Route 66, the legendary roadway of American lore, may be no more, but ghostly vestiges of its existence still remain. Take the lovely stretch of retro hotel signs in Albuquerque New Mexico – part of the old Route 66 route. Just off the University of New Mexico campus, you’ll find a scattered collection of these aging neon beauties, sprouting like weeds among discount furniture stores, flophouses and trendy coffee shops. Today’s gorgeous example is brought to us by Flickr user Christian Carollo Photography. Pop quiz – can any of our Gadling readers name the TV show this exact sign recently appeared in?
Once upon a time, gas stations gave away all kinds of cool stuff, most of it targeted at kids. As a child of the 70’s, I clearly recall of our Exxon “NFL Helmets” drinking glass collection, and my miniature Noah’s Ark collectible series (What genius ad team decided that was the perfect gas station promo?). The point is, these giveaways worked. My parents would bribe me not to annoy my older brother on road trips by promising me a new plastic animal for my Ark. My brother didn’t have to punch me in retaliation, my parents didn’t have to pull over; everyone was happy.
I’m not exactly sure when the freebies stopped, but that’s not the only thing that’s changed in American gas station culture over the years. Prior to the opening of the world’s first dedicated gas (or “filling”) station in St. Louis in 1905, hardware stores and mercantiles had gas pumps. The price of gas when the first “drive-in” filling station opened in 1913? Twenty-seven cents a gallon.
As I write this, I’m in Oregon, on the final leg of a 10-day road trip from my home in Seattle to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. The cost of gas in Truckee, California, where my brother lives is $4.09 a gallon. I paid $3.59 in Mt. Shasta today, and thought myself lucky. Oregon also reminds me of another way gas stations have changed between then and now.
[Photo credit: Flickr user iboy_daniel]There were still full-service station attendants when I was a kid: clean, smiling, uniformed pumpers of gas who cleaned the windshield and checked the oil for free. Today, however, Oregon is one of the few states that prohibits the pumping of gas by motorists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been yelled at in this state for absentmindedly getting out of my car and touching the pump. I actually enjoy pumping gas, but I’m not going to fight about it. I just think southern Oregon might want to look into hiring gas jockeys who look as though they haven’t spent time in a federal prison or crawled out of a meth lab, especially when they don’t even bother to wipe down my windshield. “Here, take my debit card, please.”
I think the trend toward enclosing urban attendants in bullet-proof booths is something that’s fairly recent. That makes me kind of sad. No one should really have to risk their life working the graveyard shift for close to minimum wage, but being a gas station attendant is definitely a high-risk occupation in a lot of places. If nothing else, the temptation to snack on the plethora of chemically-enhanced food and beverages in the workplace creates a hazardous environment.
Although a dying breed, I’ve seen some pretty sweet, old-school gas stations in the rural Southwest, South, and California’s Central Coast that sell regional bbq, Indian fry bread, or biscuits and country ham. I once visited a gas station in Tasmania that sold artisan bread, local cheese, butter, and milk (in bottles, no less), and local wine, jam, and honey. I really wish gas stations/local food markets would catch on the States…it would make getting gas less painful, even if it further depleted my bank account.
Gas station design has changed drastically over the years. Many rural stations in the fifties and sixties sported kitschy themes, such as dinosaurs or teepees, and were roadside attractions in their own right. Today, we have mega-stations like the Sheetz chain, which is wildly popular in the northeast for made-to-order food, all of it annoyingly spelled with “z’s” (If you need coffeez to go with your wrapz and cheezburgerz, you should check it out). There is something to be said for one-stop mega-station road shopping, however. It’s incredibly convienient when you’re short on time or in the middle of nowhere, and in need a random item.
I love dilapidated old filling stations, but I’m also lazy, so it throws me when I can’t use my debit card at the pump. It’s kind of a moot point, because I possess a bladder the size of a walnut. The cleanliness of gas station restrooms, while still an advertising hook, used to be a point of pride. These days, I feel like I should be wearing a hazmat suit when I use most small chain station toilets. Seriously, if you’re not going to going to clean or restock your bathroom, ever, please don’t post a sign telling me to report to the management if it needs “servicing.”
As for those fun giveaways disguised as advertising? I think that maybe the Happy Meal is what killed it for gas stations. Once fast food outlets started giving kids toys, the ad execs had to come up with a new plan. Which I suppose is why most gas companies target grown-ups now, even if they still use cartoon graphics. Does the sight of anthropomorphized cars dancing atop the pump actually sell gas and credit cards? I’d rather have a set of drinking glasses.
Yesterday at the auto body shop where I took my car after an intersection mishap, I swapped some car talk with an insurance adjuster and the head of the body shop. The adjuster was fairly bouncing on his toes with excitement when he talked about his upcoming trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for the Shades of the Past 2007 Rod Run. He’s probably heading there now since it’s happening September 7-8.
I frankly don’t know much more than squat about cars, but as I was listening to my new car shop buds talk about this event, I got thinking that I ought to hop in my car and head there myself. Problem is, I can’t really get in my crumpled driver’s side door and climbing over the console from the passenger side has its limits.
From what they said, this is the classic car event to go to–3,000 will be on display, none older than 1972. The car that caught my eye is the replica of the 5W Deuce Coupe that actor Paul LeMat, “aka,” John Milner drove in the movie American Graffiti. (This is the car in the photo) LeMat and Cindy Williams, who played Laurie Henderson, the girl who headed off with Milner to make her boyfriend, Steve (played by Ron Howard) jealous until the car crashed, will be signing autographs over the weekend. The car adjuster was also enamored with the thought of winning a classic car. The two to be given away are a ’32 Ford High-Boy Roadster and a ’68 Chevy Malibu Big Block, 4-speed, Black Red. I’m not exactly sure what they are, but I bet they’re sweet.
If you’re looking for a classic car event or any car event closer to you, the Web site HotRodder.com is filled with links.