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Editorial: Gassing up for last time

Mourning the demise of the neighborhood service station is just as futile as lamenting the loss of drive-in movies, rotary-dial phones and twice-a-day mail deliveries (now we’re really dating ourselves).
Time marches on, and Salisbury and the world march with it. Who knows what emblems of modernity ó big-box stores? drive-through burger chains? video-game arcades? ó will evoke the same twinges of nostalgia among future generations as corner filling stations and neighborhood barber shops summon up now among those of a certain age.
Still, it’s sad to observe the sunset of another Salisbury landmark ó Rodgers Exxon, which has served its last customer at Fulton Street and Lincolnton Road. As reporter Mark Wineka noted in the story published in Tuesday’s Post, the station has anchored the same little peninsula of land since 1926 and has been in the same family since 1929. By any standard, that’s a remarkable run. Under Buck Rodgers and then his son Bobby, the current owner, the station has survived through 12 different presidents; a world war and several subsequent conflicts; racial segregation, integration and school consolidation; the coming of the interstate highway system; and the rise and fall of Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers whose products once dominated the roads and the domestic sales market. It harkens to the day when, as Dinah Shore sang, Americans saw the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet (or a Ford or a Chrysler) ó and had it gassed up and maintained at “full service” stations like Rodgers Exxon.
Strange, isn’t it? As our factories and traditional industries decline, we’re supposedly shifting into a service-oriented economy. Yet the kind of friendly, personal service offered at neighborhood businesses appears to be an endangered concept. Banks encourage us to do our business online or use automated tellers. The help line that you call for assistance when a computer or home appliance malfunctions is likely to be on the other side of the country ó or the world. And when you buy gas, the purchase usually occurs at a self-service establishment where a credit-card swipe replaces interaction with a fellow human being. You can still see the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet, but chances are, you’ll need to check your own oil and tire pressures during the journey. And if you want the windshield cleaned, be prepared to grab a squeegee and a handful of paper towels.
Rodgers Exxon didn’t close because its service was outmoded. Even in a drive-through, fast-fill-up era, the station maintained a core group of customers who continued to patronize its gas pumps and service bays to the end, even after the increasing complexity of automotive systems limited the repair work that could be performed in them. There’s a lesson in that for all of us. The corner filling station may be a vanishing piece of Americana, but the concepts of “full service” and customer loyalty shouldn’t be allowed to disappear with it.

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