I abhor the act of filling my car with fuel.
No matter the season, when I go for a fill-up, it is pouring the rain or unreasonably windy or $20 a gallon or apocalyptically busy. Also, I almost ALWAYS only have cash. Right. You know..One can’t just pump their gas anymore and then pay in the little store. Nope. You have to PRE-PAY. So, now I am forced to play a little guessing game.
“Let’s see, the last time I filled up, I had 3 gas bars remaining and it was $22.76.Today I have (I lean and squint) one, two, three, four? or is that 5?” I begin again. “Only four” I declare out loud to no one.
So, the next step is to search my memory for the approximate price that gasoline was the last time I was forced to do this disagreeable task. Long passed are the days when gas would waver only a couple of pennies over a year. Now, gas might have been $1.29 last week and $2.39 this week. Math was never a strong subject for me. Then, I have to try and recall whether I got plus or premium last and if I had any rewards points. “Oh, it’s no use! I’ll just put uummm THIRTY in.” There. At least a decision has been made. I grab my twenty and a crumpled ten and travel out into the inclement weather and into the over-lit “convenience” store.
The “Convenience” Store
I have this experience nearly every time I walk into a gas station. I feel like I’ve just accidentally walked onto a movie set. The people inside are more character-like than anyone else in any other place on the planet. Everything seems to move in slow motion. The room is filled with items that look so strange next to one another but in such quantity that they “go”. Hotdogs bubble on a little, squeaky Ferris wheel and home-made hot pockets from an unknown origin sit untouched in a little glass case. The aisles are configured in a maze of odd angles, end caps with no beginnings and towers of neon-colored bottles. I walk around waiting for the line to disappear. Motor oil and chewing gum, Tylenol and diapers, yesterday’s paper, candy bars, flashlights and stuffed pretzels, shrink-wrapped meat sticks and a beverage labeled “Jolt”..and then, the floor to ceiling wall of blue and silver beer. This is a Mecca of sorts to the hard-working labor force of the Mid Ohio Valley I decide with an affirmative nod.
I glance at this newly revealed side of the octagonal customer service island. Only one fella in line over here, score! This excited moment turned to unparalleled dread as he announced that he almost forgot about the lotto tickets. This lone customer on my side looked to be in his late 70’s, happily disheveled, and leaving in his wake the scent of a strong cheese and a few blue and silvers.
Leaning hard on one forearm, he points with a brown, crooked finger. “That one there! with the cherries!” The clerk points to one set of tickets on a wheel. “Nope, nope..that one there.” These? “Naww, them right there,” Sweetheart. “Oh, theeeese. I think them’s apples” she says with a wink. “How many ya need, Hun?” He first thinks 8 will be good and then after a second, he decides 10 is a better number. “Make sure you pick me out a winner!” he grins. She slaps them down on the counter and slides them across to him. “Ya’ll set?” she smiled. “Yep, that’ll do, Sugar” “$21.87” she announced brightly. He nodded and dug about in his weathered wallet for the required number of bills and pulled out a hand full of change and counted out the exact amount one coin at a time. They exchange parting pleasantries and he adjusted his cap, vanishing through the door, chiming the small brass bells suspended from the top.
It’s my turn! I was so excited, I nearly forgot to hand her my money after announcing curtly that I needed thirty dollars of premium fuel on pump seven. I spun around.”Woops sorry, you’d probably like me to pay you for that” I laughed. She didn’t.
Jogging now, I’m in hyper-speed. All.Most.Done. Unlock the door, pop open gas door, lift the handle, push the button, plunge it in. It’s like a tiny ballet..Click click Come.On. click click GOOOO…I’m cold! Click Floooww. Okay, now let’s set the little metal handle squeezer keeper thing. No. NOOOOOOOO!! I got a broken one! I have to stay here!!! This is an injustice. Who maintains these things?? I’ll write someone a nasty letter. Who does HE think he’s looking at? OMG, I have to pee. This car is filthy. How did I let it get this bad? Stop tensing up. It will feel colder if you tense up. That’s a lie. How many other lies do I just believe with no real scientific proof? I look at the tiny digital read. Two stink bugs that innocently crawled up to the numbers to get warm, found themselves trapped and their tiny, crispy bodies on a literal display at pump seven for all to mock. $28.16..so close. Now, here comes the real fury. When you pre-pay AND your little metal thingy is broken, you might notice that when you’ve nearly hit the finish line, the whole thing s t a r t s t o s l o w d o w n. Please God, kill me now. But then, the unthinkable happens. It stops short. That’s right. Your math was OFF by 88 cents. Click click, pray. Click click, come ON! Just. a. little. more.
I look at the little florescent prison. I can’t go back in there. I try to reason it away. “It’s only 88 cents. I can’t get anything for that.” But then you think, “You stupid, selfish witch. This is such a first world problem. How can you bitch about being broke all the time and just throw money away?”
Fine. I’ll go.
Defeated, I lumber back in as if walking in time to the Death March.
I allow the swirl of strange to engulf me as I wait in the noxious line of precarious humans. “The silver lining, I think to myself, is that my future self will be so pleased with me.”
And it’s true, she was. Climbing into my car after a long day at the studio that night, I looked at the full arch of gas bars and smiled. “Well done, past self. A job very well done.”