No More Free Air

Posted: December 12, 2006 in Advertising, Consumerism

In my boyhood, for a period of a few years, I practically lived on my bike. It was the means to adventure, sometimes farther off but usually within a five-mile radius of home. It was a rugged bike, which was good because I abused the hell out of it. But I also got my use out of it. One of my frequent stops was neighborhood filling stations to use the air hose to fill the tires periodically. Almost every station had an air pump somewhere for general use, and it hadn’t yet dawned on anyone that there was a lost opportunity for income there.

Fast forward to my adulthood, and not only is it well nigh impossible to find the service a filling station used to offer as a matter of course (such as actually pumping gas), the air hose has been fitted with a coin slot so that patrons must pay for the privilege of inflating one’s tires. Out of principle, I used to be able to buy gas at the few holdouts — the stations that still offered free air. That day has now passed, too.

If the distastefulness of being regarded as a sales mark at every turn isn’t enough, the cost of the air hose machines has climbed from a modest (if irritating) 25 cents to 50 cents and now even 75 cents at some stations. Those machines are often beat to hell, totallymiscalibrated , and difficult to use within the operating span a turn one’s coin provides. (Heaven forbid someone get a little free air on someone else’s quarters.) The newest thing I’ve seen is machines equipped with scrolling marquees to advertise loss leaders like milk for $1.50 a gallon or cigarettes for whatever is a desirable price.

I don’t know that I long for the day when the filling station had a team of attendants on hand to cater to customers’ needs, although that does seem quite luxurious by today’s standards. But it would be nice for businesses to recognize that a little contribution to the public good and a modest sense of community would go a long was toward curing the dog-eat-dog mentality that characterizes modern life, a perspective where if you’re not getting over on someone then they must be making a chump out of you instead. And really, must everything be an advertising space?

  1. strider says:

    Right up my alley. Get a load of a similar post I made at

  2. Brutus says:

    Maybe it’s the prerogative of old men and widows to remember the good olde days when such a service was free rather than a profit opportunity. Purchases of less than a dollar are silly to get all exercised about, but it’s an odd commentary on our expectations as a society that we’re charged for air, drink cups, plastic bags, etc. because retailers and service providers deserve to make money at every turn.

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