Big Oil, as everyone my age knows, bought the patent for a carburetor that got 200 miles per gallon. The man who invented the carburetor became a millionaire but was warned he would be killed if he ever talked about his invention.

Big Oil did the same with spark plugs and other inventions that threatened to improve gas mileage, according to the stories I often heard at the filling station where I worked part time in high school.Despite all the paranoia about Big Oil, a dollar's worth of gas was enough to take your date to the drive-in movie, cruise Main Street and the drive-in burger joint a few times and later meet the guys at the pool hall to discuss the International Monetary Fund.

That was back before politicians figured out how much tax money they could get by squeezing Ethyl until she screamed. Remember Ethyl? It knocked out the knocks and improved engine performance. Unfortunately, it killed eagles and made people stupid. High-rollers used to pull up and say, "Fill 'er up with Ethyl, kid."

No doubt about it, America's roads have improved since gasoline was 25-cents a gallon. Those taxes dedicated to building and maintaining good roads turned out to be a good idea.

Since I was old enough to drive a car or ride a motorcycle, every year I've traveled thousands of miles burning up gasoline and wearing out America's roads. I enjoy few things better than firing up an internal-combustion energy-conversion device and hitting the road.

All things considered, Big Oil has been good to me, even if it did kill that 200-miles-per-gallon carburetor.

While I miss the family-run, full-service filling stations that Big Oil is responsible for shutting down, the fact is that we don't need full-service stations today the way we did when I worked at one.

Back then, cars got flats and broke down with regularity. They needed all sorts of hoses, belts and tubes to keep them going. They also needed more tuneups and adjustments than do today's cars. While cars in the days before self-service stations broke down a lot, they also were simple to fix.

Speaking as a man who loves to travel America's roads, it's my opinion that the businesses that replaced the old mom-and-pop full-service stations are a much better deal.

You have to pump your own gas, sure. But if you are in a hurry, modern operations allow you to swipe your credit card through a slot, pump the gas, grab a receipt and take it on down the road.

If you need a break, many of today's filling stations also sell cold drinks, hot sandwiches and all the other items stocked in convenience stores.

More and more modern stations have fast-food restaurants such as a McDonald's or a Burger King attached. This sort of setup is what makes America great.

Some of today's filling stations sell cappuccino, yogurt, books on tape, T-shirts and barbecued beef sandwiches.

I miss the really good mom-and-pop full-service stations, but you must recall that many of those old stations were filthy little dumps.

Admit it, Big Oil has been good to us. This more than makes up for killing the 200-mile-per-gallon carburetor.