Featured Column
Week of 4.4.2005
"Hello, hello, is there a human around?"
          My car was making a strange sound.” Pting, pting, pting.” Years ago I would have pulled into the nearest gas station and asked the attendant to take a look under the hood. You remember what an attendant is, don’t you? All gas stations used to have attendants. They would walk up to the driver’s side of your car when you pulled into the station and ask, “Fill ‘er up, sir?”
          Most of these attendants knew about cars. As the gas was flowing into your tank they would walk over to you and ask, “Would you like me to check under the hood?” They would check your oil level, fill up your radiator, make sure your battery was okay. Most times they would give a quick inspection to everything under the hood and then they would check the air pressure in your tires and wash your windshields. All for free.
          These guys wore overalls and always had a handy red shop rag hanging from a pocket. Their names were stitched on their coveralls and you didn’t mind if there were splotches of grease and oil where these knowledgeable guys wiped their hands on their pants and shirts.
          So, as my car continued to “Pting, pting, pting” I realized it would do me no good to pull into my neighborhood service (service?) station unless I wanted an aging tuna fish sandwich and a Sprite. I wonder what the reaction would be if I walked into one of the little, fast food markets that serve as an accompaniment to service stations now and said to the clerk behind the counter, “Yes, I would like you to fill my tank with regular, check the oil, wash my windows, check my tire pressure and, oh, yes, I have a funny little “Pting, pting, pting” sound coming from under the hood, would you check that too, please.” I presume I’d get a raucous belly laugh and a quizzical smile.
          The disappearance of service (help, assistance) has extended into most of our everyday lives. In many stores, like Home Depot, you can walk around, select your merchandise and even check out and pay for your merchandise all by yourself. No human beings involved. You can purchase an airline ticket on line, go to the airport, hand your self-made ticket to the attendant and walk on the plane without assistance, hoping you land in San Francisco, not Long Beach or Mexicali. 
          You can get on your computer, order dinner, have it delivered, hand over the cost of the dinner, plus tip and not say a word.
          You can order a prayer, get health hints, order your weekly groceries and do a multitude of every day chores without talking with a human being.
           Days can go by without the need to converse with a human. I recently tried to cancel one cellular telephone service and sign up for a new one. I dialed the number for the nationwide cellular service I was canceling. The next twenty five minutes were spent responding to recorded questions such as, “Beep, press one if you want the instructions in English. Beep. If you are calling to ask a question, press two. Beep. If you changed your mind about this call press three. Beep. If you have no idea of why you called press four…” I found myself yelling into the telephone, “Please, give me a human. Help me, please, a human being, help….”
            The “Pting, pting, pting” got worse as I continued down the road. There was no sign of assistance. Every gas station I drove past had a mini-market attached to it. Only humans in sight were drivers, pumping their own gas. Inside the mini-marts thriving businesses were being conducted in the sale of middle aged hot dogs, senile burritos and slushy drinks. But no attendants or mechanics in sight. You’d think that with the price of gasoline rushing towards $3 a gallon some sort of mechanical assistance would be provided with a $60.00 tank fill-up.
            Finally, I spied an “Auto Repair” sign, half-hidden behind a Laundromat and a screen door repair shop. The proprietor greeted me and it was all I could do not to hug him with gratitude. He had on a blue shirt with his name “Bob” stitched on his pocket. He had a red, shop rag dangling from his back pocket and his hands were wonderfully covered with grease.
            I told him there was a noise coming from under my hood, something like “Pting, pting, pting.” He said, “I heard it when you drove up. I’ll have your car fixed in no time!”
            Twenty minutes later I was on my way again, thinking how nice it was to get some help from a real human being. More companies ought to try it. Feels good.
The author finds a real mechanic
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger