People think the big guy is a carjacker. You pull up to the pump, open your door to step out, he's right there, a wide-body, blocking the way. He says he wants your credit card.
What is this? You look around. It is a gas station, isn't it? The guy ain't moving. He says to stay in the car.
You say: I'm getting gas.
The big guy says back:
"That's my job."
Now there are two more guys. One squirts your windshield and wipes. The other checks your tires. They ask about your oil. You want it checked?
You fumble. You forgot how to pop the hood.
So this is full service. This is that thing old folks always rag about. Is there a charge? Can you refuse?
The big guy is John Gray. For 10 years, he has led the three-man full-service team at Bob Lee's Tires, 1631 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg. The gas there was once self-serve like everywhere else. But pumping gas by the busy lanes to the tire-changing bays was dangerous. They decided to offer full service on Ladies' Day, every Wednesday.
It was too confusing. People forgot what day it was. So the Lee family, which has owned the station since 1946, made every day full-service day.
Gas prices are about the same as self-serve, and there's no charge. But tips are customary. Sometimes it's a buck, sometimes it's five.
Gray's favorite customers are the grandmas who, week after week, rely on him to top off their 12-miles-per-gallon aircraft carriers. They hand him their cards right away. They never confuse him for a carjacker. Their generation — one that didn't eat from peanut bags on planes and didn't talk to voice machines on the phone — knows what real customer service once was.
Says Gray, "It's like taking care of your mom."
John Barry, Times staff writer