Friday, March 25, 2011

Gas Stations

Yesterday morning I found to my dismay that the gas tank to the car I share with my mother was nearly empty. I could barely squeeze by making it to and from school for the day, let alone adding the distance it took to get to work as well as going to school the following morning. Usually, when the tank is almost empty, I try and persuade the vehicle to last long enough that my mother will be forced to tote it to the nearest station, instead of me, like any good daughter would do.

Fear gripped at my heart as I realized in horror that due to our conflicting work schedules, I was the only one who would be using the car for the rest of the week. I would have to rise and face this challenge alone.

At this point, I'm sure you're wondering why, exactly, I seem to have some strange aversion to gas stations. It's a simple and undeniable fact that gas stations are plotting to kill me...or at least deliver a staggering blow to my self-sustainability. Naturally, being a crafty sort of system, they only strike when I'm alone and at my most vulnerable.

Because of my careful observation of the fuel meter, I had only attempted to pump gas into our car, alone, twice before.

Both ended in disaster.

The first time I attempted this was only the second time I had ever even touched a gas pump with my bare hands. It didn't help my anxiety that I had been told that gas tanks can explode if a cellphone goes off near one. Nonetheless, I didn't want to get stranded on the side of the freeway, so taking a deep breath I assured myself that it would be quick and easy; just like my father had showed me, and pulled into the first open station I found and parked.

...comically far away from the pump.

As soon as I got out of the car and realized the actual length of the gap I had left, I could feel my face heat with embarrassment. However, as I stood there, debating whether or not the pump would reach so far and if I should try to reposition the car, I noticed the man at the pump next to me.

There was something so...disdainful about the knowing look on his face. Something that shouted "I was never so pathetic the first time I went to a gas station." I quickly averted my gaze, but decided immediately I would make due with my mistake, and furthermore act as if the space didn't phase me at all!

Not having access, at this point, to any medium of exchange other than straight-up cash, I had to rely on darting away from the protective isolation of my automobile to pay for the fuel in person. So, clutching into my wallet and car keys with pride, I strutted to the cashier of the station with my head held high in a poor display of false dignity. This lasted at least until I was out of the man's sight before I glued my eyes to the floor and mumbled out the number of the pump I had selected, sliding a $20 to the girl behind the counter.

Alright. As I shuffled back to the car, I inwardly cheered myself on for getting so far. The battle was halfway over! Soon I would be cruising on my way back home and all would be right with the world.

Keeping my eyes ahead of me and away from the other snarky patron, I proceeded to stare down my respective machine like a cowboy dueling in an old western film. Grab the nozzle, select the grade, and fill 'er up. Simple! And yet, I second guessed myself, as I am often wont to do, wondering if I was mixing up the order of the process and if clicking an incorrect button at an incorrect moment would cause the entire facility to explode. Gas stations had self-destruct buttons, right?

Feeling eyes boring into my skull, I realized gloomily that the cocky son of a nutcracker to my right must have noticed my extreme hesitation and decided to have a chuckle in watching me flounder. In a sudden, uncharacteristic burst of decisiveness I mentally shouted 'screw it!', snatched the nozzle, and punched the regular grade. Take that, Mr. Nosy! I knew what I was doing!

Smiling triumphantly, I turned to bring the nozzle over to my car (it did reach, if barely), unable to help but meet the gaze of the smug man for a brief second, as if to mock him with my eyes! He thought I was going to do something silly! He thought I was going to make a fool of myself in my inexperience! Well, he was wrong, dead wrong. I joyously savored my victory.

Savored it, that is, until I accidentally sprayed gas along the side of the car.

-10 exp.

The second time I attempted to get gas by myself I was determined to park closer to the pump this time and spare me any needless embarrassment. To my endless disdain I found that this time I had committed the opposite extreme. That is, I parked so close to the machine it's surprising I didn't run headlong into it.

The routine went in a similar fashion as the last time, only instead of getting ahead of myself and acting too confident I kept my eyes peeled myopically in front of me, trying to wrestle the nozzle out of its holster and turn it around in the painfully small amount of space I had allowed myself. Again, someone was staring.

Oh, and I parked so close as to create a (small!) scratch along the side of the car when I exited the station.

After these back-to-back encounters with this entity that clearly had malicious intent toward me and my well being, I was dreading what would be in store for me this time. And oh, I knew there would be something.

Nervously, I pulled into a gas station for the third time. To my relief, the distance between my car and the pump was much more reasonable this time. So far so good. Even better, I had gotten my first debit card a few days ago, enabling me to pay for the gas without having to leave the side of the car (therefore making me glance nervously behind every few seconds like a squirrel defending its winter supply), to ascertain that nobody was attempting to hot wire my only mode of transportation and make off with it. Of course, I had never used it before, only making me hesitate even longer as I tried to make heads-or-tails of the card slot.

I tried sliding the card, entering my PIN number, and taking the nozzle three times without success before I was informed that the station was out of gas--at least, all except the most expensive grade. Lucky me.

So I tried again, this time selecting the expensive grade.

Still no luck.

Now I was starting to get worried. What was I doing wrong? Was my card defective? I began to panic. I wouldn't be able to get gas! I wouldn't be able to make it home! Desperately, I swiped the card one last time, reading the screen carefully as it requested my PIN number--


ZIP code.

Five attempts to pay for a couple of gallons of gas--just enough to get me home and to school the next day--and I had nearly been in hysterics over misunderstanding the number I was being requested to input. At this point, I didn't even bother to see how many eyes were on me (but I did recognize an employee hovering nearby so she could put a "out of gas" sign on the pump I had been using), and sulked back into the car.

By the way, it had been raining the whole time. I was soaked and cold by the time I was able to leave.

Although one could argue that most (or all) of these misfortunes are a direct result of my own brief lapses in judgment, I've thought about it long and hard in the past 24 hours. Yes, underneath it all, this is subtly and craftily being plotted and effectuated through some sort of devious scheme to completely discourage me from driving...and ultimately from leaving my room at all. Slowly, discreetly, a message is being planted inside the crevices of my brain. It tells me not to go to school, not to go to work, not to visit my friends...because any or all of these decisions may force me into another confrontation with the infamous gas pump. Inevitability, I will be forced into a vegetative state.

3 points gas stations, 0 points Danielle.

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