John Stancavage: Service was once a valued commodity
BY Staff Reports
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 3:30 AM
I was watching the History Channel recently when a program featured a clip depicting a Standard Oil gas station in the 1950s.
As a car pulled in, a team of four uniformed service station employees jogged out and began a carefully choreographed process. One greeted the driver, another washed the windows, a third checked the oil and tires, and a fourth pumped gas.
A woman whose father owned such a business was reminiscing on camera about how the employees not only knew the customers by name but were also so attuned with the family's schedule they would ask if the carload was headed to a particular child's baseball game.
I'm old enough to remember the tail-end of this era. I grew up about a half-block from a similar outlet, or "filling station" as we used to call them. In addition to the team of service employees who all wore nifty caps as part of their outfits, the station also employed a manager who worked inside a spartan office that held not much more than a few maps and spare belts.
Connected to this building was a two-bay repair shop with a separate staff of about three or four mechanics.
Contrast this with today's convenience mart, which is essentially a combination fast-food restaurant, grocery store and candy shop. You won't find a spare tire, fan blade or headlight anywhere inside. You probably also won't see more than two employees on duty.
Why? Because, of course, you fill up your own tank. You wash your own windows. You air your own tires.
If your raise your own hood, though, you'll probably get irritated stares from people waiting for your spot at the pump. Hurry it up, pal.
It struck me that gas stations are among the many businesses where the number of jobs has shrunk during the past several decades. Instead of being a society where such service employees flourish, we've become a do-it-yourself culture.
Most of us now buy and print our own airline tickets. We go to the hospital but then come straight home where family members tend to us. We go to a frozen treat shop but fill our own cones. Some of us even price-scan, pay for and bag our own groceries. We convince ourselves it's cheaper this way. Yet, in the days of full service, I don't remember things being exorbitantly expensive.
Those old-fashioned service jobs may not have been high-paying, but many did provide a step up the ladder to better work. You could learn to overhaul engines, for example, while you washed windshields.
At a time when our nation desperately needs to create jobs, this tried-and-tested system might be worth revisiting.
After all, who doesn't like a little personal service?
Original Print Headline: Service once a valued commodity