A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal commemorated a milestone of iconic Americana: A full-service gas station is marking its 50th year in business in Manitowoc. The term “full-service station” has left the lexicon of our daily lives, along with “pay telephone” and “rabbit ear antennas.” The whole idea, however, harkens back to a simpler time, at least in our nostalgic, warm and fuzzy feelings from yesteryear.
As a kid I remember sitting in the front seat of my parents’ car, watching the authoritative figure in the beige uniform with his name ceremoniously sewn in an oval above his right shirt pocket, taking my father’s request, putting the gas nozzle in our vehicle, and then leaning across the windshield as he squeegeed and wiped the window clean. My father would then share a few closing thoughts with him on how outrageous it is for gas to cost 30 cents a gallon, the weather or the politics of the day, pay him, and then drive on our way.
As the years went on, I came to appreciate this personal touch. The car I drove to college in 1977 had belonged to my grandmother, a 1962 Chevy Bel Air with a “three on the tree” transmission, a huge dashboard made of metal and a steering wheel that was larger than most front seat areas of today’s compact cars. During one of my summers at home, it was giving off this most peculiar growling noise. Be that as it may, I turned of course to my Dad, since my only real knowledge of the car was that it got me to and from school, and I could pack my whole dorm room belongings in its trunk. He immediately knew what to do and took it to a local mechanic who had been working on his cars for years. Now this mechanic had no “diagnostic equipment” and he did not need to check for an “errant computer error” in the system. He opened the hood, stuck his head in, listened for a few seconds and then declared, “Yep, it’s the rocker panel.” I was impressed and amazed, although I could not fathom what a rocker panel was and why it growled. But through his personal expertise, he got the ol’ Chevy back on the road hauling my dorm stereo equipment, bellbottoms and leisure suits in no time.
These days the vehicles have capabilities and features which George Jetson could only dream of. You can actually talk to the car, and the car will talk back. There is really no need to have any human interaction as you pump your gas and squeegee your own windshield clean, but there is something to be said for a time when “the man who wears a star” would dash to your car with a broad grin and you would say those words of a bygone era, “Fill ‘er up!”