Monday, January 17, 2011

I Just Want Some Gas!

Standing in line at Murphy’s Oil USA, I waited to make my twenty dollar donation to the big oil companies.  You would think it a simple task, but as I have found in this modern age of convenience, nothing is convenient.

An ancient man and his daughter stood in front of me, him talking feverishly to the clerk while putting his hands in the pockets of his Atlanta Braves windbreaker and her trying to get back in the car without too much notice being drawn to them.  I knew she was the man’s daughter because she kept apologizing to the clerk for the much older gentleman’s behavior and only a child would be embarrassed enough to apologize for a parent's ranting.  It's karma for how we as children embarrassed them with our flashing our underwear at the audience during our second grade Christmas play.  Our parents may even be faking it just for revenge.

My parents do it to me.  They don't mean to and my mom calls me a snob when it happens, but inevitably something will transpire and I'll be just like that daughter with her father.

"What do you mean $2.75?"  My dad will ask the poor girl at Starbucks.  "You did hear me say a cup of coffee, right?  I don't want a whole pot."

"It's okay, Dad.  I got this."

"You're Mr. Money now?  What's so damn good about this coffee that they extort money out of you?"

"It's not extortion, Dad.  That's just what coffee costs here."

"This is Melbourne, for crying out loud. This isn't New York City.  Do you know I can go to Wendy's and get a senior cup of coffee for 48 cents?"

"You just got the ultimate senior coffee, Dad.  It's free.  I paid.  Can we sit down now?"

"Yeah, let's hurry and drink this and get our free refills.  It won't be as bad that way."

I cringed.  "They don't give free refills."


And I'm waving at the little clerk and mouthing the word "sorry" as I usher my father to a dark corner to hide.

The lady in front of me is going through something similar.  However, her father isn't accusing the gas station of highway robbery; he's merely confused at the breakdown of modern technology.  I’ve given up on the machines.  Besides I need to pay cash for my gas because I invariably forget the receipt and the purchase is then out of sight out of mind until I notice the overdraft fees in my statement. A fifteen dollar transaction is now forty-five and the girls are making me take the bus.

From what I could gather by eavesdropping as I always do, it seemed the gentlemen had tried to swipe his bank card at the pump to purchase his gas and for whatever reason the card reader wasn't working.  Obviously, this had never been a problem for him before, which made me think that someone else usually purchased his gas as it always happens to me.  I felt his frustration, however.  I'm used to pushing a button, flipping a switch or swiping a card and things just magically work, my coffee brews, the car starts and my purchase of Mike & Ike’s is ready to be devoured.  When they don't, it throws my equilibrium in the Universe off.  When I would use a card at the pump and it didn't work, I'd get in the car and go to the next station.  If they couldn't keep me from having to walk in then they couldn't keep me from driving on.  I pay for convenience and they didn’t provide it.  Besides, if they couldn't maintain their equipment, how did I know whether or not the gas I was putting in my car was any good?  What if it was the fuel that screwed up the reader?  I have enough trouble maintaining my car as it is.  I can't afford to take any unnecessary chances.

The grandpa in front of me didn't catch on.  "I've never had my card rejected in my entire life!  What happened to my money?  What did they do with my money?"

"Nothing, Dad.  Your money's fine.  The machine is broken, that’s all."

The clerk, a small punkish girl with metal through her bottom lip, made the mistake of doing her job when grandpa handed her his dysfunctional card.  "How much gas would you like, sir?"

"How much?  How do I know how much?  It's empty.  Fill her up."

And this is where modern convenience took a turn to the inconvenient.  The side effect of high gas prices is that everyone is labeled a potential thief.  There is no more pumping your fuel first and then paying.  No, everyone including blue-haired grannies is a possible drive-off and at three bucks a gallon that's too much to risk for any store including Murphy’s Oil.

"They can't do that, Dad.  You have to tell them an amount."

"How do I know that?  It's empty.  Thirty bucks.  It should take that amount but what if it doesn't?"

"You'll only be charged for what you use, sir."

"But you just put thirty bucks on my card.”  Eventually he surrendered and his daughter led him away as if guiding him down the hallway at Happy Acres Funny Farm while she apologized to the clerk.  He only shook his head, muttering.  "All I wanted was gas.  Never had such a hard damn time getting gas in my life."

I smiled at the daughter.  I could sympathize with her, but I'm old enough to sympathize with the father as well.

Getting gas is more and more becoming a total pain in the ass.  All I want is gas!  Now I have to answer questions.  "Do you want to purchase a car wash?” "Would you like to mix an additive with your gas while it's pumping?” "Can I give you a pedicure?"

If I wanted to be hounded by impulse purchases I would have gone inside where it's air conditioned.  All these extra measures take the convenience out of the convenient.  I know it's only a couple of buttons and it sounds like I'm whining but really, it's a universal issue.

"Would you like fries with that?"

"No!  I just want my 99 cent burger.  Did I ask for fries?"

Fast food ceases to be fast if it takes ten minutes to place my order.  It takes even longer when the kid with pimples at the drive thru keeps interrupting me while I’m attempting to give him my twenty choices off the dollar menu.  Don’t talk until I’m done and then you can tell me I forgot to order a hot fudge sundae!

It's like the retail world wants to tell us we’re too stupid to know what we want or need.  Well, I got news for them.  If I forgot it, it's because the girls didn't write it on the list to begin with.  I already purchased a car wash when I fed Zac.  Now, he just needs to get off his ass and do it.

Whoever invented the card reader was smart.  He invented a fast and quick way for you to purchase your gas and get back to life.  However, the merchant is not to be outwitted.  The gas won't pump until you play twenty questions.  It’s almost like asking the kids to do something around the house.  “Do you want me to do that now?”  “Do we have garbage bags?”  “But what if I use the vacuum to clean the fish tank?”

I think I'll skip the gas and just ride my bike.  I should take the trash out when I do.

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