Service America

Dave pulls into the Amoco on 27th and University at 8:15AM. This is the same Amoco Dave has gone to for the last eighteen months, ever since he got his different car and quit going to the 76 on East River Road because they ripped him off one time too many for repairs on his old car. Dave gets out his credit card and inserts it in the slot of Pump Number Two. “One Moment Please,” it says, then, after a couple of minutes: “Please Pay Cashier.” Try it again; same thing. Once more, this time he thinks to “Remove Card Quickly,” like it says. Nothing.

Dave goes inside to the counter, presided over by a lukewarm-looking, very doughy-complected, slit-eyed, about-thirty-year-old female. “Is there something wrong with my card?” Dave asks. She swipes it through her reader, tosses it back on the counter and says: “No.”

“Well,” Dave speaks, “the pumps says ‘Please Pay Cashier’.”

Meanwhile, the guy who was on the adjacent pump comes through the door and flips his credit card on the counter. “Where’s the pen?” he says.

“Can’t you wait???” she screams at him. “There’s a pen right there!!!”

“Simple enough question,” the guy says in a reasonable, ameliorative tone of voice.

“I’m busy here!” she yells at him.

Dave starts to walk out the door, back to his car. He’s trying to get out of the line of fire and has other things to do today besides fuel up the old war wagon.

“Sir, sir, you have to sign this slip,” she says, playing the Dominatrix and waving a slip at Dave.

One thing Dave can’t stand is being called “Sir” by the help.

“I didn’t get any gas,” Dave says.

“This slip says $9.00 pumped out of Number Two and you’ve been out there for ten minutes ‘cause I been watching you.”

“I’ve been out there trying to get the credit card to work in the pump. I didn’t get any gas.”

“Well, this slip says $9.00 on Pump Number Two.”

“Well, I didn’t pump any gas,” says Dave.

“Sir, you gotta to sign this slip before you go.” Dave starts to walk out the door. “MIKE! MIKE!!,” she’s screaming. Then, to an unseen Mike, “This guy was standing out by Pump Number Two for ten minutes, this slip says $9.00 and he says he didn’t get any gas. Now he’s trying to leave without paying!!”

Dave walks back into the station to see if Mike is real, but whoever The Dangerous One is talking to is silent and hidden by the door to the shop.

Dave walks out to his car, reconsiders and approaches the open garage door, walking into the service bay where an altogether marginal-looking geek stands empty-handed, draped in a blue mechanic’s jacket with ‘Wayne’ embroidered on the left breast pocket.

“Wayne,” Dave says, “or Mike, two years I been coming in here twice a week for a tank of gas. How long do you think it takes me to case a joint for a $9.00 robbery?”

Wayne says, “We’re going to get somebody out there to look at that right away.”

“Good idea, Wayne,” Dave says, gets in his car and leaves the premises.

Where’s Tom Peters when you need him? Everybody’s talking about America entering the Service Economy. Everybody’s talking about how we don’t need to manufacture no stinkin’ TeeVees because we’re all going to prosper in the Service Sector. Here’s Amoco, a big operator, with gas pumps they want you to work by yourself, exploiting the shit out of the third world and laying off half their workforce, except for this unemancipated serial killer they’ve got on 27th and University, an alternately catatonic, hyperactive homicidal maniac they’ve still got on the payroll as a cigarette/candy dispenser whose first response to a customer inquiry is not, “How can I be of service?” but, “You’re trying to rip me off!!”

Not that I wasn’t tuned in already. I once tried to get air in my tires at this place but the outside hose didn’t work. I asked the Wayne-of-the-moment (they’ve got a ‘Take A Number’ dispenser by the timeclock) if I could get some air and his response was: “No, it’s broke.” This he uttered while using the air wrench to tighten lug nuts on a hoisted vehicle. In other words, ‘I’m busy using the air, some eightball broke the outside hose and I don’t care whether you’ve got air in your tires or not. Give me the money for the gas you just pumped, leave me alone and get out of here.’

When I was a kid (yeah, I know: here we go again) Chermak’s dad ran the Texaco. His mechanics would leave the vehicles they were working on and pump gas, check oil, check air pressure and use a FUCKING WHISK BROOM on the cars in the drive. They helped kids put air in their bike tires!!!!!!!! Another thing is, they sold gas and oil, not doughnuts and not pop and not lottery tickets. They operated in a laissez-faire economy, not a Service Economy, but service was king–the only reason you stayed in business was to keep your customers coming back. And, they came back. There was a Phillips across the street and people didn’t bother going back and forth. You had your station, you had your mechanic and that’s where you went. Each of those station owners had his bank, too, and his grocery store and his church. They spent time every week thinking about someone besides themselves and they rarely got shot while they were closing up for the night. What the hell happened since they invented Apple Valley and freeways?

If you don’t like your job, if it’s a pain in the ass, if you feel you’re being misused and mistreated, why don’t you get another job you might like? Do you stay there because it’s convenient to take out your resentment and frustration on the customers you’re supposed to be helping? Is it because you hate the boss so much you want to make sure his shop gets a reputation for kicking ass on the customers? The woman working this Amoco ought to be back in the barn milking cows, not interacting with the public. She ought to be back on the farm where she’s used to the pace. Not hung out to dry in some shooting gallery next to a housing project full of orphaned gunslingers. She can’t operate in her adopted environment.

Of course, it’s a function of the Service Sector Economy to abolish barns and cows and foster the development of uneducated, punch-drunk street violence, so I guess we’re stuck with her and everybody like her that works in every bank, grocery store and church in Service America.