I Want My Five Dollars!


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.

Jill signature

9 thoughts on “I Want My Five Dollars!

  1. Way to go! The guy is hot stuff trying to scam you out of $5. Some people try to take advantage when they see you are occupied with kids or you are in a loud, busy place. Years ago, a bartender in Hawaii tried to short change me. I too was able to get my money back. At first I thought did I make the mistake, but then I realized he was trying to pull a fast one. Like you, I had to stand up for myself to get my money back.

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