I got in the car the other day, and my gas gauge was almost on empty. Typically, I refill with a quarter of a tank left, but I must have been preoccupied this time. I checked the range to see that I had 44 miles of gas left, which was plenty to make it to my favorite gas station.
Yes, I have a favorite gas station. It breaks down to this. When it used to cost me $20 to fill up my car, I’d go anywhere and accept any kind of interaction with the attendant. I had zero expectations of kindness or pleasantries as I made my purchase. Now that I am spending between 50 and 75 dollars to fill up my tank, I like a little customer service. So, my favorite gas station is the one where the nice man knows I have young children. He’s very kind and will ask about them, or wave to them. This makes it much easier when I want to pop out of the car, find a toy, beverage or snack that was “dropped” or thrown and return it to the hands of one of my children.
Unfortunately, my favorite guy was not at work. As I drove into the station, I was asked to back up to a spot in front of a car that was attached to the pumps already. Maybe it’s me, but I usually wait in line for the next pump. It seems like an awful lot of maneuvering to save a few minutes and ultimately block the person behind you who then has to back up and find his way around you. I am definitely not a taskmaster, but I try to avoid getting gas when I’ve got to approach it like a Nascar pit stop. It just seems like too much of a hassle. But, this time, I did what I was told.
When I was backing up, the attendant stood awkwardly in the line of my wheel and told me to stop way before was close enough to see the pumps. I handed the man my credit card and he was off. I assumed he was new at the job, because he kept fiddling with the pump handle at my tank.
After a few minutes of this scene, the man was at my window, telling me he had made a mistake. He told me that he had accidentally pressed cash for the first 5 dollars of gas. He said I would need to pay him 5 dollars in cash. I was confused, it was hot, and cars were lining up behind me, so I gave him the 5 dollars, took my card and receipt and drove off.
As I left the station, I had this unsettling feeling that something was just not right. At my next stop, I did what my 8th grade teacher Mr. Cornell would have wanted me to do. I did MATH! And according to my calculations—okay, the calculations of my iPhone—the man was claiming he pumped 20.98 gallons of gas into my 21 gallon tank.
So, if I am a believer of Mr. Gas Station Dude, I was driving around on .02 gallons of gas. And my minivan gauges were telling me that from that .02 of a gallon, I was going to get another 40 miles. No way! (yes, I drive a minivan, and yes, that is a story for another day)
I debated the value of the 5 dollars, redid the math, Googled the size of my gas tank twice, and at some point arrived at the conclusion that I could not let this go. It was only 5 dollars, but in my head, it was my five dollars and I wanted the guy to look me in the eyes and tell me it wasn’t so.
My adrenaline increased as I drove toward the gas station. My mind was swirling with a bunch of different thoughts, about being scammed, possibly being yelled at, and not the least of which was that I hoped I was not wrong. When I arrived at the gas station, I parked my car and made a beeline toward the attendant.
“I think I know what you did,” I said to the man. “I want my five dollars, or a receipt for the gas you say you sold me.” I was firm, on the outside. The man would not make eye contact with me. He reached into his pocket and peeled a 5 dollar bill from a wad of singles and assorted bills.
“Here,” he said. “If you don’t believe me, take it.” And he handed me a five dollar bill. No discussion.
I took the money and headed back to my car with about a ten second feeling of satisfaction that I had righted some wrong that was done to me. I put the 5 dollar bill on the passenger seat beside me where it sat until I got home.
Later, the five dollar bill sat on my night stand, like a tainted symbol of things yucky about the world. The next day, I went grocery shopping. And like every time before, the woman scanning my groceries asked if I would like to make a donation to fight hunger. I smiled, said “yes,” and I handed her the five dollar bill.