Oregon Transplant

The people of Portland, Ore., love their city. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a fine city, surrounded by beautiful trees for tree-huggers to hug, and rivers for river-huggers to hug (unless there is no such thing as a river-hugger, in which case the rivers are just for looking).

I’ve been to Portland several times to visit friends, and each time I go, I am reminded of what a great city it is. And when I say I am reminded, I mean verbally, hundreds of times, by the locals, who ramble on constantly about what a great city it is. All the time an outsider spends in Portland is occupied with listening to natives extol its virtues, as if they are all trained Portland representatives who get a commission if they convince you to move there. I assume that if I did finally cave in and relocate to the Northwest, the hard-sell would cease and Portlanders would finally talk about something else. (Like how they hate all these outsiders moving in, probably.)

Due, I’m sure, to the tsunami of Portland propaganda that washes over me when I visit, I’ve actually considered moving there. “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening is from Portland, and so is “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk. Who’s from Orem, Utah, where I live? Those nerdy, nerdy Osmonds. Who’s from Lake Elsinore, Calif., where I grew up? Felons. Portland is definitely the best of the three locales.

Some of Portland’s pluses, which you will hear mentioned repeatedly if you go there: No sales tax; lovely scenery; a thriving cultural community; it’s not Seattle.

Some of Portland’s minuses, which locals are forbidden to speak of in the presence of outsiders: It has never stopped raining, not even for one minute, ever, not even during the most severe droughts in all of recorded history; no Del Taco.

One thing that some people believe is a plus but which I insist is a minus is that you are not allowed to pump your own gas in Portland, nor anywhere in Oregon. You have to let an attendant do it for you. New Jersey has the same law; in the other 48 states, regular citizens are permitted to perform this simple, mindless task unassisted. I myself have done it well over 1,000,000,000 times, and I say that without the least degree of exaggeration.

At first, I liked the idea of someone pumping my gas for me. It reminded me of my childhood, when full-service gas stations were the rule and not the exception, when cheerful attendants would fill the tank, check the oil, clean the windshield, rotate the tires, install a new stereo, and give you a back rub, all while making small talk about the weather. In our modern world of impersonal automation, the idea of full-service gas stations seems refreshing and quaint, like a cool glass of lemonade or vodka on a hot summer day.

I also liked the idea of Oregon’s arrangement because it jibes with my general philosophy that the fewer duties I am obligated to perform, the better. But after experiencing it for myself, the other part of my philosophy kicked in. It’s the part that says, “If you want something done right, and fast, and if you don’t want to sit in your car while some kid runs from one vehicle to another, forgetting where he left off and letting an idle gas nozzle sit in your gas tank forever, the pump having stopped long ago, DO IT YOURSELF.”

Imagine standing there, watching helplessly as the tank reaches its capacity and the pump clicks off. All that’s left is to remove the nozzle, replace it on the pump, and leave. You could reach over and do it yourself. But to do so would incur the wrath of the Oregon State Gasoline Board, or whoever, because average citizens are NOT ALLOWED to engage in any part of the gas-pumping process. So you must stand there and wait for the kid to come back and do it for you, like you’re some kind of swear-word invalid who can’t even pump his own swear-word gas.

In short, I don’t understand the reason for Oregon’s law. In New Jersey, it makes sense, as many New Jerseyans are mentally dim and/or morally shady enough to warrant not trusting them with flammable liquids. But the people of Oregon are generally decent, educated, non-Mafia-affiliated folks. Why the mistrust? What is Oregon afraid will happen? Do they think motorists will drink the gasoline? Spray it all over their cars? Use it as cologne? Are they afraid people will fill up their gas tanks, then insert the nozzle in the back seat and fill up the rest of the car, too? Is there a chance irresponsible Oregonians will use the gas pumps like guns and playfully engage in “shootouts” with one another? Why is Oregon so terrified of gasoline, when most other states — EVEN SOUTHERN STATES — let average citizens handle it routinely with few problems?

In search of answers, I located the portion of the Oregon state code that establishes the no-gas-pumping rule. You may read it in its entirety here. Specifically, paragraph 480.330 says this:

“An owner, operator or employee of a filling station, service station, garage or other dispensary where Class 1 flammable liquids [that includes gasoline] … are dispensed at retail may not permit any person other than the owner, operator or employee to use or manipulate any pump, hose, pipe or other device for dispensing the liquids into the fuel tank of a motor vehicle or other retail container.”

So that’s the law. Paragraph 480.315 gives 17 reasons for it, each dumber than the last. I quote some of them:

“Exposure to toxic fumes represents a health hazard to customers dispensing Class 1 flammable liquids.” (But apparently, toxic fumes have no effect on owners, operators and employees.)

“Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people.” (In other words, we need to create jobs for our teenagers, and if those jobs can involve constant exposure to gasoline fumes, all the better.)

“Self-service dispensing at retail presents a health hazard and unreasonable discomfort to the handicapped, to elderly persons, small children and those susceptible to respiratory diseases.” (They make a good point about handicapped people, who may be able to drive but not to pump their own gas, and people susceptible to respiratory diseases, who may be harmed by the gas fumes. The thing about small children, I don’t get. It’s not like they’d be the ones pumping the gas, unless their parents are especially lazy. As for elderly people, I think we can all agree they shouldn’t be driving anyway.)

But aside from the gas situation, Portland is indeed a magical wonderland of bliss and euphoria, if only because of all the pot that gets smoked there. If I do move there someday, I’ll have to make occasional trips across the river to Washington to pump my own gas and to get out of the rain for a few minutes.

I did finally move to Portland, 14 months after this column was published. To this day I resent the gasoline laws, but I guess I've grown used to them. And it is nice when you're feeling lazy and don't want to get out of your car.