WHERE HAVE THE SERVICES GONE?
I recognize that we’ve become a predominantly service economy. The number and variety of services available to meet our every “need” is staggering. But just as so many once popular products are no longer around – think buggy whips, rubbers for rainy days, wooden tennis racquets, kitchen ice boxes – the same is true of specific services once readily available but which have largely disappeared. Let’s call it “service obsolescence”.
Remember when you drove into a “service” station and expected its employees to man the gas pump and not only “fill ’er up” but clean the windshield, check the water in the radiator and battery, with a dipstick to monitor oil levels, and also pump air into the tires, if needed? You’d remain comfortable in the car and watch them perform these many tasks. Today, rain or shine, hot or cold – you’re on your own.
Once upon a time in most cities you could locate shoeshine parlors where, climbing onto a chair, you’d look on as expert hands applied a variety of liquids on your shoes, then buffed them into a radiant shine. Or you’d spot shoeshine boys toting their boxes and imploring you to “Shine ‘em up, mister?” Where did they all go? Sure, lots of folks are wearing “sneakers” these days, but that can’t fully explain the demise of the shoe shining profession.
Years back, after disembarking from your flight and arriving at the baggage area, scores of “handlers” awaited you there, prepared to load all your luggage onto carts and wheel them out of the terminal. These days you’re generally obliged to rent a cart and do it yourself. Most motels and some hotels have gone the same way. Pull up in a car, obtain a luggage carrier and push it straight to your room.
Traditional service people are fast disappearing. The iceman left us a long time ago as refrigerators took over. Pin setters at bowling alleys were replaced by automatic devices. Longshoremen are fast disappearing as mammoth machines snatch large containers out of the bowels of large vessels. House calls by physicians have largely become a distant memory, while itinerant knife sharpeners have passed from the scene. Elevator operators have become a rarity and increasingly so have highway toll collectors. If supermarket managers have their way, clerks will gradually be phased out, replaced by computerized checkout mechanisms.
Surely most all of the products we buy have improved over the years (automobiles an obvious example). And the range of services available to us have expanded spectacularly. Still, I do miss the care and service once provided at the gas pump. And what a delight watching your shoes being buffed to perfection. And please don’t remind me that one day, perhaps sooner than later, my favorite postman may not be delivering the mail to my front door.