I am not sure if it was the installation of small television monitors on the gas pumps or the fact that I was subjected to short snippets from the television series Friends which bothered me more during my last fuel stop.
The gas station turned entertainment venue was recently overhauled and I decided to give the place another try. They added a new touchless car wash as well. I am a sucker for a new or improved gas station carwash - although most leave me cloaked in excessive water spots and disappointment. This one lived up to my expectations.
Let’s face it: the infotainment intrusion into my weekly fuel-cations has been looming for a long time. It started with the fuel pump interrogations a few years back. Green touch screens which prompt me to answer numerous questions about whether I am using a debit or a credit card, whether or not I have a company rewards card, and finishing off with a demand for my five-digit zip code to verify that I know where I get my mail or, I suppose, my gasoline credit card bills.
Only after all the questions are answered am I able to punch the 87 octane button and begin the transfer of fuel from their tank to mine. Cold War-era Minuteman missile crews had fewer steps to follow before launch.
In cold weather, somewhere south of five below, the screens react slowly to your fingertips and in order to introduce your fingers to the screen you have to take a glove off. It seems like a good idea until you drop one. I just wanted some gas, I am in no condition to commit to the downward facing dog in between the the pump and my truck.
Next came the receipts which rolled out of the machine as if to defy all the dreams of those seeking a paperless society. Instant coupons, advertisements for things I will never buy, and tips on keeping your vehicle in top running condition are printed on the back side of the flowing paper. These facsimiles of the Dead Sea Scrolls are all but impossible to fit into my wallet. My receipt only needs to show how many gallons of fuel I pumped and the total of my purchase. I have no desire to commit to a session of petroleum-scented origami in order to be able to roll it back up tight enough to squeeze it into a cup holder. A receipt that would fit into a fortune cookie is all I desire. Just the facts.
Going to the pumps, leaving the window down enough to hear the music on my radio, and possibly a chance to nod my head to the person sharing the opposite side of the fuel island are the forgotten memories of days gone by.
I can easily ignore the pump-top cardboard advertisements for the latest company credit card, or for “two hotdogs, chips, and an 84 ounce drink for $3.99.” But when I heard the Rembrandts’ “I’ll be there for you” and the follow up laugh-track and a clip of a Ross and Jennifer Aniston moment on the remarkably clear gas pump television screen, I was displeased. I didn’t like the show when it was in its first run. I cannot determine the relevance to a moment at the gas pumps, and from my recollection, none of the characters in the show even had a car, just really big coffee mugs.
The clip was only about 15 seconds long, but that was too long for me. If it had been a car advertisement, an animation of how the modern fuel injector is cleaned by the superb additive package provided by the fuel supplier, or even a really good comedian, maybe I would be supportive of the intermingling of televisions and filling up the truck.
In an age where we are bombarded by information in every locale, I was hopeful that pumping gas would remain a moment of peacefulness where I could provide my own soundtrack and just enjoy the tunes and the fumes, check the oil, and wash my windshield. Not anymore.