I just drove back from Jenn’s this past week after spending Easter with the kids and celebrating Sophie’s fifth birthday. The gasoline prices were fluctuating through four states and a long holiday weekend. I deliberately drove past some of the higher-priced locations and kept searching for bargains. Luckily, I drive a Toyota Corolla and get pretty good mileage especially on the long high-speed routes. Ruby likes to open up and run with the big boys. Bless her 135,000 mile heart of gold! My dad, who thought it was time to trade a car in around the 40-45,000 mile marker, would have been incredulous at my driving this ten-year-old car with such an accumulated track record. They just didn’t make sophisticated engines like this when Dad was alive.
Boy, did he love his cars. From the Model-T of his callow youth to the blue Oldsmobile sedan of my baby years to the green Studebaker automatic-drive of the ‘50s and then to the pinnacle of car ownership in the early ‘60s: an aqua-and-white Ford Thunderbird, the classic with three tail lights on either side. Would you believe that my dad taught me how to drive on his new T-Bird?! He even stayed mellow when I caught the side bullet on the door against the frame of the garage as I was learning how to pull in and out of tight spaces. This T-Bird was the delayed gratification of a youthful dream to own a Stutz Bearcat. My dad was just retiring and he was oh-so-ready to buy the T-Bird. He was a blue-collar auto-body welder for 40 years who appreciated a fine-looking and well-made product. It had leather bucket seats in front and a very small backseat where I and my 6’4” boyfriend had to perch if we were going with the folks for a Sunday drive. Most of the time, I let Frank ride up front. Can you imagine how I felt when Dad let me take the car to school? It was quite cool to pick up your girlfriends in a T-Bird. I love that he trusted me that much.
Mom was never quite as excited about the sports car as Dad and I. But then she also rolled her eyes when he announced that he was buying a motorboat about the same time. I think it was that whole male-menopause thing. Some men get crazy in their heads and loins and chase younger women; my dad was chasing another form of recreation - cars and boats that went vroom vroom and let the wind whip past and bring back memories of younger, livelier days. He paid cash, of course, for both mid-life purchases. He never heard of credit cards and would have frowned on that idea too, along with the notion of keeping a car with extended mileage. Even though both investments were short lived, the few years he drove the T-Bird and captained his boat brought so much pleasure and fun for me, my friends, and family members as well. I can still see him at the seashore pier with his jaunty little sailor’s cap and content smile. Captain of his domain. He was a good man and deserved these little pleasures as he grew older.
So, there I am, driving back from Jenn’s thinking about my dad and mom and some of the trips we took when I was a kid. Dad loved to drive and vacations meant car trips up and down the east coast and out to Pittsburgh to visit family. When we stopped at a gas station in those days, you had an honest-to-God owner who bent over backwards to take care of his customer. What service! While the guy filled your tank, he looked under the hood and checked the oil and then did a really careful job on wiping the windows – front and back. Ha! I pulled in to yet one more “mini-stop-shop-gas station” in the state of New Jersey which, for some crazy reason, does not allow drivers to pump their own gas. So, here I am, in the middle of my reminiscing about the good-old days, expecting some excellent customer service. The surly attendant dragged himself to my car, roughly took my speedpass (which, DUH, makes it so easy to set up for pumping), inserted the nozzle and slunk off while the super-expensive fuel gurgled into my gas tank. I had been driving all day – the windshield was, indeed, dirty. “Not my problem” seemed to be the motto. Was I surprised? Not really. Tell me, when was the last time that you actually pulled into a gas station where someone actually gave a damn about you and your car? What’s even more maddening is pulling into a self-serve station, pumping your gas, paying the top dollar and then trying to find a water bucket and squeegee that should be somewhere in the vicinity because IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO! But the most infuriating is finding the bucket and seeing that it is empty. Yeah, the milk of human kindness and good customer service are about as dried up as that bucket. What is it about the oil industry?! They’ve got us coming and going. God, would it kill them to offer a little TLC at the pump?!
Gosh Dad, you’re not here to see these new cars with longer performance and fancy bells and whistles: GPS, stereo-surround-sound and cd players, digital this and that … and much larger fuel tanks. It’s quite a different world. People are taking out home-equity lines of credit just to pay for their SUVs and gasoline! The technology has grown by leaps and bounds but the human factor of attention to the customer has been left in a ditch somewhere far behind. I think you got the better deal.