Service, pumps and propaganda

I was standing there quietly daydreaming as I squeezed the trigger.

The familiar whoosh of the liquid and faint whiff of petroleum confirmed that I was indeed pumping gasoline into my car. My gaze wandered from the distant hills, to the hypnotic spin of the digital readouts to the dire warning from our Ontario Government that if we don’t do something about global warming, Doug Ford is going to raise the price of petroleum like an arrow going straight to the moon.

I may have got the last bit wrong, because the sticker had been brutally vandalized by someone with a sharpie, but I was sure he was taking the blame for it all … after all the provincial logo was right there.

But surely, I digress: My purpose was not to launch into a rant about a Premier whose family business made millions selling stickers, forcing gas stations to add yet more stickers to the world. I’ll leave that to the anti-sticker league. No. My mind wandered to the days when one pulled into a service station, you know a place where they could service your car as well as sell gasoline. Driving over a hose as one approached the pumps would activate a clang inside the station and several chaps would drop what they were doing and run out to greet the driver. These attendants, often in uniform with company insignia on their jackets, a cap with a shiny visor and another insignia, would rush to the driver’s window to take the gas order … regular or super. They would ask if you would like to have your oil level checked and, in some cases, the air pressure in your tires as well. And while all this was happening, someone would be cleaning the windshield and headlights. After all, this was a service station.

Emblematic of that service was an actor who endeared himself to most Canadians like a close friend. Murray Westgate was the face of Imperial ESSO on Hockey Night in Canada television broadcasts starting in 1952. Saturday night hockey became a country-wide ritual. His rich baritone voice and friendly, some might say folksy, manner, made Westgate synonymous with the ESSO brand. In the commercial’s catchphrase, he promised “Happy Motoring” to anyone who pulled into an ESSO station. Westgate died in August 2018, just four months after celebrating his 100th birthday.

You would probably be hard- pressed to find a service station that provides the kind of attention drivers got back when Murray Westgate was on television. Now you not only pump your own gas, but you have the option of being the cashier as well with the pay at the pump systems. Need your oil checked or windows washed? Today’s gas stations provide a paper towel dispenser so you can wipe the dip stick and your hands and there is usually a container of window washer fluid somewhere near the pumps and a sponge and squeegee on a stick so you can do it all yourself. There is no hose for you to run over to activate the bell because there are no attendants in spiffy uniforms just waiting to rush out to service your vehicle.

As I noted at the beginning, however, there is one diversion to capture your attention while you wait for the tank to fill. The newest addition at the pumps: you can also catch up on some political propaganda while you fill up.

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