Everything was calm at the Shell gas station on East Harbor Boulevard in Ventura Friday morning, almost too calm . . . until the Advantage Wonder Cleaner salespeople arrived.
It was just after 10 a.m. when they pulled up. It had been four hours since the start of radio station KXBS' Earth Day car-pool promotion, in which any vehicle with four or more people on board that drove up to a full-service pump would get gas at a discounted 99 cents a gallon.
The only problem was that there were no car-poolers early in the morning. Then came the KXBS "bus," fully engaged in blasting music and trying to attract customers.
And then the Wonder Cleaner folks drove up.
There were about seven of them, piled into their spacious blue van, toting their $25.95 per quart miracle cleaner with the slogan, "You Furnish the Water, We'll Furnish the Cleaner."
"Car-pooling is great," said Ernest Scott, supervisor for Austin Diversified Products, the Illinois-based parent company of the Wonder Cleaner. "It's a great way to meet new friends. And less cars means less pollution and less accidents. Am I right? And it means less highway shootings."
Scott's was actually the second Wonder Cleaner van to stop by in the space of about half an hour. The local office is around the corner from the gas station, so salespeople are regular customers. The driver of the first van, however, was unaware of the promotion and used a self-serve pump.
But for most of the morning, the focus of station employees was on setting up a display for this weekend's oil and filter special, which offers a $10 discount. In fact, a 10-foot-tall Truck Guard Motor Oil container was inflated and placed at the front of the station after the KXBS bus drove off.
"It kind of goes along with Earth Day. We want people to change their oil here and not dump the stuff in their own yard," said Tom Atlas, the gas station's manager. "The homeowner is the biggest polluter."
Atlas was somewhat frustrated at the low car-pooler turnout.
"California isn't conducive to it. People need to have their cars," he said. "I don't have the answers. It may take another oil shortage. There was so much said about the last shortage being contrived. No one knew what really happened. The last shortage created smaller cars, maybe the next shortage will lead to car pools."
But even some of the non-car-poolers who stopped at the station had opinions on how to improve the environment.
"I should go around the corner and pick up a few hitchhikers," said John Ching, the driver of a psychedelically painted Chevette.
"I can't think of anything to do for Earth Day. I just complain about things. We've got to stop the population from increasing. Car-pooling, fluorocarbons are all great, but if the population increases, we'll just do what we can do."
About 20 minutes after the Wonder Cleaner people drove off, a red compact slowly made its way to the full-service unleaded tank. A mother and her two young children were in the compact. Three people. Not enough for the car-pool discount. But at this point things were looking kind of desperate, so an exception was made.
"I have a business delivering neon, so I don't car-pool," Kathy Matzenger said. "But I think car-pooling is wonderful. I try to get my kids in car-pools whenever I can. William is in kindergarten, and nobody wanted him, but Leanne is in third grade and she's in a car-pool."
* EARTH DAY HAPPENINGS: The county prepares for a host of activities today and Sunday. B2