You've Been Pump'd!

Big Oil gives new meaning to self-service


Like herpes and self-reflection, Americans love Big Oil. Big Oil represents the very best of what makes us the very best: hard work, shale, an uneven playing field and an almost fanatical devotion to making millions of dollars eclipsed only by a truly fanatical devotion to making billions.

These are simple, hard-working people who had a good idea ("Let's charge $2.49 a gallon") and then made it even better ("Why not $2.88?"). Americans like that kind of pluck and, not surprisingly, dote on Big Oil, or "Oily."

Nowhere is that love more apparent than in the warm back and forth one witnesses every day at the palatial fun palaces or "service stations" that dot the landscape. There amid magical drink concoctions—Dr Pepper? Have we gone through the looking glass?—and fantastical contraptions—pumps, squeegees—reside the representatives of Big Oil, stout service-station employees who regularly hear just what the public thinks of Big Oil.

It's doubtful if any of them hear more than the folks who work at stations flying the Exxon/Mobil colors, Exxon inhabiting a special place in people's hearts ever since news came that the company made $36 billion in profit last year.

(Thirty-six billion! Now thatsa spicy meat-a-ball!)

Thirty-six billion is big money, Beanie Baby big, so big that experts have struggled to communicate how big. They've mentioned that it's like earning $1,140 a second or it's how much God would make if he showed any initiative. It's an unnecessary exercise, of course, since the public knows this money is well-deserved and regularly tells Exxon service-station employees as much.

"People complain . . . They get angry, they do get angry," said one Exxon employee in Irvine. "Sometimes they make me angry too. It wasn't my fault. You have to control yourself."

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that it is only the public that admires Exxon. In fact, Exxon employees are equally effusive in praising their customers, whom they regard as bright, strong and worthy.

"They just deal with it. I mean, you can't change it, and you're stuck with it," said one Exxon associate in Fullerton. "I mean, they complain a little, but there's not much that they can do about it."

As you can see, as in any healthy relationship, respect is a two-way street. A two-way street paved with fried pork skins, underage smoking and low-grade malt beverages. How much longer can it continue? Well, speaking for every single person in America, I'll say forever. Am I deluded? Am I?

I asked the local Exxon merchant near my home, and he said he'd be happy to talk to me about this as long as I promised not to use his name, didn't describe his station, didn't mention what street it was located on or near and what city it was located in or near, and didn't talk to him.

Done.

So how much longer will Exxon make us proud by making $36 billion a year?

"No, no, no, no, no, no," he said, though he may have said a few more no's—it was hard to tell at the speed he was walking. Even harder when he closed the door to his office.

 
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