The internet can be a wonderful thing when used properly. In the hands of people with too much spare time who enjoy making fun of others, it becomes a blunt instrument. Take the recent eruption over a small change in Oregon's ban on self-serve gas.
Oregon long has been one of only two states in the country — the other is New Jersey — that forbid ordinary motorists to fill their own fuel tanks. The law is the stuff of legend, but essentially was enacted as a safety measure and to protect the jobs of gas station attendants. Oregon's law was enacted in 1951; New Jersey's in 1945.
Residents of both states fiercely have resisted any change in the law over the years, saying they like having their gas pumped for them just fine, thank you very much.
What triggered the internet onslaught was a new Oregon law that took effect Jan. 1 allowing rural counties with fewer than 40,000 inhabitants to let drivers fill their own tanks. The reason was purely practical: In remote places in Eastern Oregon, it makes little sense to force station owners to keep attendants on the clock in case a motorist happens by in the middle of the night. At the same time, drivers on lonely stretches of highway who run low on fuel risk getting stranded if no station is open when they need it.
That mattered little to the internet. After a Facebook post by Medford TV station KTVL generated comments from local residents horrified at the thought of pumping their own gas, memes quickly appeared. One depicts a supposed Oregonian dousing the outside of her car with fuel; another shows a car parked in a lot trailing a torn-off hose, the nozzle still lodged in the fill tube.
Otherwise responsible news outlets got into the act as well. The Washington Post's headline quoted one of the KTVL commenters: " ‘I don’t even know HOW’: Some Oregonians panic about new self-service gas law." SFGate howled, "Oregonians lose it when they realize they might have to start pumping their own gas."
To be fair, some Oregonians brought it on themselves by overreacting to what was actually a minor change that will have no effect for most residents. Self-serve gas is not coming to Medford or Eugene or Portland, or even to Grants Pass. And just because we live in Oregon doesn't mean we don't know how to gas up our own vehicles. We do, and we will — if forced. Despite popular belief, Oregonians actually drive outside the state on a regular basis, and buy gas while we're there. It might take us a minute to figure it out, but we manage.
If it's any consolation, New Jersey residents feel the same way about their self-serve ban. A poll in 2015 found 75 percent of residents supported the law, described by one pollster as "one of the third rails of state politics."
The Jan. 1 change marks the first crack in what had been an absolute ban for 65 years, and it leaves New Jersey as the only state that prohibits self-serve everywhere within its borders.
But most Oregonians still can proudly stay in their cars while an attendant fills their tank. Let the internet trolls scoff. We know a good thing when we see it.
— Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.