Wednesday, December 16, 1998

It's A Gas Gas Gas

In the biggest business deal ever, Exxon & Mobil are merging. They promise it will be good for us, the general public. Unless, of course, you happen to be the part of the general public that calls itself Exxon and Mobil employees. In that case, you may find yourself among the 20,000 or so people expected to get a pink slip from Moxxon.

Actually, in the interest of keeping costs down, the whole Moxxon firing procedure will be self serve, and you'll have to pick up your pink slip yourself from a minimum wage employee in a bulletproof booth near the center aisle, near the$2 six packs of Barq's Root Beer.

I suppose it would be silly to ask Moxxon to retain at least some of those employees in the capacity of restroom cleaner.

Maybe some of those soon-to-be-laid-off folks can be hired by the NFL to monitor the coin toss, which has lately become more difficult to execute than a shot-by-shot remake of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (the higher-ups at the NFL were considering dropping the coin toss concept altogether and changing to a round of "eenie- meenie-minie-moe," until they tested it and one referee accidentally said "eenie- manny-moe-and-jack," and gave possession to the Pep Boys).

Frankly, I'm still pissed at Exxon for the whole Valdez oil spill thing. But I'm more amazed at the genius decisions that Mobil has made in the interest of customer service over the last couple of years.

First, they introduced a concept called, "friendly serve." This meant that when you pulled into a Mobil station, even though you were gonna pump your own gas, some high school kid would come out and ask you, "How you doin'?" Oh, so friendly! This was just the kind of small talk that had been sorely lacking in most gas station transactions heretofore. You'd respond, "Fine." He would then hover nearby, not unlike a Trekkie who has heard a rumor that Brent Spiner might be in the room, while several awkward moments of silence passed until some other customer pulled up and he went off to greet them. Mobil seems to have thought that we all just needed another friendly communication in our day and, dammit, they were going to supply it.

How this improved customer relations I do not understand. You see, we had all just gotten used to the idea of doing our gas station business without interacting with any petro-employees at all, thanks to the introduction of the gas pumps that accept credit cards. Now you could conduct your fuel transaction on your own and be on your way. This meant no more dealing with the guy in the booth -- although he's still there, cowering in the corner, afraid that the next human who approaches will kill him and take all the cash, not to mention the rack of KitKats and Zippos he has arranged so nicely in his plexiglass world.

Still, this was not enough for Mobil.

Sensing that we could still be annoyed some more, they invented the SpeedPass. This is a device that you carry around on your key chain and wave at a special sensor on the Mobil pump to activate it, and then your purchase is charged to whatever credit card you had provided when you filled out your application.

Let's review. You have to have a credit card to apply for a SpeedPass, but you don't use your credit card anymore. Now you use another piece of plastic which acts as a stand-in for your credit card. Why not just use the card? Because your card doesn't do its own stunts anymore and, they would have you believe, this is so much easier! Yeah, that inserting and removing the credit card was taking up well over two full seconds of our busy day!

That's not the part of the refueling process that was burning precious seconds away, Mobil. What seems to be consuming so much time is waiting for the gas to flow into the tank!!! Now, if you and your new Exxon pals can invent some sort of injection system in which the gasoline can be inserted into our cars faster than a Jerry Springer guest can cross the stage and toss a chair, then you'll be onto something we want.

While you're at it, see if you can develop oil tankers that don't spill their goo as if the ocean were an intern's dress.

Of course, that kind of innovation probably needs a lot of time and a lot of inventive people. Fortunately, there are about 20,000 men and women with experience who would love to help.