For most people, a trip to the gas station is nothing extraordinary. Typically, I drive to the nearest or cheapest station, pull in to a pump that is on the appropriate side of the car, pop open the gas tank, turn up the radio and chill for a few minutes.

So when I happened to stop with a friend at one of the gas stations on Post Road a couple weeks ago, I did what I normally do. Needless to say, I was more than a little surprised when nothing happened.

“Umm, what are you doing” my friend asked.

Obviously, I was listening to some music, getting ready to chill for a few minutes, and waiting for the gas station attendant to ask what type of gas I wanted and whether I wanted to pay with cash or credit.


For those of us hailing from New Jersey and Oregon, the rest of the country is nothing more than one big string of frightening, attendant-less gas stations. It’s not that we’re lazy, although you can’t complain when your gas is cheaper than in states north of you and you don’t have to do anything but sit there to get it. We just don’t know how to do it.

I like to blame my personal deficiency not only on locale, but also on my family. My grandmother lived in South Carolina for some time about twenty years ago after having been a New Jersey resident. When she went to a gas station, she’d simply wait for a kind gentleman to pull in to fill his own tank and ask if he wouldn’t mind filling hers as well.

My mother, on the other hand, grew up in New Jersey and upon moving to South Carolina for a few years, managed just fine. She didn’t understand what I was complaining about when I related my recent experience to her. Clearly, the gas-pumping gene skipped me.

After several minutes of begging my friend to get out of the car with me so I wouldn’t have to look foolish on my own, I finally resigned, friend in tow, to explore this notion of self-serve.

I was a little hesitant. Who wants to risk getting that gross gas smell on their hands? I noticed a box of plastic gloves intended to keep one’s hands clean, but as luck would have it, the box was empty.

As I examined the various types of gas and ways to pay, a nearby sign caught my eye. “Do not top off.” What the heck does that mean? Being the grammatically correct English major that I am, I decided that they must have left out a word. The sign should read, “Do not leave top off,” with the “top” being the lid to the gas tank, of course.

I have to admit that I finally chickened out and left my friend to do the dirty work. I didn’t even make it so far as to pick up the pump. Since then, I’ve taken very few solo car trips in fear that I’ll run out of gas and be forced, once and for all, to figure out this whole process for myself.

In the meantime, I’ve got some thinking to do. If at some point I end up living permanently outside my safety net of full-service stations, I’ll have to restructure my entire budget.

I’m thinking of investing in a hybrid car.

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