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Silver Threads: Can I get a little help here, please?

Have you ever thought about how many things you have to do for yourself today that somebody used to do for you?

I got to thinking about that while I was pumping gas. When I was 15, 25, 35, even 45 some dude stepped smartly out of the gas station, was told to fill ‘er up, and not only did that but also a number of other things that must not need doing in these modern times.

Now, I can pump gas with the best of them, except when my husband screws the cap to the tank back on too tightly and I have to depend on the kindness of strangers to get it off.   But at 75, there are times when I’d just as soon relax and let somebody have the gas station job.

Another do-it-yourself job that comes to mind involves buying shoes. Sure, if you’re springing for a pair of Feragamos a salesclerk will get them out of the back for you, make sure they fit properly, and carry them to the cash register. In fact, they still do that at department and little shoe stores. But if you’re buying loafers or sneakers, for yourself or the grandchildren, chances are you’ll go to one of those shoe supermarkets where the footwear boxes are stacked higher than you can possibly reach and there’s more often than not nobody in sight to help.

If you do manage to attract a clerk’s attention, she’ll haul down a box and then you’re on your own again for the next one.

When I was a kid back in the ‘40s, we lived in a tiny town in the country and my mother grocery shopped in a bigger little town 15 miles away. I never went with her — it was usually a school day — so I don’t know when serve yourself stores and grocery carts came into being. But she did send me to the general store right in our village when she needed, say, milk or bread or toilet paper in a hurry. So you walked up to the counter, told the lady behind it — who was also your Sunday school teacher — what you wanted, and she got it for you. Neat, huh?

Another thing we have to do for ourselves these days is find our own seats in the movies. Even if you’re not very much younger than I am you won’t believe that an usher with a flashlight used to prance down the theater aisle in front of you, stop at the appropriate row (back, middle or front, miss?) and then train the light beam down the floor until it reached an empty seat. This took place mostly at the big movie “palaces” like the Saenger or Loew’s. They had high-performance “usherettes” at Joy on Canal Street who would also if needed come and kick people out for being noisy. All you had to do was look disturbed when the lady with the flashlight passed you.

The other day I got involved in another do-it-yourself situation. Now, I’ve parked my own car scores of times in garages built for the public to navigate. But this time I pulled into an old one in the CBD that used to have one of these conveyer belt thingys onto which the professional parkers hopped and rode up to get your car.

This garage had two-way traffic going up and coming down and it didn’t have a circular layout for the flow. You could unwittingly drive into a little cul-de-sac and have to back out for quite a ways and figure out how to go next.

It reminded me of a day about 20 years ago. I had just put my car in an enormous medical building garage and was walking to the elevator when an elderly man driving a long sedan stopped and rolled down his window.

“Lady, can you help me get out of this garage?” he asked plaintively. I tried, goodness knows I tried. Very late for my appointment, I didn’t get in the car and just guide him out. And I’ve wondered sometimes if he spent the rest of his days circling that garage.

Bettye Anding is the former editor of the Living section of The Times-Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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