I’m not sure when they started charging for air at gas stations, but I firmly believe that collusion was involved.
When the local filling station was owned by a local family, you were never charged to fill up a low tire or, for that matter, water for the radiator or most anything else besides the gasoline.
And you didn’t even have to buy gasoline to get free air and water. If the service station attendant saw that you were in trouble and needed help he often came out and put the air and water in for you.
Well, that’s all changed.
Corporate America has once again taken people out of the equation and figured out how to make a buck off of someone in trouble.
A relative and I were in the Dallas area when the low-tire light came on in her car. I asked her to follow me to a nearby 7-Eleven where they had an air dispenser.
I had forgotten that I had one of those small air compressors that plug in to the cigarette lighter, so I was thinking we’d spend a quarter and air up her tires.
We were greeted by the sight of a guy in a Toyota SUV who had a low tire. He had two problems. One, the machine didn’t cost a quarter, and two, it didn’t even take quarters.
The air machine took only credit cards and cost $2 for a few seconds of air.
I watched this guy try every card in his wallet, but to no avail. Even at $2 a pop, the machine was down.
He finally stood up and turned to stare at me while mouthing several words.
The takeaway from his rant and his quick departure on a low tire was that we also wouldn’t be getting any air.
I got out of my car and went to the window of my relative’s car and explained our plight. That’s when I remembered that I had the small compressor. I filled up the low tires and we left.
As we headed down the highway toward home, I thought about the small, independent filling stations of my youth.
Mr. Rosenbaum owned an ESSO station on Park Avenue. ESSO was the trade name before the company switched to Exxon in the U.S. I believe it’s still called ESSO in Canada.
Mr. McAllister had a Mobil station directly across the street from the ESSO. Each had his own loyal customers, but both offered the same full service.
They’d fill up your vehicle, check the oil, wash your windshield, and check the tires and water in the radiator.
Today, you can’t even get air for free on your own. Or in the case of the 7-Eleven in Dallas, you can’t even pay for it if the credit card reader isn’t working.
There are just some things in life that shouldn’t change. Free air and water should be on the list.
If the government really wanted to use our tax dollars wisely, it would reopen all of the picnic areas we used to have on the side of the highways and put in complimentary air and water.
Instead of sending us hot air from Washington, they should send us free air from a shady spot just off the side of the road.
John’s book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now,” is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. His new book, “Write of Passage Volume II,” will be available soon.