Service stations

My Saturday was a day that has been widely recognised as one of the worst days in human history. Fact. I was driving a car to London with the intention of dropping it off and getting a lift back to York. However the car broke down half way and I spent three hours in a motorway lay by waiting for the recovery firm to pick me up (apparently I was in the Bermuda Triangle. Thanks Green Flag call centre), followed by almost five hours in a service station, where I promptly lost the cash I had on me and couldn’t get any more because there wasn’t a cash machine, before my lift arrived.

 

Anyway, that’s enough about my day. The thing was that being sat in a service station for five hours (and it was a really bad service station, by the way) led me to think about how interesting service stations are. They’re fascinating in two interrelated ways. The first as places: they are total products of the motor age. Service stations weren’t there before, like the vast majority of villages, towns and cities that motorways connect, and they contain things that someone decided the motorist wants. The second way is the people: people from all walks of life are there, brought together by one thing — the car.

 

The point is that what you get is an interesting environment governed by interesting sets of rules that bring about a fascinatingly constant and well-regulated social world, which is interesting because the turnover of people is incredibly rapid. People seem to stay for around 30 minutes, with the exception of those who seem to be staying at the hotel, who are probably staying over night at most, but even then seem to spend no longer than an hour actually awake in the place.

 

It just strikes me that service stations would be a really great subject for historical and sociological analysis. A quick search this morning reveals nothing particularly obvious to read on them (yes, I’ve found the Service Station Facts website and that’s not quite what I’m looking for). I sense an unsuccessful funding application coming on…

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