Just stations, no service

I have been on the road all day again today, which is always a good time. I was in Oregon for about half the trip, which is one of two states in the union (the other being New Jersey) that requires a trained professional attendant (*koff*) to pump your gasoline for you. Of course, there was a time when you pulled into a service station and three guys in pristinely white suits came running out to pump your gas, wash your car’s windows, check the oil, and put air in the tires. There was a garage with a mechanic on duty who could replace a broken fan belt and do all manner of other repairs on your car. And you could use the restroom, too, if needed. The attendants called you sir or ma’am and always thanked you and wished you a nice day as you left. Now THAT’S service.

Today? Not so much.

The first gas station I pulled into had a prominent sign on the pumps that said “The customer is responsible for ensuring that the correct type and grade of fuel is dispensed.” Interesting policy, considering they don’t let you touch the pumps yourself. So if the trained professional attendant puts gasoline in your diesel tank by mistake, that would be on you. Nice. I watched carefully to ensure that the attendant dispensed regular unleaded into my tank, then looked around for a squeegee to wash my own windows. He jerked his head in the direction I needed to go but said nothing. When my windows were clean and he’d finished filling my tank, he asked “are you going to pay inside, then?” I was beyond dismayed that this young man’s idea of customer service didn’t even extend so far as to take my money and bring me my change. The only reason he pumped my gas is because state law requires him to, and clearly it does not require him to do one single thing more on the customer’s behalf. Otherwise he would have undoubtedly just sat behind the cash register and watched me do everything myself, then taken my money. Just like they do, ahem, in my state.

Many miles down the road, I pulled into another so-called service station to use the restroom. I found a sign taped to the door that said “Restrooms are for PAYING customers only.” I took care of my business and left without buying a thing. The trained professionals behind the counter gave me the stink-eye on my way out but I refused to feel bad about it because I still believe that service stations exist primarily to provide a service to travelers.

It’s appalling to me that it seems we have become nothing more than customers everywhere we go, and in more and more places of business, we are asked to perform–for free–tasks that used to be done for us by paid employees (such as self-checkout at the grocery store, and banking by ATM). We are not people in need of service or assistance or care or consideration or courtesy or even a friendly smile anymore. We are simply sources of revenue, preferably cash, and if we cannot perform in that capacity, we are not welcome.

The few trained professional attendants I do encounter who know how to look me in the eye, smile, say please and thank you, and inquire if there’s anything else they can do to assist me are jewels beyond price, and I make a point of being as nice as I can be to them every time. I appreciate their service.

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