January 2007 Column Winner

Texaco's stars fading as full-service station shuts down
By Andy Rieger, The Norman Transcript

Richard Melot's regrets are few these days. He just wishes he had written down some of the things that have happened in his nearly 27 years operating the Hollywood Texaco, a full-service gas station at McGee and Lindsey Streets.
There's the one about the man who entered the women's restroom and came out dressed as a woman. The co-ed who, when asked what kind of engine oil she preferred, said, "Pennzoil Lite." Or the still-loyal customer who got locked in the automatic car wash and was afraid to get out of his car for fear of getting whacked by a spray arm. Thank goodness for cell phones.
The men who wore the Texaco stars will have more time to remember those stories later this month. The station - one of Norman's last full-service gas stations - closes for good this month. Gas sales stopped last week. Repair work continues for a few more days.
The Texaco customers are mostly gone now. The lobby's trappings portray a slow death. Used red shop rags, newspapers and half-filled beer and pop display cases. A few packs of smokes remain in an overhead display case. One can of Red Bull.
"What am I going to do?" a woman asks mechanic Rick Hosler when picking up her repaired mini-van. Sometimes, self-service won't do.
"People are pretty sad," says Hosler, a mechanic there for 20 years. The mechanics have been repairing the vehicles of loyal customers for years. They are quick with advice on cars and the people who drive them.
"There are those that come here that are really disappointed. They've been relying on us for advice on their cars for a long time," says Melot, 63. "We offer something few other places provide."
Future customers will fill up on burgers and fries instead of gasoline. Sonic plans to move its Lindsey Street store there after selling its current location to Bethel Baptist Church, Melot said.
Melot, who owned the property as well as the business, has seen many changes in gas retailing. At one time, there were nearly a dozen full-service gas stations on or in the vicinity of Lindsey Street between the interstate and Berry Road.
Big oil, once the station's supplier, became the competitor, too. Giant retailers like Wal-Mart and Albertson's began selling gasoline. Self-service and pay-at-the-pump became the norm. The state quit requiring vehicle inspections, once a big part of their business. Dealers, fast-lube shops and even parts houses are doing more repair work.
"A lot of people just want to pay at the pump," Melot said. "Everyone is in a hurry to do everything." The cost to upgrade his pumps would be about $80,000. The car wash hasn't worked in several years.
Some people, however, need full service, flats fixed and repair work, the station's niche.