Why Can’t You Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey?

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New Jersey is a state that distinguishes itself in so many ways. One example of New Jersey's unique charm may come as a surprise to visiting motorists, however, when they discover that it's illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State.

Until quite recently, New Jersey wasn't the only state that didn't allow motorists to pump their own gas. For years, Oregon drivers had to sit in their cars as well, waiting for an attendant to fill ‘er up. However, effective January 1, 2016, Oregonians in rural counties are allowed to dispense their own gasoline at night. The measure was designed to keep motorists from getting stranded in remote areas after gas station staff had gone home for the night—a very real problem in the state’s sprawling terrain.

But let’s get back to New Jersey, a state that has made it illegal for people to pump their own gas. Why is this the case?

Enacted in 1949, the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations banned drivers from pumping their own gas in New Jersey, and the rules are still in effect. Like so many laws, the statute claims the ban is for drivers’ own good:

Because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, it is in the public interest that gasoline station operators have the control needed over that activity to ensure compliance with appropriate safety procedures, including turning off vehicle engines and refraining from smoking while fuel is dispensed.

But the government version may not be the whole story. The passage of the Act was motivated by something a little less pure than safety: money. In the 1940s, when self-service was unheard of in most of the country, a gas station owner named Irving Reingold offered lower prices to customers willing to pump their own gas. The gimmick was wildly popular and soon became a threat to competing gas stations. According to Bergen County's The Record, "rival station owners reacted by persuading state lawmakers to outlaw self-serve," and the state legislature made Reingold's tactics illegal.

As more and more states around the country began to offer self-serve gas stations in the 1970s and '80s, New Jersey stayed put. Nowadays, some politicians will even refer to the matter as a source of state identity and pride. In a 2011 radio interview, Governor Chris Christie said, "People in New Jersey love the idea that they’ve got somebody to pump their gas," adding, "I don’t see that changing."

In 2015, New Jersey General Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon introduced a bill that would lift the ban. “I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire," O'Scanlon said in a press statement.

O'Scanlon made one semi-concession to the old law, recommending that stations hang signs on gas pumps reminding people to turn off their engines. The recommended text seemed to mirror the assemblyman’s exasperation: “Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!!”

Despite this helpful suggestion, O’Scanlon’s bill was not to be, as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney blocked the vote. "I will oppose any attempt to rescind the law that has effectively served the best interests of the state's motorists for decades," Sweeney said in a press statement. "As long as I am Senate President, the ban on self-serve will stay in place."

"We've been doing it the right way in New Jersey,” Sweeney concluded. “We should not change."

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What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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