I was in Columbia the other day, in one of those village centers that's near one of those hellish traffic circles they like out there, when I pulled into a Sunoco station.
Two things struck me immediately.
One was the price of a gallon of unleaded, which was higher there than in most places, probably because you burn a lot of gas driving around looking for the stupid village centers.
But the other thing was this: On top of each pump was a TV.
Don't ask me if it was a plasma or LCD or whatever, because I'm not up on that stuff and don't much care about it, either.
But the TV on my pump was showing the AccuWeather five-day forecast.
Normally, I don't watch the weather unless it features the great Tom Tasselmyer, WBAL's crack chief meteorologist, the Dostoevsky of the Doppler radar map.
But when you're standing at a gas pump with nothing else to do, you'd watch someone clean out a bird cage if it was on the TV.
After the weather, the TV showed a commercial for Leader One Financial, and with the price of gas these days, I felt like writing down the 800 number and calling about a personal loan, never mind a mortgage.
But the whole thing made me realize there is almost no place you can go to get away from TV anymore.
Every house has three or four TVs, and when you go out, there are TVs in bars and restaurants, in the checkout lines in supermarkets and sporting goods stores, in dentist offices and animal hospitals.
There are TVs in more and more restrooms, too, because apparently people need to be entertained even when they're tending to the most basic bodily functions.
I couldn't even get away from a TV when I took my car to the dealership recently for a minor repair.
It was like being in the best home-theater setting you could imagine. In the waiting room, there were four huge flat-screen TVs and a gourmet coffee machine, fruit and cookies, too.
People don't want to leave this place, and I don't blame them.
I was there for about an hour, drinking coffee and scarfing down chocolate-chip cookies, and when the woman came to tell me my car was done, I said: "Hey, give me a minute will you? The Discovery Channel has a great show on the CV22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. You know, the military aircraft that can hover like a helicopter and fly like a jet?"
I almost told her to take the car back and have them rotate the tires, so I could see if the guy test-flying the CV22 Osprey was going to crash into the Indian Ocean, or wherever they were.
That just shows you the hold TV has on us.
There was an article in the newspaper the other day that said reading was in decline, and that there were only about 16 young people in the entire country who still read for pleasure.
No wonder. Why would any young person bother picking up a magazine in, say, the waiting room of a car dealership, when you could sit there slack-jawed staring at a TV screen as a CV22 Osprey takes out a tank in the middle of the desert?
As for the TVs at the gas station, I read on an industry Web site that what Sunoco is trotting out, in select markets, is something called Gas Station TV.
The average motorist, it said, takes 4 1/2 minutes to pump gas into his or her car. And those motorists have "nothing to do" while they pump, the site pointed out.
Apparently, thinking or day-dreaming or checking out the person at the next pump is too boring.
So why not trot out some TVs and give these poor mopes something to do?
Anyway, when I finished pumping, I hung around for a minute or two to see if something good was coming on, maybe another show about the CV22 Osprey, because you can't get enough of that stuff.
But they went back to showing the AccuWeather five-day forecast, which was a snooze, so I left.
And promptly got lost in another one of those Columbia circles.
Forget TVs - stations should put GPS devices on top of the pumps out there.