Thursday, June 12, 2014

Derelict Service Stations

     Tucked somewhere in my archive of old black and white photos are pictures of service stations, their attendants standing proudly by the pump, capturing the era of that new fangled automobile.  Grease monkey the mechanics were called.  The service station was where old men hung out, gabbing about the weather and watching for the odd flashy car swooping through town.  Women sat in the car watching the men do the important work of checking the oil, wiping the windshields and pumping gas.  The work was honorable and much admired.  As a child I recall the personal relationship that my dad had with his service station attendants.  They knew him by name.  The service station was a place where men joked with each other and swapped tales.  I can see my dad with a big smile on his face as he washed the windows.  I remember wishing that I could snap those blades back in place and swing the window washing stick so casually.  Afterwards my dad would take me across the street to the butcher, where I would be given one slice of fresh baloney.

     When I think back on my travels around America, old abandoned service stations were frequent sights.  They seemed to be waiting for the sound of clinking tools, whistling men and the smell of grease.  Many of the smallest stations were from the twenties or thirties.  Their wooden doors with multiple windowpanes opened sideways instead of upwards.  The beautiful art deco details attractive even under the pealing paint.  Sometimes a name or a date would be emblazoned across the top.  The name of proud owners of the service station.

     The obvious truth is that little towns got by-passed by automobiles whose gas tanks could carry them many towns away to big towns with newer stations and cheaper gas.  Mechanics no longer could work on any car that pulled in.  Too complicated.  Service stations were service stations.  Dispensing fuel, opinions, and tune-ups.  Service with a smile.

     Gas stations and convenience stores.  The shift in linguistics is telling.  No more service, no more directions, no more schmoozing.  Gas.  No service, but self-service.  Wait on yourself.  Talk to yourself.  America lost an element of civilization when the service stations disappeared.  

     Convenience stores are convenient for the owners, not the customers.  You dispense your own drink or pull it from a cooler.  Need oil.  Buy it by the quart and put it in yourself.  Buy junk food, beer, and sour coffee.  The bored counter employee services without eye-contact, begrudgingly, and rushed.  Need directions?  Don’t ask at a convenience store.  The personnel often are so new to town that they don’t know the territory and don’t care even to look it up for you. 

     America has changed.  We have lost much dignity in the workplace.  We have lost the sense of community in the everyday tasks that brought people together.  We have lost jobs honored for their usefulness.  The abandoned service stations bothered me one after another.  Bye service.  Bye.          


  1. I love this. I notice this loss as well. I don't remember the baloney!

  2. Great photos and apt observations about the loss and change in our culture. We have so many ways to connect and we are so lonely because we don't know how to interact humanely with the people we see every day. I hope I can do better.


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