What Jersey Can Teach Us All

The beauty of that guy who pumps your gas

It’s a bizarre reason to like Jersey, I know, but every time I cross the river, my infatuation with the state’s gas station attendants grows.

The fact that this small luxury of having your gas pumped by a paid service-person is required by law was hilarious to me when I first moved here. I know some people hate it, but I’ve come to have a weirdly deep appreciation for this old-fashioned ritual of customer service—weird because I’ve got nothing against pumping my own gas. But having an attendant do it is like turndown service at a hotel or the head massage the hairstylist sometimes throws in: unnecessary … but nice.

I thought about Jersey gas-pumping this weekend, when I was at a popular big-box home store, standing in front of an area marked “wrapping station.” “Wrap it yourself!” the sign invites customers, all excited-like, as if being invited to wrap something is a treat and a perk. I guess it’s sort of cool that the wrapping paper and tape are free, but it didn’t seem like that much of a service after I sat and watched another customer struggle to make a bow on her self-wrapped gift. She finally she asked for help from a nearby employee, who blankly suggested that the customer cut the ribbon longer, then went back about her business.

It struck me: This is how we roll pretty much everywhere now, this pervasive Do-It-Yourselfness. It started out awesome—Wawa’s hoagie touch-screen and E-trading and online ticket booking! Yeah! But now I’m also always bagging my own groceries; I’m told to check online myself when something in a store is sold out; I’m cold-shouldered (at best!) when I ask to use a credit card in a cab. The only place I can be sure to expect that great sort of enveloping customer service is at my hair salon (where they always do the head massage) and New Jersey Sunocos.

Recently, I spent a shocking amount of money on one lone undergarment—an article of clothing that nobody even sees—as a direct result of having my very own fitter fetching and finding me things I’d have never chosen myself. Her expertise may have changed my entire sartorial life … so I spent the cash. Lo, the power of good service. And behold, the effect on the local economy.

So maybe—for the sake of the economy—we should try returning to the things that worked for businesses for years, like gift-wrapping. And gas-pumping. And grocery bagging. (And if companies have to hire wrappers and pumpers and baggers, well, that’s job creation, isn’t it?)

Maybe it’s time companies go back to asking their employees to actually, you know, do stuff for their customers. Maybe—since Congress insists on wasting time and being useless right now—Philly businesses can introduce a little economic stimulus of our own: Project Do Stuff.

Maybe, businesses, if you serve them, they will come. I will, anyway.