"He's probably pumping gas somewhere," I heard somebody say the other day in a disparaging tone about a former classmate whose prospects for success apparently weren't bright.
Except, the classmate is probably not pumping gas. The job no longer exists. Over the years, the gas station industry conned the entire nation into pumping its own gas.
Only in Oregon and New Jersey, where they outlawed self-service in order to save jobs, can those who flunked senior English because they hated poetry get a job pumping gas.
For a few years there, you had a choice between self service, which was cheaper, and full service where they'd wash your windshield and check the oil and add a quart if needed and then charge you through the nose for it all.
Finally, they pulled the plug entirely. Now you have to wash your own windshield. You run your own credit card, too.
I don't even know where the dipstick is on my latest car. The other day, I looked under the hood for the first time in 12,320 miles and was shocked to find that the engine sits in there sideways.
Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have thought of buying a car without looking under the hood and asking intelligent questions about the carburator. At the very least, you'd want to make sure the engine was in there the right way.
Today, you could make the argument that modern cars have become easier to maintain than people since they require less frequent checkups and fewer repairs.
A while back, I met a couple who between them have three artificial knees, two new hips, one missing kidney, three successful rounds of chemotherapy and seven heart surgeries. And they're not even old!
If they were a vehicle, that couple would have been crushed for scrap about six years ago. You just don't put up with that sort of unreliability in a car.
In Cuba, they haven't had any new cars come in since the 1950s. Keeping those old things running has become an art form. Mechanics who know how to get a 1952 Chevy back on the road are highly valued, more worshipped than Lenin and Marx.
Here, we do the same thing with people. We're keeping them on the road longer than ever.
This is fine and dandy, but eventually we're going to have to stop paying our people mechanics seven figure salaries to go under the hood for routine repairs like new knees.
You can see where this is going.
What needs to happen is the guy who flunked senior English because he was having more fun racking up 120 yards rushing per game should go to the vocation institute to learn how to fix hips. Or remove kidneys. Or whatever.
If he's good, or even if he's not, he'll open up his own hip shop down the street and lead a quiet life fixing hips for friends and neighbors and whoever else trips in the door. He won't be in it for the money. He's just content to do hips.
To limit costs of health care we've got to get over the idea that only people who got an A in senior English and dream of driving Ferraris could possibly know how to fix hips.
Look at how we used to think airline pilots were such geniuses. Because we were all scared of ending up in the Hudson River, they conned us into paying them six figure salaries just for landing safely!
Now, because computers do all the work, we're just happy if the pilots show up sober and don't take a nap and overshoot Minneapolis.
This needs to happen in the ever-expanding medical industry. The people who used to be forced to pump gas because they hated poetry need jobs doing something. They should go into medicine.
We'll know things have changed when we overhear somebody talk about a classmate who flunked senior English and really didn't have much potential:
"Yeah, he's probably drawing blood somewhere," they'll say with a sad shake of the head.