After dropping off her daughter at school, Asia Battle noticed an unusual invitation as she drove past a Hollywood gas station: “Leap back to 1985 prices!”
The gas price: 91 cents a gallon.
Instead of heading home, she, along with dozens of others, waited in a line that snaked around the block.
The mock gas station, which took over the Mobil at 6301 Santa Monica Blvd. on Thursday, was a part of a publicity stunt put on by NBCUniversal for its reboot of “Quantum Leap.” The show is about a physicist who jumps through time, inhabiting the bodies of different people and changing history.
Although some people were drawn to the event as genuine fans of the show or were intrigued by the retro 1980s aesthetic, the promotion largely drew people who are struggling amid high inflation as many low-wage workers who commute are pouring huge chunks of their paychecks into their gas tanks.
“We need it,” said Battle, who, between driving her daughter around and doing Uber Eats deliveries, drives often. “Especially here in L.A.”
California‘s average gas price of about $5.40 a gallon outpaces the country. Los Angeles’ average gas price hit a Labor Day weekend record high of $5.25. And at the Mobil in Hollywood on a normal day in 2022, gas sells for around $6 a gallon.
PR stunt or not, the station pumps real gas. And the offer appeared to be even more generous than actual time-traveling would allow.
The average gas price in 1985 was actually $1.12, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“I was thinking back to when I first started driving, and I’m like, ‘This is exactly how much it cost,’” said Cindy Yoo of East Hollywood, who started driving in the 1990s as a 16-year-old.
She waited in line inside her minivan, which costs nearly $100 to fill up. After seeing the promo on Instagram, she hustled over after dropping off her kids at school and working out.
“I’m thinking about how absurd prices are now — every bit helps,” she said.
There’s precedent for advertising promotions that involve gas sold at reduced prices.
Back in 2004, reggaeton legend Daddy Yankee showed up at a Montebello gas station to promote his latest single, “Gasolina,” according to the Spotify podcast “Loud: The History of Reggaeton.” The Puerto Rican recording artist drew so many fans he couldn’t get out of his limo.
In Comedy Central’s docu-reality comedy show “Nathan for You,” host Nathan Fielder teamed up with a small, struggling L.A. gas station to offer gas rebates for a final cost of $1.75 a gallon. The catch was that to get the gas rebate, the drivers had to hike with Fielder into the Angeles National Forest and camp overnight.
“It was not as organized as this,” said Hilaree Caldwell of West Hollywood, who grew up watching “Quantum Leap” but also attended the 2021 ABC promo. At that event, she said, “traffic was crazy.”
Margaret Walker, senior vice president of NBC’s brand strategy for TV and streaming, declined to say whether previous gas-related PR stunts influenced this one, but she acknowledged the current high demand for fuel.
“Gas prices are a hot topic right now, so giving people the opportunity to fill their tanks up for a low price while engaging them in a fun, immersive setting was a great way to drive awareness for the premiere,” Walker said.
To get the cheap gas, people were sent six blocks north of the Mobil to a parking lot on Vine Street, in the shadow of the Capitol Records tower. The mock gas station opened at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to remain open until 6 p.m. or supplies ran out.
More than 1,000 vehicles filled up during the promotion, Walker said.
Cars snaked around the block and, once they entered the gas station, drove through a tunnel with a flashing light display and loud whooshing sounds, simulating time travel to the 1980s, where the reboot’s star travels in its pilot episode.
While drivers waited at the Vine Street lot, a trailer for the show looped on a large TV screen. A DJ spun classics from 1985, such as Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” and “Your Love” by the Outfields. B-boys in jumpsuits anachronistically popped and locked to MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” which wasn’t released until 1990.
“It’s kind of like a flashback to when I was younger,” said Victor Wong, a medical worker who drove from the San Gabriel Valley and was attracted by the idea of an event promoting a retro aesthetic.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, also was drawn by the fancy displays but found the most relief from the affordable gas price. She drives often, taking her kids to and from school and extracurricular activities.
“They should do it more often — that would be helpful,” Rodriguez said. “Once a month at least.”
When David Washington saw the 91-cent prices at the Mobil station, he booked it to the Vine Street lot.
“It was ghetto in my car, I got like real excited,” Washington said.
He lives across the street from the Mobil station and drives often, to work in Beverly Hills and back to Hollywood for school.
“It feels too good to be true,” Washington said with a smile after an attendant filled up his car’s tank for $9, surrounded by ’80s-themed images of arcades, boomboxes and a Nintendo Entertainment System. “But it’s here.”
Customers also were able to buy movie tickets at the lot for 1985 prices of $3.55. And yes, those are real too, and can be redeemed at participating theaters, in a partnership with Fandango.
The new show airs on NBC at 10 p.m. Monday and streams on Peacock the following day.