it wasn’t oxygenated or leaded, it didn’t contain miracle additives that prevented dropsy in snow monkeys or made your bumper start smiling, it was “gas”. You pulled in and handed three dollars to the girl snuggled up on the bench seat of your DeSoto next to you, and she handed it to the service man at the pump, who smiled and tipped his hat. The other service man was checking your oil, and the third was washing your windows. For that three dollars your tank was filled, oil was topped off, tires were checked for proper inflation and sometimes you were handed a premium like a cold drink or a note pad with the oil company logo on it, along with your exact change.

          Today we have self service. A nearly illegible screen tells you to swipe your debit card, remove it quickly, and beeps as it demands your zip code. Then you select a grade – that determines how badly the incursions into your bank account will be. Then you pump your own gas, and if you can find a towel dispenser that has been restocked in the last three months, you get to wash your own windows with dirty water from last week. The beeping begins again when the auto-shut-off has concluded you have enough, if that works. That’s when you notice the sticker from Weights and Measures that says the pump hasn’t been inspected for accuracy since 2005, but you can bet the price has been raised to the latest upward price adjustment this morning! If you need help, don’t bother – you don’t speak that language anyway! Ah, self service!

          Was pulling out of the Hovley Post Office the other day when I had to stop for an elderly lady with a disabled license plate on her car, trying to put a letter into the drive-up post box. She was short, and evidently not physically able to stretch that high! The letter got to the lip of the deposit chute and teetered precariously trying to decide whether to slip into the box or drop out into that eternal pool of drain water accumulated right in front of the box. I was about to jump out and grab the letter for her when she opened her door to step out and push that envelope into the slot. That’s when she saw the four inch deep pool she had nearly experienced “up close and personal”. As it turned out, her car door bumped the mail box, which shuddered and swallowed he envelope! She winced, then grinned as if to say, “nailed that one!”, then drove off leaving a rooster tail of spray. Ah, self service!

          I’ve already written about the “self service” video store with no help and a cold, unfriendly, unforgiving computer program that had driven off so many customers. But the one that really gets to me is the check out counter at the market or the hardware chain. That “friendly” helpful lady voice that demands you do what it says when it says so, and the fact that it malfunctions often enough that they have to keep a full time employee there just to unsnarl the procedures. That lady is often backed up when several people on several different lines have “issues” at the same time. I s’pose we could call customer service in New Delhi and complain, if we have time to sit on hold and listen to the same 16 bars of elevator music repeated 3400 times, but then, this is one of the joys of modern “self service”!

          The speaker was saying, “…think of all the modern conveniences we have that our parents and their parents didn’t have.” I was hearing that on the satellite radio while I was waiting for the computer to index a request for some information from Wikipedia. And I envisioned my young Dad and Mom pulling the DeSoto into the Atlantic Station next to Grampa’s in Depew. That’s progress! Hmmmmm.  -fhs