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Prepay Redux

October 15, 1998

Sometimes you have to choose between what you believe in and what you can swallow and accept. For many this might be pride, if your a vegetarian it is meat, and if you are me, it is that decision whether or not to prepay for gas.

I am sure to many it seems like a no-brainier. If you are out of gas, you pull into the nearest station and you fill up the tank. It is simple, it is easy, and it is better than pushing your car out of traffic or going back and forth between the station and your vehicle with whatever container you could scrounge up to use as a gas can. Most normal rational people can follow along this logic.

Of course, most normal people are not lugging the same windmill I have on my back. In one form or another we all have our crusade and mine is to never prepay for a tank of gas. The reasoning is simple. I do not prepay for groceries at Safeway, I do not prepay for dinner even at the best restaurants in Seattle, so why should I prepay for gas at the local Gas and Sip?

I am not so sure I would take it so far that I have to push my car or find that container to transport 12 ounces of gas at a time. I really do not want to find out if I would. I have been lucky that on my crusade that I usually watch my gas gauge. However, tonight I was not so vigilant, and after dropping off some of the members of my TV show crew, I found myself running on fumes in a strange part of town ... West Seattle.

Like many of you I actually have a brand preference for gasoline, and sadly that brand is lacking a station in that area. This is despite the fact that I know damn well that there are only one or two refineries in the area and all of the stations from Arco to Texaco use the same refineries. My preference is the clean restrooms, and among other things, the fact that you do not have to pay for air or water. This is the reason I found myself driving around West Seattle at 11:30 PM at night looking for an acceptable station.

I settled in on a Texaco station that was across the street from a BP station. I figured one of these two had to be acceptable. I pulled up to the pump, removed my gas cap, and stuck the nozzle in the tank. Nothing happened. Then the voice of the cashier came over the loudspeaker.

"It's prepay only."


"I said it is prepay only. You have to prepay first after dark."

"What do you mean it is prepay? Why do I have to prepay for my gas? I don't have to prepay for my groceries at Safeway."

"Look, go across the street to BP for all I care. It's prepay after dark. Those are the rules."

"I am afraid I am not a math major. I know it is a 12 gallon tank and that gas is selling for $1.15 for 9/10 of a gallon, but I do not know how much gas is currently in the tank, so how can I prepay of I don't know how much gas I am going to need? "

"Look, I don't have time to play games. Come in here, give me more money than you think you are going to need, and I will give you the change later."

"That seems pretty inefficient. Why not turn on the pump so I can pump my gas?"

"That's against the rules. It's prepay after dark. It's simple. Come in here and give me money."

"Are you a math major?"


"Are you a math major? I was wondering if you could tell me how much I am going to need to buy so I can only make one trip."

"Look asshole, I don't have time for your games. Prepay or go to BP."

That did it. Not only was he insulting me, treating me, the potential customer badly, but he now called me an asshole. My car was in clear view of his little throne so he could quite clearly see when I picked up the gas nozzle, lifted it over my head, and threw it away from my car at him. It went about three feet before it ran out of hose and crashed onto the ground.

"OH YOU HAVE A REAL ATTITUDE PROBLEM, DON'T CHA!!" came blaring over the loudspeaker. I proceeded to put my gas cap on, closed the cover and got back into my car to drive away in no particular hurry. The man on the other side of the loudspeaker was now barreling out of the door and coming at me yelling, "Come on, I'll fix your attitude problem!" I calmly leaned out my window and said quite clearly, "You drove away a customer by calling them an asshole. Maybe you ought to watch your attitude," and drove off. I really did not want to get into a confrontation with a man in his late 40's that obviously made a serious vocational error in his life because he was working as a night cashier at a Texaco station.

I started my car and I headed for the BP, then I changed my mind at the last minute. If that man was telling me to go to the BP. he might know them. It was only across the corner and the way spit was bursting out of his mouth he looked like he might come across the street and try to punch me or something. I wasn't in the mood to get into an alteration, so I passed on the BP and drove off down the street.

It was at this time that I realized that I didn't have a clue where another open gas station could be found in the area. Considering how low on gas I was, the whole incident was a very bad idea. I decided to drive down California Avenue to see if there was a station. I knew there was, but I was really low on gas and I was afraid I wasn't going to make it. Another real possibility was that the midnight Texaco pump jockey might be calling the police at that very moment. Heck, that's what I would do if I was him. The thought that the Police might soon be pulling me over was not a happy prospect, and I had no idea if the station on California Avenue was open or as much as I hate to think about it, prepay.

You see, this is where I know I am suffering from some sort of brain malfunction. I know I have blown my chance at getting gas at the two stations I know are open, and I am heading for the only other station within miles of the area, and I am wondering if I will have to risk driving an appreciable distance to prove some stupid point about being treated with respect as a customer, even though I acted like a bit of a jerk back at the Texaco, even before I tossed the gas nozzle on the pavement.

I pulled into the CITGO station at the neighborhood 7-11, parked the car, opened the gas cap and I proceeded to lift the handle for the pump. Amazingly, the option to pay inside after fueling was a viable one and I was on my way to a full tank of gas. I washed my windows, cleaned my mirrors and enjoyed the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction of being victorious in the previous incident. I also knew that it takes exactly $12.50 to fill up a 12 gallon tank when it is that low and the gas is selling for $1.15 for 9/10 of a gallon. I promised myself to pay better attention to the gas gage so that I would have no need for pointless arguments with bitter men working a shitty job, and I finished filling up the car. It was then as I put the nozzle back in the gas pump that a wave of panic rolled through my body like a 7 point earthquake.

I couldn't find my wallet.

I had some spare change, but not $12.50. I knew I had my wallet at the Texaco, and I could have sworn I put it back in my pocket, but it was entirely possible that I somehow dropped it and now a Seattle Police officer was currently holding it as they filled out a complaint form they were taking down from a rather belligerent non-salaried worker.

So if I didn't have my wallet and it wasn't in my car, I would have to retrace my steps. This means that I have to do one of the following. Walk in and call the Texaco to see if the wallet was there, drive off without paying to the Texaco to see if my wallet was there, or park my car, explain to the man what had happened, and walk several miles back to the Texaco to get my wallet. The good news is there would be a nice Police officer that might be willing to give me a ride after they heard my side of the story. If I was really lucky it would be back to the CITGO and not to the King County Jail.

By some stroke of luck my wallet had dropped down between my seat and the door and had slipped under the seat. I then proudly walked in, paid for my gas and wished the kind gentleman in his 60's a lovely night and went on my way.

I have learned something from this incident. If I must continue this one man crusade, I need to have gas stations that I find acceptable before I start on road trips. I also need to consider locating those stations closer to the 1/4 tank mark on my gauge.

Or keep a gas can handy.

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