Vintage Shell Gas Station

Capitalism and the Essence of Place

Vintage Shell Gas StationI’ve always been fascinated by the concept of place, especially how physical place relates to creativity and production through psychological space. (You can read my first post, back in 2004, on this topic: here.) A few months ago I read an incredibly fascinating series of articles on the essence of place and how it is changing, rapidly. But, I digress…

Last Friday we had to stop to fill up Monica with gas. The closest gas station (that I don’t boycott) was a Shell station. Pulling up, I fondly recalled the Shell station near my home in Decatur, whose Asian owner always played the great symphonic works of our culture over the station’s exterior and interior sound system. I would often chat with him briefly about the work du jour. (Previous posts at can be found here and here.)

But the gas Shell station near the temporary apartment in which I am staying (for one final week!!) was different. It disgusted me. It has been infected with the ugly underbelly of capitalism, which I believe tends to hollow out the soul of place.

At each pump, situated directly at the customer’s eye level, was a 15″ flat screen monitor rudely blaring advertisements into the faces of their captive customers while the outside audio system blasted the sound at inescapable volume levels.


Save for the Decatur Shell station, a gas station has no soul anyway. But the horrid Shell station near the Northgate Mall in San Rafael, CA, infected with capitalism, actually sucks the soul out of its customers as they pump gas. It is negative space. Shame on you, station owner!

I’ll never go back.