Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Full Service Gas Station

Alright, that debacle from last Friday with the gas lines has me remembering the old service stations as compared to the new "mini-mart" stations where you get no help. So bear with me while I continue this theme.

Again, you older guys and gals can remember the way things were done when you filled the tank. You didn't have to do a thing except drive up and then pay at the end of your transaction. The neighborhood service station was a model of customer service. Once you pulled up next to the pump, the guy holding the nozzle pumped your gas, washed your windshield, checked your oil and maybe your air pressure, and sent you on your way. He wore a uniform, gave you a smile, and kept you from having hands that smelled like 98-octane or from getting grease on the sleeves of your shirt.

Today the full-service station still exists, especially when you drive over the bridge to New Jersey. Their state government still doesn't think it's a good idea for you to have an option to save a few cents on a gallon by pumping it yourself. Then again, that full-serve really isn't. What they call full-serve is merely the attendant pumping your gas. You get none of the other services. Hey, you can't even get a free road map or free air anymore. I won't be surprised if someday they charge us for driving directions when you pull in lost on your way to your grandma's house. Maybe by then GPS systems will be less money and you'll have one, not having to rely on directions that will have you driving in circles or leave you about 35 miles from your actual destination.

And You May Remember...
...The Sinclair station at 18th & Oregon Ave. It's a Dunkin-Donuts now, but at one time, you could see your friendly Dino the Dinosaur on the sign and pumps at that station.

...There were also two Esso/Exxon stations here that disappeared long ago. One was at Broad & Oregon, a subway station now sits there for the Broad Street Line. The other was at 20th & Oregon, now a Checker's burger joint. I remember a family member left his car running across the street from that station at an ATM once. When he went back to the car, it was gone. He left it in neutral with the hand brake on, and it slipped. It was funny hearing the attendant saying, "I thought he was coming in for gas until I saw there wasn't a driver." The car hit the wall, but no real damage was done. The car was reported stolen and we searched the neighborhood for almost a half-hour before realizing it was in the station. We laughed for a few hours more.

...Promotions: You could do everything from furnish your dinner table to plan a vacation with promotions offered at gas stations in the past. They still have their offers, just not as worthwhile as they used to be. I remember Sunoco had this NFL stamp album promotion that all of us boys bugged the attendants for. Whether we were football fans or not, we got our albums and stamps, the guy who got the stamps for all players on all teams was the one who was envied by all. Keep in mind we were about nine or ten years old, so yeah it was goofy, but then again, so are young boys.

Remembering Gas Lines Old and New

You readers who have been around the block a few times in life can remember the gas lines that came with the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970s. Thankfully I was much too young to drive at the time, so I didn't have the dubious pleasure of lining up on the designated day, depending on my license plate. But many did, much to the chagrin of drivers and our government. I can only imagine that some crazy sheik was laughing hard that he caused our folks all that grief. Someday, maybe we'll no longer have to depend on the Saudis and others to meet our energy needs and we can laugh at those jerks when they realize that they depended on us as much as we did them.

Anyhow...what reminded me of those lines of long-ago was the circus side-show that we witnessed in South Philly this past Friday when Marino's Sunoco station at 19th & Oregon Avenue made their last stand, selling regular unleaded at $1.50 per gallon as a way of telling Sun Oil Co. what they can do with their gasoline. It seems Sun has charged service stations here in South Philly too much for their product. The local owners are paying more than those upstate, yet they're a stones throw from the Passyunk Avenue refinery and transportation costs are practically nothing for them by comparison to those in NE Pennsylvania.

Anyhow...you don't want to know all the details about what gas costs and why the owners pay more. What you want to know about is the human condition, and what causes folks to do the dumb things they do. Living just off of Oregon Ave, I was able to take a 30 second stroll to the corner and watch human behavior at it's best - okay, I'm being sarcastic. What I got to see was not folks lining up because of shortages caused by governments, but instead, lining up because they wanted a good buy. But then again, staying in line for hours on end to save a few dollars isn't a good buy to me. For the sane person, time is money. For the insane, or for someone who hasn't found out what a work ethic or the value of time is, I guess time is just something to waste. For their efforts, at least they could get a burger or hot dog with their purchase. Hopefully the guy flipping the burger wasn't the same one pumping your gas.

There were some humorous moments on that day. Some of the most humorous was watching frustrated motorists griping about a condition they exposed themselves to. Even more funny was watching their faces while they listened to local residents poke fun at the nonsense and the participants, and having to sit there and take it. But the best part of it all was finding out that a few folks ran out of gas. No, that shouldn't be funny, but it is when you realize that they ran out because they intentionally got in line with just vapors in the tank, trying to save a few dollars. I watched one cop on a bike come up yelling at a motorist, asking why she was bucking the line. She had to manuever around one of those who didn't realize that "E" on the gas gage means "empty".

Thankfully it lasted no more than a half-day at worst. And thankfully, there was no natural disaster or one caused by mankind, accidentally or intentionally. Had fire department and police had to make their way to a real emergency, the gridlock caused by that mayhem could have caused a catastrophe. We survived it, the motorists survived it, Marino's sold it 's gas, and life goes on. Until the next vendor convinces the economically-challenged (those who don't realize that time is money and sitting idling burns as much as you'll save) that it's a good idea to sit in lines for a few hours to save almost nothing. If you line up, please understand the guy standing on the corner laughing has a valid reason. That reason will be found once you gaze in your mirror.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Gone: Remembering September 11, 2001

This post departs from the usual memories of life here in South Philly. Five years ago today, our world changed. Some would say it changed for the worst, but if we look at what happened on that day and those that followed, we can surely see that it may have changed for the better.

You will no doubt remember where you were when you heard the news on September 11, 2006. Like a generation or so before us who remembered where they were and what they were doing when they heard the tragic news of President Kennedy being assasinated, we too remember. For me, it was a hard, rude awakening. I had slept late that morning, still recovering from cervical fusion surgery exactly one week previously. My wife Patty woke me up to tell me, saying something like "It just came on the news, a plane hit the World Trade Center." Just as I started to reply "What? That's not right, that's bad", she said "both towers" and it was immediately clear. This was an attack, not an accident. We were suddenly at war, and we remain so to this day in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are many memories that have never left our minds of that fateful day five years ago. To this day, I can still remember how it felt weatherwise on that September Tuesday, and for some reason, it seems I remember the feel of the night air even more. The memory of the sight of hundreds or thousands of faces pasted on storefronts, utility poles and other places remains, a sad memory to the fact that each of them denotes a face and a member of someone's family who probably never came home. Being home recuperating, I remember watching Dan Rather and the others of CBS News telling us that a plane had hit the Pentagon in Washington, and then not long afterward that an unconfirmed report had come in that yet another plane had crashed in western Pennsylvania. So we wondered, how many more? How many more planes were targeting buildings, how many more American lives were in jeopardy? And I remember just shortly before the collapse of the twin towers, asking how the men of FDNY could possibly fight a fire that high up. The collapse of each tower gave the answer. There would be no need to fight the fires, and the valiant rescues and attempted rescues ended for the most part then and there.

And we remembered having hope. I still remember one firefighter being shown on the screen, walking the streets near Ground Zero, proclaiming that a number of firefighters were found alive. Sadly, it was not to be so. But we hoped and prayed.

And we saw on that day that the people of America showed their best. They gave of themselves, whether it with money from pocket change or checking accounts, or of blood from their veins. They gave food and drink to those working what seemed to be an impossible task, searching for survivors and clearing the rubble of Ground Zero. And they came from all over the country, firefighters and civilians, seeking to aid the firefighters of NYC in that daunting task. America showed her best, and that memory too remains in us all. We remember that Americans showed our enemies that they would not be defeated, that evil would not prevail.

Well, that was true for most Americans. I remember too a cab ride home from the doctors after a surgical follow-up, just a few weeks after 9/11. I was talking to the cab driver, an American about the attacks. He noted that there was a climate of fear for many of the drivers because there were some Americans who threatened any cab driver that was not "one of us". Especially nervous were the Sikh drivers, the men you see wearing turbans. No matter that they weren't Muslim, some morons considered them the enemy. Thankfully, the number of those morons was in the vast minority.

We're now five years past that day. Five years, and the grief still remains for those who lost family, friends, fellow Americans on that dreadful day. Five years, and our men and women are still serving our country, facing danger in far-away places. No matter what your politics, pray for them and support them. Most did not ask to be sent there, but went to serve out of duty for their country, for you and me.
And pray for the safety of this nation. Somewhere there are evil men seeking the destruction of this nation, their aim to destroy all that we stand for, whether it be independence, religious freedoms, or mere individuality. Pray that our Justice Department, intelligence agencies, Department of Homeland Security, are successful at revealing the threats and destroying the plots before those who aim to do those things are themselves successful. May God help these United States, that we never again experience the terror, destruction, and grief that we experienced on that day, five years ago.

...To the firefighters and police officers who ran into two burning towers in hopes of rescuing those yet to make it to safety. Some gave their lives, some survived, bearing the memories and wounds.

...To the air traffic controllers who performed the monumental task of bringing to the ground safely thousands of flights that were airborne on that day, ensuring the safety of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, citizens of this nation and others.

...To those who volunteered to do everything from search for survivors to offering bottled water to those who did. So many gave and showed us that Americans weren't selfish people, but cared for each other.

...To the men and women of the United States Armed Forces - Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corp.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back to School Time

For many of us as kids, Labor Day would make us cringe. It was a holiday for adults, they got the long weekend and three days away from the desk or construction site or wherever they toiled. For us, it only meant one thing - back to school.

Yes, the most dreaded day on the calendar was the Wednesday after Labor Day. With that day came the start of nine months of homework, books, teachers, and all the things that an introverted, disinterested kid would hate. There were only a few bright spots during the school year, that coming when we got Christmas and Easter vacations. That's right, Christmas and Easter, not Winter Holiday or Spring Celebration or whatever the politically correct want to call them today.

To the kids heading back to school tomorrow, you have my sympathies. Especially if you have teachers who either don't care too much or those who rule with an iron hand. I know this post doesn't provide you with much of a memory or humor, but let me give you a bit of wisdom. My advice to you would be to learn as much as you can, and do your best rather than just trying to make it through. You'll come out much better in the end, finding your potential in the career market much greater than if you just seek a high school diploma and nothing more. Things worked out well for me even though I lacked a degree, I'm no longer an introvert and careerwise, I did pretty well. But why risk it? Aim high and try to enjoy the ride. And if you really hate school anyhow, hey, June will be around soon enough.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend 2006 - The Times They Are A'Changin'

Labor Day weekend 2006 comes to an end, and exits with some notoriety. Three things that play on the memories of long-time South Philly residents are noted on this unofficial end of summer weekend. Two of them are goodbyes, the other remembering an ongoing annual charity...

No, it's not South Philly, and no, I've never set foot on Steel Pier although I've been to AC a number of times. But I've known and spoke with enough folks about their experiences at Steel Pier to have lived there somewhat vicariously. And our late neighbor across the alley on Bancroft Street, Alice, is said to have been one of the ladies who rode the diving horses on the pier.

I saw an article in the Inquirer this morning about the coming demise, with the pier closing in October. In that article, one of the amusement owners, Anthony Catonoso, is noted as saying:
"We're not going to be here because they don't want families in Atlantic City anymore". That's a terrible testimony for a city that relies on tourism and vacationers, even if it does play more to adults with it's casinos. This weekend alone will provide the Steel Pier with enough families for them to understand that providing attractions for the family unit still matters. But maybe the dollar matters more, and the money made selling the high-end properties and services that will replace Steel Pier will be enough to satisfy those investing in them (remember, it's a Trump venture). The families coming from other places can go elsewhere. But for those families of Atlantic City who don't have the extra money to travel, the loss of Steel Pier will leave them residents in a town without much to offer in spending a day or weekend together having some quality time. A 108-year history will become just that next month, history.

Sally Starr, hostess of a kiddie show that many of us will remember from the 1960's, retired this weekend from her Sunday afternoon radio show at WVLT-FM (92.1). If you didn't know she was still doing something on-air, well, neither did I until I read about it recently. I guess at 83 years old, retirement isn't such a bad thing. Best wishes Sally, and I hope Mr. Senske called to say the same.

Jerry Lewis has been hosting the telethon since 1966, raising over a billion dollars to fight Muscular Dystrophy. He's still doing it at 80 years old, despite health issues.

I remember as a kid two things about the telethon. On our own, my brother, Chris Arizzi, and I would go door-to-door asking for contributions from neighbors. We'd get a buck here, fifty cents there, but not too many folks said no. And we turned it all in, keeping nothing for ourselves. Why did we do it? Well, we just heard that other kids did and jumped on the bandwagon.

The other memory? We'd stay up late and call into the telethon, making a few pledges in the names of folks we didn't like so much. So if you got a letter in the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope, thanking you for your $500.00 pledge to help fight MD, please accept my apologies and laugh a little. If you sent a gift out of guilt, feel good about it and laugh even more. Your gift may help find a cure to that insidious disease.

...Jerry Lewis crying at the end of the telethon. I remember sitting by the TV one year and my cousin saying something like, "Oooh, here's the best part of the telethon, he's gonna cry like a baby."

...Giving Mr. Senske a hard time about Sally Starr if you were a student in his gym class at Bishop Neumann HS. Legend has it that Mr. Senske had dated the old cowgirl and she jilted him. True or not, I don't know. But I remember a few times seeing him in the hall near the gym and hearing someone shout "Sally Starr" while hidden safely in a crowd of other students, trying to get under his skin. They often did.

...The Steel Pier Show. A locally-produced show that you could view on WPVI Channel 6 on Saturday afternoons in the summertime. Ed Hurst and some guy with the last name of Grady (Joe perhaps?) hosted the show.