When did they start selling air?
“They” are gas station owners. I’m sorry, “service station proprietors.” No longer is a gas station a place to fill up the vehicle, check the oil, clean the windshield and maybe get a soda pop to go. Nope. Long gone.
Service stations have gone up market. Now, they all have convenience stores. Convenience, indeed. In addition to gourmet gasoline these new service stations proffer more than watered-down, generic soda pop. At the very least a Starbucks kiosk will be nearby. Not content with day-old tuna wrapped in cellophane the modern service station will offer a selection of croissant sandwiches with watercress and Parma ham. I say, would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?
It was only a matter of time, I guess, before they discovered they could sell air.
Air and water used to be free services. Well-used, dented machines set off from the main car court in a dim location, you could always rely on them to pump up that nearly flat tire, or quench a leaky radiator. Just pull in, do your business and get back on the road.
Simple. And free. After all, the planet is three-quarters covered with water and enveloped under 50 miles or so of air.
Today I discovered I had a slow leak in one of my tires. Not a big deal, yet, but it was looking a bit flat and I couldn’t do anything about it until next week so I figured I’d air it up and watch it a few days. Tire problems tend to ripen quickly. I set my procrastination meter to “Medium” and headed off to Perry’s Service for some air.
Perry’s used to be called the “59 Exit Service” but that was when it was a gas station. Now that it’s a “service” station it was renamed Perry’s. Not only did they change the name, but they started charging for air.
“Seventy-five cents? For air?” I exclaimed in outrage as I pulled up to the shiny new air and water machines, “That’s outrageous!”
I looked around for someone to yell at. I knew I shouldn’t have left that participle hanging at the end of the previous sentence, but I was feeling a little dangerous at that moment. I get edgy with my prose when I’m huntin’ bear.
Presently, a well-dressed young man strolled out of the convenience store heading in my direction.
“Good afternoon, sir, air service for one?” he bowed low.
“Er, I just want to pump up my tire. It’s a little flat, you see.”
“Ah, quite. Do you have a reservation?”
“For air? No I don’t have a reservation. I just want some air. Not for me. For my tire. There, the going-flat-thing on my car.”
I was getting a little exasperated.
“On moment, sir, let me check my appointment book.”
“Appointment book?” I thought, “For air?”
“Right, sir, you’re in luck. Just pull up right here, oh, I see you’re way ahead of me, sir! Sir knows best, doesn’t he?”
He handed me a menu.
“A menu? For air? I just want air. In the tire. How difficult is that?”
Undeterred, the Air Waiter proceeded to tell me about the daily specials.
“You are in luck today, sir, as we have some spectacular offerings. First, we have fresh south Texas air, 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen with just a hint of argon. That’s served at 30 pounds per square inch on a bed of Vulcanized rubber.”
“Next, we have a rare Washington State air tanked in from the Columbia River served with a twist of krypton and a helium glaze.”
“We also offer an imported French aire, 2003, estate bottled with, how do you say, je ne say qua, a strong hydrogen sulphide finish.”
“And, finally, we have Austin Statehouse air that’s usually served hot, but we present it filleted of Blarney at 32 pounds per square inch with neon relish.”
I gazed at the menu and made my selection.
“I’ll have the Combination Number 5: atmosphere l’ordinnaire at 35 pounds per square inch, grande Starbucks coffee of the day and tuna sandwich au cellophane.”
Air Waiter stared at me with quiet resignation. “One of ‘those’,” he was surly thinking. Quickly, he wrote my order, pumped up my tire and strode off to the store for my coffee and sandwich.
Returning without my sandwich, Air Waiter informed me that the tuna was “off”, and presented me with a rain check.
“Do I have to come back when it rains?” I offered jokingly.
Air Waiter turned on his heel and marched back to the convenience store.
“Pardon me for breathing,” I muttered as I got back in my car. I took a swig of the coffee. Lukewarm.
On the way home I rolled down all the windows and opened up the moon roof. I put in a Kate Bush CD and cranked up “Breathing” to an obscene volume. Bathed in air I took in a great lungful and exhaled lustily, spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with gay abandon.
“Better take advantage of this while it’s still free,” I thought and headed back to the house to enjoy the remaining hours of my weekend.