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Peace at the Pump

There’s something about a gas station that makes me stupid. I know I’m not the only one, because every new car boasts some kind of technology — even if it’s just a plastic string — to keep us from driving away with our gas cap loose on the roof. There are also fixes for more severe episodes of mindlessness. A while back, I managed to drive off with the whole pump nozzle still stuck in my tank. Gas pumps have quick-release features to counter that particular maneuver, though there was no saving the hose after it popped free and tangled with the wheels of my car. That’s how I learned that it costs about $300 to buy a brand new industrial gas hose.

Still, the spaced-out version of stupid doesn’t trouble me nearly as much as the other kind — the kind where I turn into an asshole. Maybe it has something to do with paying almost $3.50 for a gallon of gas and waiting in line to fill up and wreck the planet. Maybe it’s just that, at heart, I’m not a very patient person. Whatever the cause, today I engaged in my own little war over oil.

I was at the Chevron station down the street and I started an argument with another woman over who had dibs on the only vacant pump. Granted, I’d been waiting (patiently, in my opinion) for about five minutes when she zipped in front of me in her champagne-shiny Land Rover and took the free space. Also granted, I’d been “hanging out in the middle” (as she pointed out) so perhaps it wasn’t entirely clear that I intended to take the first available pump. Okay. But who was it that lurched forward, laid on the horn, and yelled out the window, “What was that about?”

That was me.

My outburst was followed by quite a bit of mutual flapping and fruitless pointing. Ultimately, we ended up pumping our gas side by side, which was chilly. And interestingly, we both finished filling our tanks at exactly the same time. So what did all that aggression do for me?

Disturbed by my own behavior, I did finally look up and say, “It’s a beautiful day, and it’s hardly worth fighting over a gas pump.” This garnered a shallow laugh through a clenched jaw. I wasn’t forgiven, but still, I felt lucky. I remembered how wars get started in the first place; that they begin when it’s all about what I want, and I don’t care about — or even think about — you.

In this case, there was no permanent damage. I was fortunate to drive away from the pump with both my gas cap and a renewed sense of respect for my fellow travelers. I hope I don’t forget it in the time it takes to burn through another tank of fuel.

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