Everett Hughes at the Pump

July 20, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“I don’t know how to do this. I’m from New Jersey.” The fortyish woman had gotten out of her SUV and was standing there by the gas pump looking befuddled. *

It was a small, two-pump Mobil station just off Rte. 84 in Connecticut, and my wife and I had stopped for gas on our way to Boston for my niece’s wedding.** The Jersey woman was also on her way to Boston, taking her teenage daughter to see Rent. She was a law-abiding woman, and in New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas. The Garden State does not trust its citizens to perform this delicate operation that is better left to professionals. Gas station attendants must take eight hours of training, and no doubt some of that time is devoted to nozzle technique. (On the other hand, if you want a clean windshield, do it yourself, buddy. The squeegee’s over there.)

My wife showed our fellow traveler how to unscrew the gas cap, dip her credit card, lift the nozzle, and so on. I thought about Everett Hughes.

In his course on work and professions, Hughes reflected on who was allowed to do what in an occupation. The rationale was always about the training and expertise necessary for the protection of the public. But when you looked at changes in the distribution of these tasks, you began to see an effort retain control and limit access.

To become a pharmacist required a two-year course of study. But in World War II, when the military needed druggists – and fast – the army started turning out 90-day wonders. For a long time, only MDs were allowed to give injections. Only when doctors had more complicated tasks that filled their time did the AMA change its mind and agree that on second thought maybe handling a hypodermic syringe was something a nurse might be capable of. There must be many more examples in medicine and in other professions.

Someday, even drivers in New Jersey and Oregon may be allowed to pump their own gas.

* No, the woman was not Mischa Barton. I just grabbed this pic from Google Images.

**A wonderful wedding, by the way. Pictures available on request.

1 comment:

trrish said...

I was gonna say, pretty hot Jersey girl!

One think I LOVED about NJ was that I didn't have to pump my own gas. I've gotten proficient enough in the 20 years I've been in Colorado that I can leave the gas station with smelling like gas. But I'd be ok with not doing it.

Another thing I noticed when I moved here was a difference in grocery bagging. Back then, anyway, in NJ, you bagged your own groceries, period. But here they always did it for you! I felt something like surviver guilt every time.