Dish towel with that fill ‘er up?


Most of the time I ask Debbie’s opinion before I start writing a column. This morning, I asked her if she had any favorite memories about gas prices.

All I got from her was a snicker and a derisive laugh.

On Headline News this morning they announced that gas prices in California were expected to top $10 per gallon. I have heard that gloomy prediction repeated several times over the past day. If we lived in California, we would definitely start making some plans to adjust our gasoline usage.

Over the years, we have watched prices change on everything we buy.

I was born in 1950. The gas Dad pumped into his old Ford Coupe to get me home from Good Samaritan Hospital that year cost him 27 cents per gallon. I hope he thought I was worth it. If Dad had to pay $10 per gallon to get me home, I might have been stuck in the hospital nursery for a while longer.

Sixteen years after getting me home, I remember taking our family car to Jack’s Marathon Station in Germantown to get it filled up with gas. We only bought regular gas. Dad thought buying the expensive gas for the old ’64 Chevy Impala we owned just didn’t make much sense.

As I was backing out the driveway, Mom yelled, “Don’t forget to get another dish towel.”

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the mid-1960s it was common for gas stations to offer towels, drinking glasses, or some other household gift with every fill-up. Besides that, they also checked your oil, the water in your radiator, and the air in your tires.

I always thought that’s what made a gas station a true “service station.”

I have a clear memory of gas stations shutting down temporarily in the 1970s as they changed all of their gas pumps. Before that, the pumps were all mechanical. The numbers on the “price per gallon” window only clicked up to 99.9 cents per gallon.

As prices crept up to one dollar per gallon, gas station owners had to update their pumps or lose money. That wasn’t going to happen, so Jack and all the other gas station owners in Germantown upgraded their pumps. That change took gas pumps from mechanical to a digital display.

It also allowed the gas station operators to more easily adjust their prices as their costs increased.

Several factors combine to determine the cost of a gallon of gas: foreign and domestic oil prices, the rate of oil consumption, projected demand, refining cost and capacity, supply chain, and blah, blah blah.

There are some brilliant scientists who could talk for days about the social, financial, and scientific elements that combine to impact the cost of a gallon of gasoline in our community. After listening to them for a few short minutes, all I hear is… blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Sorry. My attention span would simply weaken, warp and break.

From my teenage years to adulthood, I lived through the time of gas wars, when gas prices dropped to less than 20 cents per gallon. The petroleum companies would keep an eye on their competitors and sought to have the lowest prices in town. That was a good time.

Rather than filling up at the pump, a dollar’s worth of gas could last for several days. On a Friday evening, young folks could each chip-in a quarter and cruise around for the entire evening. Life was good during the gas-wars.

Then the Arab oil embargo hit and prices really skyrocketed for the first time. If we wanted to drive down to Cincinnati, besides the cost of dinner and a show, I would also have to factor in the cost of gas.

The cost of a simple date into the city became a consideration. Everyone became more cautious about driving. Carpooling became much more important.

The days of getting your oil checked and having your tire pressure adjusted are long gone. With credit card payments for gasoline, most customers are in and out of the gas station without anyone even knowing they were there. The word “service” will probably never be paired up with “service station” again.

What can we do about it? Very little.

Gas prices have taken the “joy” out of the “joyride.” We will still pay to get wherever we need to go, but our habits will change. Carpooling will become more popular again. Long driving vacations will be replaced with shorter, in-state vacations.

Debbie loves to ride in the car and I love to drive. We may have to save up for our favorite long-distance traveling road trips, but we’ll get through it.

However, in the future, whenever I fill up with gas, I will never again expect to get a free dish towel.

Randy Riley is a former mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County commissioner.

Randy Riley Guest columnist Riley Guest columnist

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