Modern man, beset by all the trappings of the digital age. Sentinel Illustration by Robert Sausaman

You’re smarter than you think, according to every industry in the world.

That’s certainly the case because jobs and tasks once relegated to trained professionals at the grocery store, service stations, the Department of Motor Vehicles and more have turned their responsibilities over to you.

Self-service is here to stay, industry officials say.

Years ago, nation’s hotels and apartments caused an uproar with the first self-service elevators. Now, be prepared to rent a car without ever seeing a human or maneuver airports in ways you never dreamed you could. Here are a few self-serve situations we think need special attention as local businesses move ahead with sending you out on your own.

Under pressure

Here’s where the full-service station is missed most in America. Gas in the tank, I got. Other than trying to kill the at-pump TV commercials, add-on gas additives and car washes I don’t need because it occasionally rains or snows here in Colorado, I can swipe and pump.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not shy about saying I’ve replaced clutches, timing belts, struts, exhaust systems, head gaskets and myriad other car parts that fail when you buy cars on a journalist’s budget. Brake drums and wheel bearings? I can do it in my sleep.

But filling air in the tires, oy.

It’s not that the job is difficult. It’s that the pathetic tire-air-compressor-machines charging upwards of $2 for air — folks, it’s freaking air — make the task abominable.

First off, long gone are the days where you have to crawl along the wet or gritty pavement on the street or parking lot and try and read the recommended tire pressure upside down on the side of the tire. Even if it’s there, it’s probably wrong. Car manufacturers have long since determined their own tire pressure, which is what triggers the undecipherable trouble light that goes on when the auto-detector gets tripped. The mysterious graphic looks like an angry alien flower. I suggest car engineers consider a simple flashing warning that says, “BUMMER!”

If you’re lucky, and I’m not, the required PSI is inside the driver door panel. As is usually the case, it doesn’t just say, “36 PSI.” Instead, it offers a veritable buffet of options, which depend on weather, season, mood et al.

But that’s just the beginning. You pick a PSI number, and then the hunt for quarters begins. If you live right, the air-pressure machine takes a credit card. If you have the karma of Ghandi, the whole thing works right. Usually, if you’re in a blizzard and nursing a nearly-flat tire, it won’t work. But if the gods are smiling, you have about 60 seconds to make it all happen. In the dark, the cold, the rain and almost always in sub-zero weather, you fight ice nodules and myopia to unscrew the valve-stem caps, which are cleverly countersunk behind the wheel cover, and also filled with ice or mud. You’re minute runs out before you get the first cap off.

Crap.

You spend the better part of an hour removing the other caps and hunting for more quarters inside the back car seat. There, you find the hazardous fast-food toy your daughter lost eight years ago. It draws blood as you blindly claw for coins in a place no one ever wants to, or should, stick their hands.

Back outside, you deposit your bloodied life savings into the air compressor bandit again and run the hose to your tire. After a few seconds, you’re actually able to get the nozzle on the upside down valve stem and the high-priced compressed air — it’s freaking air, folks — drizzles into your tire with all the force of a newborn kitten’s breath. Expensive seconds pass by and your chance to fill the other tires when you realize the auto-gauge on the compressor hose can’t possibly work because it’s caked with ice or sand, or the numbers are unreadable.

Crap.

You guess at what a properly inflated tire looks like in a pothole at a 7-Eleven parking lot in the middle of a midnight blizzard.

The compressor stops. Time’s up. You flirt with the idea of robbing the cashier inside the warm, dry convenience store for 6 quarters, rather than face another search deep in the cracks of your car seats. You miraculously find five quarters in the glove box, but number six is permanently affixed to the bottom of the cup holder, where the spillage of years of frappacinos has shellacked it to the console. You beg for a quarter from a scared old woman at the Red Box and move on.

This time, you know the drill, because you’ve been here practicing it for hours. You stand ready. Hose in one hand. Your iPhone flashlight is already on in the other. You drop the quarters and run for the other side of the car. You get maybe two cups of air in the tire, high five yourself and run to the rear passenger tire.

Crap.

The hose doesn’t reach. You don’t actually say “crap.” You launch the F-bomb so loud and so passionately that the old woman at the Red Box now runs for her car, jumps in, locks it, and calls her therapist.

Cleverly, you abandon the idea of being able to move your car before the compressor times out again. Instead, you crawl halfway under the car and thread the hose between all the tires, the pile of something gooey spilled on the asphalt and the iPhone you laid down and stepped on as you were struggling with what to do. You get less air into the rear tire than you would have by simply putting your mouth on the valve stem and blowing, but you claim victory nonetheless.

More recently, I was accosted by a tire-air machine at a convenience store that allows you to pre-program a made-up PSI and stand in the cold trying to use old-dude-eyes see the tire valve and then squint at the lighted face of the machine, which is too far away to see the message that says, “that’s enough air, old man.”

Instead, I’ve given up most other luxuries in my life, and rather than tempt PTSD for better PSI, I either just buy new tires or sell the car.

— DAVE PERRY, Staff Writer

Self-service gas stations

The insatiable appetite of the automated marketplace gobbled up the full-service gas station long, long ago.

Long gone are the days of full-service gas stations. Technological advances, such as the internet, have significantly impacted our daily routines. AP Photo

Gone are the days when the community gas pump, car wash and mechanic were all on the same lot. They’ve since been torn apart and relegated to an old-timey dream: Think George Wilson’s garage in The Great Gatsby, where he pumped gas, fixed flashy rides for his wealthy patrons and even rested his head after a long day’s work.

Nowadays, we pump our own gas, wash our own windows, check our own oil or take the car to a separate mechanic when the infamous “check engine” light goes on.

I sound like an old fart, but I confess: I’m a 23-year-old, fresh-faced lad, and I’ve never experienced the full-service gas station.

Even so, I hail from Portland, Oregon – one of the last bastions of freedom where an attendant pumps your gas.

There’s no substitute like the warmth of a car for heavy rain, believe me, even more so during the heavy snow Colorado experiences each winter.

It’s a luxury, to be sure, but the Oregon legislature listed 17 reasons why folks should not pump their own gas, including a lack of proper training, job protection – and you guessed it – the perpetual rain, which makes surfaces slick and wet.

Colorado, like almost all of the states, forces you to do it all even while forking over cash for a service.

The result? You can experience entire days without speaking to a single person even while running errands. Hungry? Use the self-checkout lane at King Soopers. Car’s out of gas? Pump it yourself.

Gotta have the full-service treatment? Head to North Denver, where Regis 66 gas at 4890 Lowell Blvd may be the last full-service gas station in the country.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer

Check it out

If you’ve ever screamed “IT IS IN THE BAGGING AREA” at a self-checkout machine, you’re not alone. But it’s also not going to get any better anytime soon.

While shopping online and even ordering groceries has become increasingly popular, one recent study found that shoppers still mostly prefer shopping in-person. In 2017, one study by June20 found 65 percent of people still prefer cruising the aisles. Another in 2013 said 70 percent of people prefer in-person retail therapy.

The thing they hate, however, is the check-out process, according to a study by Synqera. Shoppers hate waiting. They hate the small talk with the cashier. They hate that at any given moment there are only ever two checkout lanes open, even though there are at least 15 lanes in every grocery store. 

It can be assumed it was this was the thinking that spawned the self-checkout. The small corral of stations that are cluttered with carts and people who have no idea how to ring up bananas and must wait for an attendant’s help have become a mainstay in grocery stores across the country.

Are they quicker? My peers enthusiastically answer yes. Are they more convenient? Again, they would nod in affirmation.

The internet disagrees. Google “I hate self checkouts” and you’re hit with Reddit groups and memes galore. Then there are the academic studies that have been dedicated to the theft that has increased as a result of self-checkout stands. It’s a black hole of research that would lead anyone to question why the heck we use these things.

David Humble, a grocery shopper from Florida, first received a U.S. patent for his self checkout machine in 1990. They’ve been taking over ever since — though it should be noted that Humble’s first self-checkout machine company failed, but eventually the machines landed under IBM. The BBC reports that there were 200,000 worldwide by 2013 and another 125,000 are expected to be in grocery stores by 2021.

The machines are even showing up in the mall at retail clothing stores like Urban Outfitters. Sigh. It’s okay to blame the millennials on this one, because there’s more.

Experts say that the self-checkout stands are just a stepping stone to a much different shopping experience.

They see the Amazon Go model as the future. In those stores — more like a fancy convenience store now — you walk in the store by scanning an app, which tracks your purchases as you shop. Whatever you put back is removed from your virtual cart. You never have to speak to a cashier, stand in line or wait to pay for your purchases.

A Bloomberg report estimates there could be about 3,000 Amazon Go stores across the country by 2021 and new data shows they out-earn existing convenience stores. Last week RBC Capital Markets analysts said Amazon Go stores bring in about 50 percent more revenue.

No such stores exist in the Denver metro area just yet. There are eight from Seattle to San Francisco and more in Chicago.

It could take much longer for the same type of technology to make it to actual grocery stores. So until then, put the item in the bagging area, please.

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer

Car2GOod to be true? Not in Denver

So you’re a poor reporter and you need groceries. You don your duct-tape patched jacket and walk out the door of your basement room in the 800-square-foot bungalow you share with four to six roommates.

You grab your digital keys and hop in your immaculately clean Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Wait, what’s up?

That’s right, [email protected] Car2Go, the one-way car sharing service that allows derelicts — some of whom frequently inhabit The Sentinel newsroom — to tool around in vehicles wildly out of their pay grade, now offers a local fleet of Mercedes GLA crossovers and CLA sedans.

For nominal fees, the Germany-based vehicle-sharing giant grants thin-walleted users in the Denver metro area carte blanche access to luxury whips — without ever having to speak to a Tobacco-drenched cabbie or motor-mouthed used-car salesman. Introverted xenophobes, rejoice.

Launched in the Denver area in June 2013, the company began replacing its blue-and-white Smart cars in summer 2017. Car2Go now boasts 330 vehicles in Denver, and thousands more in six other metroplexes across the country, according to the firm’s most recent reports.

Currently the schtick is as follows: users sign up for the service and download the app for a one-time $5 fee. Drivers, who are automatically insured, then pay 45 cents per minute of their journey.

The company offers packages for longer trips, ranging from $7 for 20 minutes to $219 for three days of access. The company also pays for gas and parking fees. While penalty fees for damage or infractions such as smoking in cars or transporting pets can quickly add up, the service is superb for moving bulky goods like groceries on short trips around town. A one-way drive to the bar and Uber ride home is also a helluva lot cheaper and convenient than a $15,000 DUI charge.

And while Car2Go may fill the Front Range atmosphere with more pollutants than a bike or light rail car, a 2016 study from UC Berkley found every Car2Go vehicle gets rid of about 11 cars on the road. Now that’s something for Interstate 225 hotheads to toast to.

Oh, and one more thing: while Aurora isn’t technically in the company’s “home area,” users can head out of the Denver-specific boundary for quick trips — as long as they’re less than 200 miles. So as long as you’re not making multiple trips to Arapahoe Park from far West Colfax, you should be just fine.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Changing counter culture

No more blank stares from preoccupied teens when you’re ordering your burgers.

To keep up with the changing times — and to help keep down overhead costs — McDonald’s rolled out self-service kiosks in 2015 where customers can place their own orders and bypass the traditional means of interacting with a cashier.

McDonald’s has introduced self-service kiosks at various locations to help make their production more efficient. AP Photo

Guests start by choosing their sandwich, then their choice of a side and a drink, and are then presented with a traditional debit/credit payment interface.

McDonald’s partnered with Zivelo, a kiosk-machine vendor based out Scottsdale, to help streamline the customer-ordering process.

The kiosks, which were installed in 2,500 McDonald’s restaurants nationwide, utilize touch-screen technology. The machines are designed to offer customers more control over customizing their food and reduce the potential for human error, like when the numbskull behind the counter rings you up for chicken nuggets instead of a Big Mac.

By incorporating self-service kiosks into their production model, McDonald’s realizes the opportunity to repurpose various resources that would have otherwise been tied up with the order-taking process. The fast food chain’s executives expect to transition more employees into customer and table service positions. Yes, table service — at a McDonald’s. The times — they really are changing.

Little Ceasars has also upped their game in the name of efficiency by introducing the Pizza Portal last year. Utilizing a smartphone app, guests can now place their pizza order online and customize their pizza to their specific liking.

The new portal system builds off the previously-launched Hot’n’Ready campaign, in which each store stocks up on several variations of ready-made pizzas and preserves them in a warmer. Customers can then walk up to each store and pull out an already-made pizza. 

As part of the chain’s new Reserve’n’Ready campaign, customers download the Little Ceasars app, place their order and pay for their pizza on their phone. Customers can then go to their neighborhood Little Ceasars, skip the line (and that fantastic customer service) and go directly to the Pizza Portal warmer, where they enter a 3-digit pin they received upon placing their order using the app.

Fellow pizza companies such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut may have taken notice of the new technology, but no plans have been announced by either company to install similar pizza portal systems.

Little Ceasars may just be ahead of the curve on this one.

— SASHA HELLER, Staff Writer

Felipe Zavala, right, and Mariah Bollig use a self-service kiosk at Arapahoe County Department of Motor Vehicles. Sentinel File Photo

No more ‘woe is me’ at local DMV

The next time you’re at the King Soopers at South Chambers Road and East Mississippi Avenue, save room in your shopping bag for the coveted envelope containing your car registration and stickers.

In early 2017, the Arapahoe County Department of Motor Vehicles launched several self-service kiosks visitors can use — for a nominal fee — to renew their license plates each year.

Those machines are part of what have helped former Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Matt Crane, who oversaw the implementation of the automated stations, reduce wait times at the DMV by about 75 percent during his tenure.

The self-service kiosks have now been placed at two King Soopers stores in Aurora, allowing citizens to update their registration from 5 a.m. to midnight — even when the DMV office is closed on holidays and weekends. The first store to be outfitted with one of the machines was at 25701 E. Smoky Hill Road, while another was recently added to the King Soopers at the intersection of Chambers and Mississippi. There’s another machine located within a local Triple A store, Crane said.

Going forward, Crane said more machines could be added to additional local stores, possibly offering services that would allow people to renew their licenses or pay their property taxes.

But how and when those additional services are added will depend on a timeline dictated by new Arapahoe County Clerk Joan Lopez, who voters chose to replace Crane in November. Lopez, who has worked in the clerk’s office for nearly two decades and was formally sworn in to her new role earlier this week, has said she plans to keep and, if possible, expand the kiosk program in the coming years.

In the meantime, Arapahoe County drivers will be able to pay $3.95 to get their new registration and license plate stickers in about 90 seconds after scanning their groceries — that’s compared to at least a half-hour wait to speak to a teller at the county office, according to local officials. New license plate stickers with a rotisserie chicken near self checkout? Count us in. (Just don’t tell anti-self checkout evangelical Kara Mason.)

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

No longer ‘workin’ at the car wash’

A lot has changed in the automotive industry since members of Rose Royce belted the sudsiest refrain of 1976.

Government bailouts. Cars that plug into electrical outlets. Misleading promises from George Jettson that the 21st century would bring flying cars and commutes to high school involving quasi-escape pods.

Despite a short-lived resurgence thanks to a 2004 cover by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott, “Workin’ at the car wash,” doesn’t have much relevance in 2019.

Coverall-sporting workers are a disappearing rarity at American car washes across the country, statistics indicate. A car cleaning, too, is an industry now almost entirely dependent on our microchipped overlords.

Only about 8 percent of American car washes were full service as of 2017, according to an industry report compiled by Focused Car Wash Solutions, a Parker-based carwash consulting firm. More than half of the car washes analyzed in the report were in-bay automatic operations, involving programmed hoses and dancing octopus tentacles, er, cleaning devices.

Even with the increasing prevalence of automated car washes, businesses designated “cleaners of vehicles and equipment” employed 6,500 people in Colorado as of May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About two thirds of those workers were employed in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan area.

And while many industry experts believe the general state of the car wash industry is strong, the reemergence of the slightly soapy car wash worker seems unlikely.

So as much as we’d like to see a reboot of the George Carlin and Richard Pryor flick, the follow-up would likely only feature a skeleton crew — not the smack-talkin’ gaggle that frequented Mr. B’s in the summer of 1976.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer