When I was buying my six hundred dollars worth of groceries and gift cards at a fictional grocery store, and they told me I could have thirty gallons of gas for basically free from their attached fictional gas station, there was a lot that I didn’t know. Things like how easy it is to blow up a gas station, and how much my fictional grocery store – with the fictional gas station attached – loves people who drive Hummers.
It seemed like everything was fictional that day, except me and for the most part, my wife. It was weird.
A teenage girl explained to me how easy it is to blow up a gas station. She was an employee who met me a few steps outside the door as I was headed inside to ask them why they had turned off the gas pump, while my wife was in the middle of pumping our last fifteen gallons of free gas.
“You can’t pump the gas into two cars,” she said, exasperated and urgent, the way she’d say it if I was smoking or welding over there.
“Because I don’t want the station to blow up,” she replied.
Like the ominous kid in a horror movie, eyes haunted, like if only I’d seen what those eyes had seen, the gas stations blasting into the sky, women screaming, kids on fire. All that – because of naïve gas pumpers like me. How many people had to die?
Somebody’s mom walked past, giving me the crazy-guy-at-the-park look. I’d only said two words – pretty early to be getting the look.
Real quick, I tried to make my face go normal. I couldn’t tell if it was working, or if I was just looking crazier. Don’t shake your face, I thought.
“What’s a fire hazard? What?”
“Filling up two cars like that. You can’t do that, sir. It’s a fire hazard.”
Dead serious. Imploring me. What kind of monster was I?
Now my wife wanted to know what was going on. She rattled the gas nozzle in the car, to demonstrate the problem. She was trying to shoot things – energy bolts, maybe – out of her eyes.
And the teenage harbinger of doom girl was trying to catch them. She waggled her head around, trying to look over my shoulder , but I bobbed around like a snake, to stay in her way. I tried looking right at her, with my eyes wide, thinking maybe it would hypnotize her, and I used a soothing, level voice. “How is that a fire hazard? What part of that doesn’t happen all the time?”
Really wanting to know, wanting to believe her, like when someone sees Bigfoot. You want to stay open to the possibility, keep your mind open, not wanting to push anybody over any edges. A social situation, really, requiring tact and subtlety.
But the girl liked Marilyn better than she liked me, and that was a shame, because she wasn’t going to get anything tactful over there.
But she was young and quick, faked to the left and then got around me like it was nothing, and told my wife, “You can’t fill up two cars on the same pump!”
Using her outside voice now. Marilyn rattled the nozzle again. Her eyebrows said, she didn’t like the outside voice.
“What are you talking about?”
So the explosion-grizzled teenager again had to break some wide-eyed rube down on how easy it is to blow up a gas station, and how we’d all listen to her if only we knew. Now her tone was even more urgent, her face like the end of Planet of the Apes – damn it, when will you fools learns? You can’t fill up a second vehicle without first hanging up the nozzle and then beginning a different, non-discounted transaction!
Barking at us like at the end of 24. Cut the blue wire! There’s no time! All that.
So sure, the girl then blipped right out of Marilyn’s perception of reality with all that crazy bullshit, and Marilyn stomped inside to find a grownup, while the girl lingered, shaking her head at me ominously – we were doomed.
And now a frosty haired lady looked up from her Blackberry just long enough to shoot me a smug, withering glare, while she filled up a pair of five gallon gas containers. That must be the slick way around the rule, filling up five gallon containers.
This lady was doing it while the containers were sitting in the back of her CRV, and you really can blow up a gas station that way, I remembered, from watching those knuckleheads on cable, who try stuff like that.
Also a bald guy with glasses in a Camry, waiting behind our car now. He leaned toward the middle of the car, where I’d be able to see him better, theatrically looking at his watch.
But no matter what the policy was, I knew there was a twenty percent chance Marilyn would browbeat them into turning the pump back on. She was in there popping the pin out of her mommy grenade right now.
I could even hear her voice, vectoring out of the place, as a pair of constructions workers tumbled out with two liters and chips, looking shaken and dazed.
So I just trotted on back to the car, giving the guy behind it a vague wave that wasn’t an apology or anything, just sort of, I see you, relax. And then I leaned against the vehicle, pretending to watch the gas fill up even though it wasn’t, thinking, is it contact with the nozzle? Is there some sort of static charge that you release, by hanging it up? Because, they could just require you to tap the nozzle then, still give you your gas.
The whole time, thinking, why the hell did you tell us you’d give us thirty gallons in the first place, if you only wanted us to have fifteen? You think I wouldn’t show up, for the fifteen?
Then I started thinking about gas tanks in general, and how both of our cars held about fifteen gallons each, so the only way to take full advantage of the thirty gallons of discounted gas, is to either fill up both cars, or buy the five gallon containers. Statistically, I’ll bet there are a bunch of folks who just fill up their cars and forget about it.
But it’s something like forty bucks worth of gas. They make it inconvenient – I realized – so that out of sheer laziness, some people won’t take it all.
Which means, the person in the city who is the least inconvenienced by the thirty gallon rule is the average owner of a Hummer H2, which holds thirty two gallons of gas.
So what my fictional grocery store gas station was saying was, screw you, unless you own a Hummer. Weird niche to favor, in the gasoline market – I was thinking – if the idea is, everybody be thrifty.
The lady with the CRV and the gas cans drove away, and then the guy who’d been waiting behind me hooked around, and took her spot.
I craned my neck to watch him use the same nozzle, trying to figure out what was so special about him filling up his car right after hers. Looking at my wife’s car, my car, puzzled.
Upon further investigation, I realized people were using nozzles to fill up their cars after someone else had just done so, with the same nozzle, all over the place.
Was it magic? Some kind of force field? Should I call the fire department? The cops? The President?
It was really eating at me.
And no, when my wife came out, she gave me the thumbs down, and we left without our free gas and without blowing up the station, and the next time I drove past the place – and this happens a lot of places, after I leave them – they had put up a bunch of big new signs.