“Fill me up with regular,” I told the guy working the pump. Normally I never get full-serve gas. I mean, I know how to work the pump. It’s ridiculous to make someone else get out there and do it for you. But there was a line behind pump three, and the positioning of my gas cap … yeah, I guess I could have made it work. It would have been an awkward three-point parallel park to get over to the opposite side. Or I could have just waited like five minutes.
But it was freezing out, and it happened so fast, my brain’s way of justifying anything. There was a split decision, for a second I didn’t feel bad about paying those five extra cents a gallon, I pulled up at the full-serve pump and the attendant came around to take my credit card.
And again, it’s not really like full, full-serve. I’d imagine full service to be me not having to turn the car off during refueling. That’s got to be a bullshit rule, turn your ignition off while the pump’s running. What’s going to happen, an explosion? I doubt it. You’d hear about a gas station explosion, even if it only happened once in a while. You hear about every time a plane crashes, and that’s not a very common thing. So a gas station explosion, that would be big news.
Besides I’m pretty sure I’ve left the car running before. One time it was really cold out and I knew that if you used pump eight, the handle still had that little lock, like you could set it to pump and then go back inside the car and wait. It was great, almost like self-full-service. And yeah, I do remember it now, I left the car running, the heat on, I was listening to the radio. I must have lost track of time though, because all of the sudden the gas station guy was banging on my window, he was screaming, I couldn’t tell about what exactly, but I got out of the car and there was gas spilling everywhere, I guess the automatic shut-off wasn’t working for whatever reason, and there was this huge puddle underneath.
That was a pretty expensive mistake, something like a hundred dollars worth of gas, mostly spilled. But still, you fill up the tank and you don’t spill anything, it’s not cheap. “Sixty-seven twenty-three,” the guy handed me back my credit card and my receipt. Was it the full-service? It couldn’t have amounted to that much bigger an expense.
“There’s got to be a better way,” I looked up at the attendant. I don’t even know why I said it. I’m driving a car, I just had this guy pump my gas for me, what’s he interested in my complaints? Oh boo-hoo, you had to pay money for gas, you got sit there in your car and watch me pump it for you. And it’s freezing out here. And are you going to give me a tip? And I don’t even know, do you tip gas station guys? Sure, he’d definitely accept it, but is that a thing?
He was surprisingly sympathetic. He looked me in the eye and said, “There is a better way. You interested?”
“Of course I’m interested,” I said, and he told me to follow him inside the little gas station attendant’s booth.
“A gas station co-op?” I didn’t really understand it. I mean, I understand what a co-op is, you know, for food, for groceries. They have one a little further downtown, where people have to put in a little time at the grocery store, shelving boxes, running the register. I’ve never been, but I heard it’s something about organic produce, a lot of raw stuff … to be perfectly honest, I don’t get the appeal. But people love it.
“So you work the pump for like two hours a week, and then you get fifteen cents off of every gallon as long as you stay in good standing with the co-op.” He looked at me, he definitely had that look like, I got him, I’m totally getting this guy to sign up for the co-op. They must have had some referral program, because, even though this guy clearly wasn’t a natural salesman, I could still see that glint in his eye, the promise of welcoming someone else into the fold.
“I don’t know,” I was getting a little cold in the booth, “I’ll think about it.” Which definitely meant no, and he could see it too, because his face got visibly frustrated. I couldn’t tell if, you know, he might make one more play to get me to stay. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then his head turned abruptly and he ran out of the booth.
Apparently he must have forgotten to take the pump out of my car. And also apparently, I must have forgotten to shift the car into park. Because it started rolling, very, very slowly, backward. He fiddled with the driver’s side door, to get to the brakes, but it was locked, and that pump started stretching, a little bit more, I wasn’t reacting as fast as he was, and then it snapped, gas everywhere, they had to shut off the master pump to stop it from pouring out.
“What the hell man?” he said to me, and all I could see in my head was some owner coming over to the station, screaming at me, all of that lost gas, plus all of the lost sales from having to shut the place down for the rest of the day.
“What the hell to you?” I said in defense, “You were the one who left the pump in the car. You told me to follow you inside. That’s on you, man.”
And I could tell that he was angry, he was frustrated, but that same whatever it was that prevented him from really selling me on the co-op, it was also hindering him from really articulating any more of a fight. He just stood there, staring at me, he looked increasingly more pissed, I worried that he might do something desperate.
I said, “Hey man, you know what? I’m thinking about that co-op. Here’s my number. Once you get this whole pump business fixed, just give me a ring, I’m in.”
And yeah, that worked a little bit. His face didn’t get any more relaxed, but it stopped twisting into as big of a grimace. He didn’t offer any resistance as I took the pump handle out of my car, screwed on the cap and drove away. I could see him in my rearview mirror, holding that piece of paper on which I wrote my number.
But it wasn’t my number. I wrote down the number for the deli across town. Because fuck that, I’m not working for some gas co-op. That just sounds crazy. No thanks, I’ll pay the fifteen extra cents a gallon. Of course I can’t go back to that gas station for a while. And I’m never doing full-service again. I’m telling you, that’s bad news, all right? You just get out, or you wait for a pump, and you do it yourself. Unless you’re in New Jersey, where self-service is mandated by law. But fuck that too, get out of Jersey fast, you never know when Chris Christie is going to shut down another bridge and make it a real headache for you to get back to New York.