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Oregonians Adapt To Pumping Their Own Gas


In Oregon, the new year brings a new ability for gas stations in some parts of the state to offer self-service. That's something that's been mostly banned there since 1951. And it leaves New Jersey as the only state with a complete ban on pump-it-yourself gas. Chris Lehman reports.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: Here at The Heights Fuel Stop in Hood River, there are new signs telling drivers they can get out of their cars and pump their own gas if they want.

MARK AZURE: Thank you so much. You have a good day.

LEHMAN: But station attendant Mark Azure says most people aren't taking up the offer.

AZURE: About 85 percent of the people still want their gas pumped.

LEHMAN: For Mary Brenneman, the self-serve option was a surprise. She gave it a try, but...

MARY BRENNEMAN: To be perfectly honest, I'm not thrilled about it. You know, it's cold. I'd rather have somebody else pump my gas, and I'm not ashamed to say that.

LEHMAN: A new law took effect January 1. It only allows self-serve in rural counties defined as those with a population of less than 40,000 people. That's about half the state. But it means people in Portland or drivers on the heavily-traveled Interstate 5 freeway won't see any change.

When Oregon and New Jersey lawmakers banned self-serve some 70 years ago, they cited safety. Gasoline is flammable after all. But when the new Oregon law to ease the self-serve ban passed, safety was also a concern. It turns out gas stations in smaller communities have a hard time employing attendants 24 hours a day, leaving people there with no way to fuel up in an emergency. Supporters say allowing self-serve means fewer stranded travelers. For lifelong Oregonians, it marks a significant change to what they're used to.

Mattie Back says filling her own tank was a learning experience.

MATTIE BACK: So I pulled up to the thing. And I was ready to hand him my card and tell him how much I needed. And he was like, yeah, so it's self-serve. And I was like, what does that mean? (Laughter) I did not know how to do it. He was like, my job is to teach you how to do it. And I was really awkward about it. But, I mean, it's not hard to learn. It was just really weird.

LEHMAN: Not all Oregonians find the idea of pumping their own gas a novelty. Jeff Pulk moved to Hood River from Michigan four years ago.

JEFF PULK: It's one of those things that if somebody wants to pump their own gas, they should be able to pump their own gas.

LEHMAN: Pulk says he read with amusement some national news stories mocking Oregonians who seemed scared at the idea of having to fill up their tanks themselves.

PULK: And I had a bunch of buddies text me also, you know - ha, ha, ha (ph). You get to pump your own gas now. How're you going to, you know, get by and stuff like that.

LEHMAN: Pulk says his response - he's saving up for an electric car so he won't have to worry about it much longer. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAT JON'S "SOUNDGIRL PERSONAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.