Back when time began, there was no such thing as a self-serve gas station. And mechanics used to actually fix cars, too. If you don’t believe me, read this column published April 9, 1976 in The Kamloops News.
FIRST YOU TURN the handle to on. Then you put it in the oven… er, place nozzle in tank. Then you squeeze.
Then a voice bellows from a speaker above you. “Next pump, please.”
Then you check the oil. Then you go into the gas station and get a quart of oil. You return to your car, fiddle around punching the spout into the can and drip oil all over your hands.
Wash windshield, headlights. Look into radiator, battery, all the time pretending you know what you’re dong.
Wash windshield, headlights. Look into radiator, battery, all the time pretending you know what you’re doing.
Return spout. Wipe off hands. Present credit card.
“What’s yer licence number?”
Return to car. Wipe crud off licence plate. Back into station, silently repeating, L-H-F-5-1-5, L-H-F-5-1-5.
Cash register guy, fag in one hand, uncola in the other, awaits the news, looking very bored.
“No such number.”
Try again. Back to car.
No, self-service gas stations do not turn my crank or that of my car. I have always had the feeling that, in the end, I am going to end up paying more for my gasoline, and getting less for it.
In about the last year, Kamloops has gone from a single self-serve station to a couple of dozen of them. Why is it, I have to ask, that some stations used to be able to sell you gasoline several cents cheaper than their competitors, clean your windows, do those things under the hood, check your tires and still make a profit?
Now, we are told, we can get gas a couple of cents cheaper than the normal rates (which are exhorbitant) but we have to serve ourselves.
For some people, there is a danger that the old rattletrap will die in the middle of Victoria Street some day because they didn’t remember to carry out that under-the-hood inspection.
There could be some benefit to the whole thing in that more people will learn something about their cars, through experience, sad or otherwise. Checking the dipstick may well twig some people into realizing that the automobile is not such a mystery machine, after all.
Take me, for example. My father is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best automobile mechanic in the world. I used to hang around his garage when I was a kid, sweeping floors for 30 cents a day.
I never did learn anything from it except how to sweep floors but I was always fascinated with the way my father could fix cars. He could take an old piece of wire, a pocket knife and a pair of pliers, and in five minutes make a car that had been on its last legs come out running like new.
And he still does it. But mechanics don’t fix cars any more. They replace them. They don’t know how to repair anything. They simply yank out parts and put in new ones. No creativity, no artistry. Insert Tab A into Slot B. And it’s the car owner who gets the shaft.
Before I moved to Kamloops a few years ago, I spent a lot of money on cars. The garages would see me coming. “I’m afraid it’s not good,” they would say. “Your blurpen housing is shot and you’re gonna need a new flerpin flappen. Have to put it on back order through Lower Transylvania. Cost, oh, couple thousand.”
Now, I’m a little better off, because my father and I live in the same city again. “I’m Ben Rothenburger’s kid,” I say, “and I want my car fixed.”
They figure, you see, that any kid of Ben Rothenburger’s has got to know his cars, and they better not pull any fast ones.
“Well, what’s the sad story?” I ask when checking to see if the car is ready.
“Your popomatic needed tuning and your tenderflakey was out of alignment, but we’ve got it fixed up.”
And I listen patiently while I’m told with enthusiasm (as only a mechanic can be enthusiastic about a motor), about how this sure was a tough one because they changed the flapneedle half way through the model year and mine was one of the last of its kind. But they got ‘er fixed up for me.
“Hmmmm,” I reply non-committally. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“One twenty-nine and 14 cents,” I’m informed apologetically.
They always charge me one twenty-nine and 14 cents.
So I pick up my car and it runs fine for several days. And when it stops running the day after the garage has cashed my cheque, I call my father and he shows up with his pocket knife, pliers, wire and, if it’s really serious, a hammer.