It was Saturday afternoon and life at the fuel center was humming along. We were fairly busy, but I had things under control.
I’d left the kiosk to condition the merchandise in the outdoor display cases. “Conditioning” means making sure the shelves are stocked and all items are pulled to the front with the brand name facing forward. The fuel center sells mostly cold drinks and a small selection of snacks along with motor oil, fuel additives, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. It didn’t take long to get everything looking good.
While I was outside, a woman approached me with a question about using her credit card. While trying to answer her question, I heard shouting, honking, and whistling. I looked toward the source of the commotion and saw a small white car trailing a gas pump handle, nozzle, and hose! Oh no! Someone had driven off with the nozzle still in the tank.
I could see the driver was a woman, so I started shouting Ma’am! Ma’am! while waving my arms. Due to my efforts or maybe those of the bystanders, the driver stopped the car. After quickly excusing myself from my current conversation, I hustled toward the small white car.
You left with the nozzle still in your tank, I explained to the driver. She looked shocked. I don’t think she quite believed me.
I went around to the passenger side of the car and retrieved the nozzle, handle, and hose. You can bet she believed me then. I told her I needed to get her license plate number and call a manager.
You are in trouble, I thought but did not say out loud.
I asked her to pull around and park near the fuel center, and she said she would. I ran into the kiosk and paged a manager. The manager called back immediately, and I explained the situation. He told me to call the company that services the pumps, and then he hung up.
I ran back out to find the driver had parked her car right back at the scene of her big mistake. She was out of the car waiting for me. She must have been in her 60s although her hair was dark black and she didn’t seem feeble of body or mind.
I wrote down her license plate number. When I asked for her name and phone number, she gave them without hesitation.
I ran back into the kiosk to help the people who had accumulated in a line while I was outside. The next thing I knew, the driver of the white car was back in line. When she reached the window, she said she hadn’t gotten all the gas for which she had paid. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, so I told her I’d meet her outside where the intercom and bulletproof glass would not hinder our communication.
When I got outside, I found her sitting in the driver’s seat of her car. She explained she always puts $10 worth of gas in her car, and $10 worth of gas always fills the tank. Since her tank was not currently full, she was sure she had not gotten her full $10 worth of gas. She pointed to her gas gauge several times, as if I only needed to look at the gauge to understand the problem.
I was incredulous. She’d just damaged the gas pump, yet she was quibbling over (at most) a couple of bucks. Didn’t she know she was in a lot of trouble? Apparently she did not.
I told her I didn’t really know what to do in this situation and asked if she wanted me to call a manager. She said she did.
If I had just ripped the hose and handle and nozzle from a gas pump, I would have slunk away in shame and hoped I wouldn’t be charged for the damage I’d done. Not this lady. She wanted every bit of gas to which she thought she was entitled.
I went back to the kiosk and again paged a manager. Again a manager called immediately.
I explained the lady who’d driven off with the nozzle and hose thought we owed her more gas. I don’t know what to do, I told the manager.
The manager chuckled and said he’d come out and talk to her. Surely she’d realize she was in trouble when the manager arrived. Surely he’d set her straight.
In a few minutes the manager used his key to enter the kiosk. I almost shit my pants. It was the big boss, the store manager himself. Up until that moment, I had not met him; I only knew who he was because I read his name tag.
I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then I briefly went over the situation with the driver of the white car. He said he’d go out and talk to her.I stayed in the kiosk and continued to help customers. I couldn’t hear how the conversation between the driver of the white car and the manager went, but I was convinced the woman was in trouble now.
The manager was out there for at least 10 minutes. When he came back in, he looked defeated.
I couldn’t make her understand, he said. He told me the driver was going to pull the white car to pump 9. He said I should authorize the pump for $10. You register is going to be short.
I guess the driver of the white car wasn’t in any trouble after all.
I found out later that the hose is constructed to detach the way it did if a driver pulls off with the nozzle still in the tank. However, there was a problem with the separation point on this one and it leaked gas. Instead of being able to simply click the two connectors back into place like it was designed to do, a repair person had to come out on Monday to fix the problem. A coworker told me the repair cost the company I work for $500. No one ever asked me for the culprit’s name, phone number, or license plate number, so I suspect she’s not going to have to pay for her mistake.