There was a big heads-up from the New Jersey governor on Twitter the other day:

“Please note: We have no plans to turn our gas stations into self-serve at this time. Please DO NOT pump your own gas.”

Yes, in New Jersey it is illegal to pump your own gas. Once upon a time, we would have laughed at New Jerseyites, stuck in their archaic ways. They enter the gas station and hear ding-ding, like it is 1957. You imagined some louche lout slouching over to the car, fixing the driver with a hint of a sneer:

“And whadda you want?”

“Uh — gas?”

“Yeah, I figured. Ya wantcha regular or premium?”


“Oooh, we got a Rockfellah here. I s’pose you want me to look at your oil, too? Maybe change yer diaper? Geddoudda heah.”

It used to be illegal to pump your own gas in Minnesota. In 1971, 36 states permitted it, but not us. “Safety” was often cited as a reason, as if you’d spray yourself with gas, light a cigarette and phoomph! Big orange fireball.

Those pump jockeys, they were trained professionals. Hours of practice, putting that hose back just right. Let people pump their own gas, and the next thing you know, the entire profession of windshield-wiper-fluid administrators would vanish. Besides, do you know how long you have to train on those tire-pressure gauges before you can be confident you won’t poke out your eye?

This changed in 1975, although the state passed a law in 1984 forbidding full-service stations to switch to entirely self-service. There might also have been a clause in the bill banning people from shoeing their own horses. Hence the lack of horses and full-service stations.

But in the coronavirus world, it doesn’t sound bad, does it?

Think of how you used to pump gas: get out to the pump, slide the card, press the grade you want, then watch the numbers tickety-tick while you avoid looking at your phone, because we were told it might make the pumps explode.

Now? You have to touch the pump, the same pump heaven only knows how many sickly people have touched. You hope your card works, because if it doesn’t, you have to go inside the store to pay, and these days we imagine every interior commercial space is thronged with glassy-eyed zombies convulsed with sneezes.

If you pick up the windshield squeegee from the bucket of alcohol and dirt, you do it with your elbows. Then you have to touch the pump again to put the nozzle back, and if you’re out of precious hand sanitizer, you have to remind yourself not to maul your itchy mug with your germy paw until you find some soap, at which point you’ll feel like a driver with a full bladder who’s needed a restroom for the last 45 miles.

It would be nice just to sit there and let uniformed attendants swarm all over your car like in the old days. They’d tip their hat, check your dipstick and dip your checkstick. Pfft-Pfft-Pfft-Pfft, tires topped off. Then off you go, completely safe from contagions.

I skipped the part where you throw the money out the window and shout, “Back off, animals! You’re not wearing masks!” Then you peel out, but we wouldn’t do that here.

This isn’t New Jersey. Thank heavens. Sort of.