My family and I are currently up in Portland, Oregon for our annual family reunion. My dad’s side comes from the Pacific Northwest, and we make the pilgrimage back every year after Christmas to re-unite and catch up on the past year. We used to fly up, but a recent phenomenon in our lives known as “children” has negatively impacted another phenomenon known as “airfare,” so for the past few years we have made the nine-plus hour drive from California. This year, along the way up Interstate-5, we ran into a troubling phenomenon: Helpless Americans.
Now, I don’t mean to trash on Oregonians, because I have a lot of good friends and family from this fine state, but the two examples of helplessness happened to be directly attributable to Oregon life. So, do with this what you will, my friendly neighbors to the North.
The first incident took place yesterday in California. We were headed North, and a nice couple from Oregon was headed South. We met by chance, opposite each other at Chevron Station Pump # 5 in Willows, California. I pulled up to my side of the pump and got out, noticing the man, approximately 60 years of age, laughing nervously on the other side of the pump island. I began to insert my credit card into the pump as I heard him say, half to his wife, and half indirectly to me, “Boy, I just can’t seem to get this thing to work!” As I looked up across the top of the pump at him, he met my gaze and said to me, “It asked me to enter my ZIP code.” Then he qualified his bewilderment by adding, “We’re from Oregon. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.”
Now for those of you who have never had the pleasure of driving through the lovely state of Oregon, they have a long-standing state law that prohibits everyday, average citizens from pumping their own gas. The entire state is full-serve. You are only allowed to put gas in a car if your name is sewed on your shirt next to a gas station logo. I think it had something to do with preserving the gas station attendant’s way of life, but for whatever reason, you can’t fill up your own car, and it’s been that way for a long, long time.
I used to live in Oregon, and I’m very familiar with the no-pumping-your-own-gas rule, so I understood his dilemma almost instantly. I politely explained that the pump was asking for his ZIP code only to verify that it was not a stolen credit card. He said, “Well, OK. I already entered my ZIP code, but now it’s telling me to press the button. I assume that means I’m supposed to squeeze the handle trigger, but I can’t get any gas to come out.”
At that point, I ducked my head around the pump and showed him the three bright yellow buttons on the front of the pump that all say “push here,” to select what flavor of gasoline you would like to purchase. He was only mildly embarrassed as he selected 87 Octane and began to fill his Honda’s tank. He laughingly explained his dilemma by saying, “Boy, I guess I don’t get out of Oregon much.”
The second incident happened later that afternoon. We had made it all the way over the mountain range that separates our two states, and the rest of the way up the state with no problems. We were a mere 17 miles from our destination when an unexpected snow storm hit. The forecast for Portland had been rain, but a mass of cold air had slammed down the Columbia River Gorge at the last minute, and the result was five hours of big, fat, wet snowflakes the size of golf balls. Most of the afternoon travelers in and around the Portland area were caught off-guard, and the result was ugly.
We had traveled for nine hours without a hitch, and the last 15 miles ended up taking us another two and a half. We were in our four-wheel-drive Ford Expedition, so keeping the car straight was not an issue for us. The problem was all the two-wheel-drive sedans without chains that were pirouetting in front of us. As we made our way through the otherwise beautiful storm, we had no less than five quarter-mile-long waits as cars and small pick-up trucks were pushed and slid by their drivers and other helpful motorists out of their precarious road-blocking positions. Able-bodied folks near the distressed cars banded together to help out, as Americans will do, to help clear the way for those who could make headway.
The next morning, however, the news showed me a different kind of American. He was being interviewed the night before, in the middle of the snowstorm on the side of the road. As the giant snowflakes fell on his head, he complained to the reporter, “My car is just stuck over there on the side of this road. I can’t get up this hill.” Mystified by this unfair situation, and angry that he hadn’t seen a snowplow arrive at his location yet, he exclaimed, “What are they waitin’ for? We’ve got the tax money. Let’s go!”
These two stories; “bewildered gas pump guy” and “indignant snow plow guy,” are small, yet very poignant examples of what happens to people when we allow too much government involvement in our lives.
After years and years of living with a really weird gas pump control law, the State of Oregon has produced at least one fully grown adult male who can operate a motor vehicle, but has no idea how to actually fill it with gas himself.
“Bewildered gas pump guy” is a rather humorous anecdote, but “indignant snow plow guy” is actually a little scary. Mother Nature showed what she’s made of, catching this man off-guard and temporarily stranding him on the side of the road. Instead of revising his plans and making his way home by other means, he stood out in the snow and impatiently waited for the government to show up and fix his problem for him.
Ladies and gentlemen, the day that this country ever becomes 51% “indignant snow plow guy,” it’s all over. We might as well just re-name the place “West France,” and pull up a chair.
Do your part to stop this trend, won’t you, please? If you ever meet “indignant snow plow guy,” remind him why God gave him two legs and a brain.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2009 Marc Schmatjen
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