Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Like the late great Greta Garbo, I want to be left alone. Oh, don’t get me wrong…. I love other people. I’m the kind of person who asks grocery baggers how their day is going (hey, I bagged groceries at a Food Lion in Virginia, back during the early years of BTC), talks about the weather with bored security guards (I’ve put in a few years at THAT too, as did Chris), smiles and makes a funny face at children on the bus or wherever, and I consider my neighborhood postal carrier my friend, giving him some of our family’s homemade tamales at Christmas. No, what I want to be left alone from is corporate advertising and infotainment. In the pre-internet age, if I put on the radio or the TV, I was entering a commercial zone, and I knew it came along with the territory. Since the internet crawled out from under a rock in the early 90’s, I’ve had to get used to the constant ads on my screen, the pop-up ads trying to sell me whatever I Google-searched ten minutes before, and the intrusion of ads into special-interest blogs and websites for people who use the “free plan”, as I do with my KSE Wordpress blog. If you get on the internet, you are going to be hustled, and I’ve come to accept that. When I was watching a Bud Spencer film last night on You Tube (which I will review eventually for BTC), I knew that I would get some bullshit ad interrupting my film every fifteen minutes, but for me, that is worth it for getting the best in obscure Euro genre films for free online. If you are online, to some extent you are asking for it, and I can accept that.

However, what I cannot take is the corporate tentacles encircling me when I am NOT online or consciously consuming media. I do not have a smart phone, and I never activated the WI-FI in my car because I did not want to pay the $30 a month they wanted…..AND for me, my car is a private place. I can blast 1920’s dance bands in my car, listen to an audiobook of Stacy Keach playing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, enjoy the local jazz radio station, ponder lines for future poems, re-live the joy of those frog legs I had in East Texas last year, anticipate a future romantic tryst (being sure to not get carried away with that and get into an accident), sing an Elvis song by myself in a baritone worthy of The King, laugh at old Bowery Boys routines re-playing in my head, or think of an angle to use for my next BTC review of an old Charlton comic book.

Similarly, another place that is sacred space for me is the gas pump. When I’m in my own neighborhood, I can ponder the meaning of life while I’m putting 13 gallons into my Buick Encore. If I’m on the road, I can check out the landscape in whatever area I’m in. Nothing defines the flavor of a community like its gas stations and convenience stores. Some might have faded-by-the-sun posters of fried chicken in the window, or colorful enchilada plates, or 24 packs of beer, or homemade Cajun boudin or cracklins. In terms of the pump itself, all I want is that official notice about the octane levels and maybe an ad for the gas company’s credit card or a hustle for an over-priced robo-carwash. The one thing I DO NOT want is f**king corporate info-tainment blaring out at me from the gas pump. I’d rather have a homeless person approach me for spare change….at least I can shoo him away. No, what we’ve got now is something like a 10-inch screen WITH SOUND near the top of the gas pump, shouting out at you as you pump your gas.

I’d only seen these in the Houston area and only at some chains in the last few years, and since I do not live in Houston, I did not have to encounter them often. The ones back there were affiliated with NBC, and would have clips from awful NBC shit-coms or the monologue from last night’s Jimmy Fallon show, which if I wanted to see I would have watched….but I didn’t, and I didn’t. It would start up as soon as you started to pump and would go on until you got the receipt out of the pump after you paid.

Unfortunately, these have now invaded San Antonio, including the Shell station right down the street from where I live, at the back road into Retama Park horse racing track. I’d just come back from a pleasant birthday party for my daughter-in-law at an Asian Buffet in her part of town, where I gorged myself on sautéed shrimp, low-grade crab legs, shrimp-tempura sushi, eel rolls, sautéed oysters bathed in duck sauce, and those mini-balls of fried donut filled with custard. My blood-sugar numbers probably spiked as much as Amazon stock does each time a brick-and-mortar store chain goes out of business from online competition. I was feeling good, headed home and thinking of what Elvis bootleg I would put on when I got home, and whether I’d accompany it with an oolong or a black tea on this cold February day.

I glanced over at the Mexican restaurant located to the left of and connected to the Shell station, where a man with a mustache and wearing an apron, probably about my age (meaning, already calculating his Social Security), was peering out the front door window of the business at me with a look that cried out, “hey, we NEED your business….I have a family to support and the rent I’m being charged for this place is NOT being made up for with sales….PLEASE, sir, stop by, bring dinner home to your wife and she’ll love you even more.” Unfortunately for him, my wife had also gone to this buffet and was filled to the brim with crab legs. As I turned away from him, not wanting to keep eye contact and perhaps lead him on that I might possibly grab a few tacos, I was startled when the gas pump starting talking loudly to me with meaningless bullshit about what the week’s top hiphop and pop and country hits were, how the newest book by Dan “Da Vinci Code” Brown was at the top of the best seller lists, what Kanye West and the Kardashians were up to, and pushing whatever bloated and pretentious superhero film was dominating the suburban multi-plexes this weekend. Give me a break. I would have no problem if Shell was bombarding me with ads for their fine gasoline products and enticing me to come inside and get a refreshing Coca-Cola or an ice-cream bar. They have a right to hustle me at their store—hey, if I’m thirsty or hungry, I might just go in and get something I hadn’t planned on getting….especially if I’ve gotten paid in the last few days. However, I resent getting the same corporate crap thrown at me that I make a point to avoid by not having a smart phone. Soon only some ex-hippies somewhere in some rural commune beyond cell-phone reception and Wi-Fi, or some Amish (bless them for refusing to accept the modern world—they’re onto something!) making furniture or reading the Bible by candlelight will be “outside the grid.” To me, it seems like some nightmarish dystopia from the pages of Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs has come to life, and I’m the un-corrupted Kevin McCarthy among the pod-people in some real-life version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. But hey, if you are reading this online at BLOG TO COMM instead of an old hard-copy of BLACK TO COMM, and if I’m watching Bud Spencer films on You Tube and running a blog myself (and contributing to this one), then I suppose I’m a hypocrite to complain. I’ve bought into it and have no justification to feel superior just because I do not have a smart phone and I essentially “check the internet” 3 or 4 times a day. As it was once put so well by the hard-core porn actress who entertained a dozen men at once in a hotel room and had it documented by some film-school graduate who’d previously had dreams of getting a film shown at Sundance, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Bah humbug.

Excuse me, I’m only halfway through that Bud Spencer film on You Tube….


diskojoe said...

Great article Bill. I haven't seen any of those pumps in the gas stations that I frequent here in the Witch City area yet (thank goodness!) The price of gas in San Antonio is over $3 a gallon? It's about $2.47 here. I thought TX has all the oil!

Anonymous said...

We have these screens at Speedway, the ubiquitous local convenience store/gas station in Ohio. The one fun bit is when you have maybe ten or so pumps, and half are being used, in which case you hear the audio from intercom speakers being mixed together along with some slight delays, so you get a strange echo version of the sports news or weather report or Kardashian update they are spewing.