Electric America

The People and Places Powering the USA

Nostalgia at the Gas Station

I stood up from a large round spinning cushion chair to hug my grandma goodbye.  She had just finished telling stories of her childhood in a Jewish and Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. With the masses of young professionals moving to Brooklyn, I decided to look up on Google Maps the apartment- the one bedroom, walk up apartment where she had slept in the living room until she married.

We pulled up a map of Eastern Parkway and the Crown Heights neighborhood she knew in the 1940s. It was less than 2 miles from where some of my friends had recently taken residence.

 I told her I was there last week and she was floored. We panned in street level view and scrolled through images of houses, and home values.

She was in awe with each tap of the mouse and new house view. I took out my Iphone and started recording the conversation.  The idea that upper middle class, college educated "young people" would be moving to an area that she knew as poor and simply not nice, a place she had not been back to since she moved to the suburbs in 1950s, was stunning to her.

It was one of those classic cyclical, nostalgic and telling intergenerational tales of urbanization, and gentrification.

After I had recorded enough moments of disbelief, I put away my Iphone, stopped the recording, packed up my stuff, and grabbed my keys to head out.

As I started toward the door I mentioned that my gas tank was low and I’d have to stop on the way home.  My mom and I immediately start bickering about the various gas stations along Route 17.

We yelled between rooms-

I’ll stop at the Valero with the blue and yellow awning.
 No try Delta. They charge more for credit.   
Yes, but it’s cheaper to start and more convenient.
 You better fill up, I don’t want to worry about you getting home. Just put $10, and wait to fill upat the cheaper stations next time you head north.
What’s the price difference? It’s got to be all of $1 cheaper to fill up somewhere else.

It was the sort of mundane conversation that echoes in living rooms, over couches and  in garages across the country.  Quick useless bickering between mother and son, husband and wife, sister and sister.

 I’d decide on the road where to go.

As I walked to the car, I replayed the conversations and tape from the night. And realized something-  I had recorded the wrong conversation.

The Brooklyn tidbit was interesting now, and revealed a lot about my grandmother’s childhood.  Tomorrow, the gas conversation will hold the same value-  it will be idyllic, and completely mind boggling.

I realized this small calculated exercise of gas shopping and price arbitration may be a foreign concept to my grandchildren. It would be equivalent to a 1950s conversation about outdated chores relevant to fueling the house, such as how and when to put out the milk cartons for refilling.

In 70 years, gas stations, let alone cars that run on gas with an internal combustion engine will be emblematic of a different time. They likely will be nostalgic, and in museums- someplace to visit with the kids, like the Ford T model is today. 

My grandchildren won’t know the touch of oil, and not because they are from New Jersey and don’t pump their own gas. They won’t understand competition between vendors and the various types- unleaded, leaded, premium, regular, diesel. The concept of choosing when to replenish fuel, and filling up a tank manually will be difficult to fathom. 

There will likely be flying cars, self-driving, even self-fueling cars (or cars that come fueled). Batteries will automatically plug in to an electrical connection or fuel source, and start charging when the price of electricity (or any other fuel) is low and readily available. They will never feel the fear of running near empty, or the see sight of a gas light going on and experience the ensuing panic.

The concept of gas and engines will be as foreign and idyllic as the concept of horsepower, a concept that is still used today but is more difficult for people to conceptualize with each passing generation. Something that stemmed from practicality- how many horses it would take to pull you- is altogether hard to use as a barometer today because it's unlikely that you've rode a horse or challenged it to carry various weights, for example all of your luggage. 

Capacity and efficiency won’t be measured in miles per gallon. It will be in how cycles before recharge, years before a battery dies,  hours to full charge, or some other measure undeveloped at the moment.

Gas prices, fuel, even the jingle of car keys and the turning of a key into an internal combustion engine to physically start a car may become diluted and even forgotten.

People will  have trouble recalling that there was a purpose of the original shape and size of a key -  fit into, turn and mechanically start a car. Not  to hold in your pocketbook while you start the engine with a push button.

I stopped at Delta, and put exactly twenty dollars worth of regular gas in my car. I made it home, all the ride wondering what day to day nostalgia I am a part of.

And when should I stop recording?

Site by Molly A. Seltzer

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