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Ding Ding! Pump My Ride


Ding Ding! The sound your bat-winged Chevy Impala makes when you run over the driveway hose at a filling station during the Sixties, which alerts the coveralled gas jockey with a grease-stained rag hanging out of his back pocket, on beck and call. Those gas guzzlers could get mighty thirsty for regular. At 25 – 30 cents a gallon, the attendant could pump your ride and fill ‘er up for five bucks tops. None of that unleaded octane either! That ain’t all…full service came with a smile along every mile.   


Soon after the attendant switched on the pump, he’d run circles to squeegee your windshield, lift up the hood to check the oil and water levels, examine the fan belt and hoses for wear, and monitor tire pressure before the busy numbers on the pump came to a halt.  Then, he’d collect your cash and make a mad dash for it to the register inside the station and redash back out to slap you change from a five. Don’t even think of making a clean getaway just yet.   Fuel feuds between filling stations in close proximity prompted most to sponsor a promotional “Free with Fill”: drinking glasses, green stamps, towels, silverware, dinner plate sets, toys, or knickknacks. Now that you’ve gotten your fill and fix, you ding it over the hose and onto one of the future’s endangered two-lanes, ready to resume your road trip so the kids in the backseat can whine, “Are we there yet?” 


Often, ding dinging over the hose wasn’t all guzzle and go.  If you were low on oil, you coughed up 30 cents for a quart—a metal container your jockey poured from an elongated spout he poked into the lid.   Didn’t know one of the rear taillights was out, did you?  Just 20 cents for the bulb.  Fan belt sharp worn? Five bucks installed.  A four year battery cost $20.  A tune up which included spark plugs, points, condenser, distributor cap, rotors, and labor set you back $35.  Maybe your car just needs a grease job.  No problem, the fulltime mechanic will descend into the bowels of the grease pit purposely etched in concrete to do the dirty deed of lubing joints.   


By now the missus has to “freshen up” so will avail herself of the squeaky-clean, white-tiled restroom. Aah, vending machines!  You hit pay dirt to quiet the kids who’ve grown restless and rambunctious on the trip. Five cents a lever pull dispenses candy bars or small bags of potato chips. Even better, you can score an ice cream bar for a nickel or a drumstick for a dime. Maybe you haven’t heard that puffing can slay even the mightiest of dragons, as you help yourself to a pack of Winstons or Lucky Strikes for 35 cents. Guess you’d better not look a gift horse in the mouth by driving away without a free road map, huh?   How do I know all these prices? (Bob & Tom Hamlin, “Gas Stations Not Like They Used To Be”) 


Where have all the filling stations from a Sixties’ yesteryear gone? Along with the demise of Route 66, the popular Whiting Brothers Stations which eventually expanded to add souvenir shops, cafes, and motor inns, receded from the rear view mirrors of happy motorists like so many Burma-Shave signs. Well, Reighard’s gas station in  Altoona, Pennsylvania claims it’s been standing since 1909, so that makes it the oldest gas station in the country. Sadly, the ding ding of the hose has been replaced by the ka-ching of the register at today’s self-serve stations where an emphasis is placed on the convenience store rather than pumping a ride. “Oh, before you ring up my latte, I want a quick pick lottery ticket.” 


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   An E. Quiche by Eva Pasco



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