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A Humbling Confession

June 22, 2016

 

In spite of the fact that my interests lean in the direction of art and history, I’ve always tried to present myself as a competent, if slightly atypical, American male. I’ve worked hard most of my life, paid my taxes and was an active parent when it came to raising our son. I’ve traveled the world and participated in some amazing adventures, but I have a dark secret.

           

Confession is said to be good for the soul, so today I’m coming clean. In spite of many (questionable?) accomplishments, there’s one task where I’m hopelessly deficient. What makes this deficiency galling is that most of you—even you ladies—are comfortable doing something that causes me to panic. Whenever I leave Oregon, my heart jackhammers in my chest and my palms get sweaty when it comes time to…pump gas. I don’t like attributing weaknesses to others, but I’m not at fault here. I blame the state of Oregon.

           

Oregon law prohibits drivers from pumping their own gas. I believe we’re the only state in the Union with such a law, and I’m not sure why. I’ve heard that the idea originated as a measure to keep gas prices low, but Oregon gas prices are among the highest in the nation.

 

Mrs. Chatterbox and I don’t do much out-of-state driving. Every few years we take a road trip to Seattle to visit my brother-in-law and his family. We fill our tank in Portland. (By we I mean the station attendant.) Our car gets great mileage; we’re running on fumes by the time we cross the Columbia and re-enter Oregon to refuel. But on our recent trip to Florida we rented a car in Miami and drove to Key West. The rental company charged an exorbitant fee if the car was returned without gas. Since I’m tight with a buck, I had no intention of paying the fee and chose instead to pull off the freeway and humiliate myself by pumping my own gas.

 

Since I perform this chore so rarely, I’m always uncomfortable doing it. It doesn’t help that gas pumps are all slightly different, making it confusing to select the type of gas and type of payment. Do I want to use credit or debit? Cash requires a trip inside the station to queue up behind a grumpy family purchasing hotdogs, string cheese and Slurpees. Do I want a receipt? I’ve had better luck pushing buttons on slot machines in Vegas. And what about all the dead bugs on my windshield? There isn’t an attendant to clean away the squished corpses I’ve been staring at for a hundred miles, some of whom I’ve given names. 

 

More than once I’ve resorted to asking for help from fellow drivers at nearby pumps. For some reason, these are usually women. “Excuse me, ‘ma’am, but can you show me how this darn pump works?”

 

It’s probably my imagination, but I read volumes into their critical glare, as if they’re saying, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you pump your own gas? You’re a colossal waste of testosterone! AND DON’T CALL ME MA’AM!”

 

Mrs. Chatterbox and I did manage to fill our tank in Miami, where gas was cheaper than it is in Oregon. It took a while and cars came and went while we studied the pump, but we managed to fill our tank without blowing up the station by dropping a lit match or driving away without removing the gas hose.

 

 

 

 

It feels good to be home watching someone else pump my gas. Now if I can only find someone to help me with another problem­—ordering coffee at Starbucks.

           

Do you pump your own gas? Are you hiding an embarrassing deficiency? 

 

 

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Comments

26 Comments
I used to feel angst I. Pumping my own gas but now I can do this without a hitch. The trick is to make sure you drive up to the right side where the gas goes into. I grew up in the country, on a sawmill, and have many fond memories but...I hate bugs! I can watch Nova and other shows that talk about bugs but to see them, I freak!
By: Birgit on June 22, 2016
I worked at a full Service gas station for about a year between jobs and I loved folks like you. I actually enjoyed that job. R
By: Rick Watson on June 22, 2016
Oh, dear! Even my 80-year-old mother used to pump her own gas. My dad, however, could not order at a drive-thru speaker! He would pull up, and my mom had to lean over him and shout out the order. Dad was congenial and humorous and beloved by waitresses everywhere...but he could not order at the drive-thru.
By: Val on June 22, 2016
As a teenager I worked one summer at a gas station pumping gas, checking oil, cleaning windshields. I remember on one occasion a beautiful blonde pulled up in fancy foreign sports car (don't remember the model) and do you think I could locate the gas cap... not a chance and I looked everywhere. It was her friends car so she didn't know either.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 22, 2016
The last time I was in New Jersey, they didn't have self-service either. Maybe you can find a gas tank that will get you from Oregon to New Jersey before you have to gas up again.
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 22, 2016
I've always thought it was odd they don't let you pump your own gas. I wouldn't want to hand a stranger my credit card and watch him vanish inside. And the South tends to have some of the cheapest gas in the nation. If we're traveling through South Carolina, I always stop and gas up before crossing the border, as it's usually the cheapest.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 22, 2016
I've heard New Jersey prohibits self serve, too. Anyway, last year I had a rent car while mine was in the shop. It needed gas so I dutifully pulled up next to the pump, but couldn't find the little gas door release I thought all cars nowadays had in the floorboard inside the car. Couldn't find it at all. Feeling slightly panicked I decided as a last resort I would consult the owners manual. There wasn't one. THERE WASN'T AN OWNERS MANUAL! What the...? Why would they let you drive off without an owners manual?? I was thinking about getting a pry bar and just prying the damn gas door cover off. As a last resort, on a whim, I slightly pushed in on the cover, and it popped out. Whew!
By: scott park on June 22, 2016
As a fellow Oregonian, I felt your angst about Floridian gas stations. My first attempt at pumping my own gas, in Washington, had me trying to pour diesal into my Prius. Since then, i go to the person inside the station, tell her/him I'm from Oregon, and they nod and come out and help like good neighbors do.
By: Jo on June 22, 2016
In Britain there are not usually attendants however in Tenerife most stations have attanedants. I prefer the service!
By: John on June 22, 2016
Preaching to the choir my formerly chubby friend. NJ is the only other state with such a law. I love it except when I am out of state and like you say every friggin pump seems to work differently. I once had to ask inside the station how the dang thing worked and they said "You're from Jersey aren't you?" Anyway, I am currently after much practice reasonably competent in filling my own tank when I am out of state, but like you my knees still buckle just a bit when I have to do so. One time a year ago I got to chatting with the guy next to me and he had to point out that I was still pumping and my tank was full. Must have spilled at least a gallon or more. Uggh! Those automatic switch things don't always work.
By: cranky on June 22, 2016
We pump our own, and the last place around here that did it for you went out of business when the owner retired. It's no big deal that you don't like to do that yourself, there are things i don't like to do myself that you might find easy. It's a wash.
By: messymimi on June 22, 2016
oregon's law is absolutely weird!
By: TexWisGirl on June 22, 2016
I had no idea there was a state left that didn't allow it. Surprised that NJ is the same way. Hey, not being allowed to pump gas in your home state would make any one feel intimidated in those states where full service is obsolete. No shame in that. Next time in Fla, use the turnpike. Their service plazas provide a full service lane for Oregonians, Jersey folk and the handicapped..
By: Arkansas Patti on June 22, 2016
Sorry to have a chuckle at your expense but your exchange with the woman at the pump, cracked me up! We pump our own, always have, except when we were in Oregon and got chastised for trying. My biggest issue is when I'm in a rental car. On which side is the tank, where is the open release, etc. Happy motoring!
By: Tom Cochrun on June 22, 2016
I pump my own gas but I agree the pumps and choices are confusing. The first time I had to go in and leave cash for gas I had a hissy fit.
By: red Kline on June 22, 2016
I wish I'd known about that law before I went to Oregon. I pulled into the station and got out to pump the gas and the Mexican attendant was trying to do it and I'm like, "No, go away!" In Michigan getting your gas pumped by someone else usually costs more in those few places that offer it.
By: PT Dilloway on June 22, 2016
Don't feel totally ignorant...it took me over 30 years of driving until I realized that the display behind the steering wheel has a little gas pump that lets you know on which side of the car the gas tank is located. If the nozzle to the pump is on the right side of the gas pump, the tank will be on the right (and vice versa).
By: Pixel Peeper on June 22, 2016
LOL! Some of our gas stations have a mixture of self-serve and attendant service lines. I always go for self-serve if I can because I feel awkward standing around watching someone else do something I'm more than happy to do. Now, ordering a coffee in Starbucks ... there's a daunting experience!
By: Botanist on June 22, 2016
I remember when the stations went to self-serve in the Midwest and I always felt nervous about pumping gas. As you said the pumps are all a bit different. Now, we have had only self-serve for so long, I never even bat an eye. Just like everything else, repetition and routine equal out to be just another habit.
By: Cheryl P. on June 22, 2016
Self-service gas was becoming ubitiqious in the rest of the country around the time I got my driver's licenses (1973). After the oil crisis later that year, there were very few full service gas stations and I have found it odd to have my gas pumped the one time I remember buying gas in Oregon--Burns Jct (on a trip from Idaho to Nevada)
By: Sage on June 23, 2016
I'm trying to figure out how forcing a gas station to keep an extra employee around saves on fuel prices... Hmmm... I do remember when I was a teenager, feeling the exact same angst as you when I had to start filling the tank my own self. Now I don't even blink - but that's due to experience.
By: The Bug on June 23, 2016
Lucky you that you haven't had to fill up in France. Despite the fact that I speak French fluently I heard the word "Merde" far too many times whenever I was trying to top up on petrol. :-) Still, most French are courteous and patient. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on June 23, 2016
Growing up in south Florida, all the gas stations here were full service. Shortly after I married, everything turned into self serve. My dear, sweet Hubs decided he did not want me going to gas stations by myself, so he took charge of keeping both of our cars filled with gas. Yes you heard that right. I have NEVER used a self serve gas station! And yes, I would have NO CLUE how to do it!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on June 23, 2016
Don't feel bad, Stephen - you're not alone. I once pumped 20 litres of diesel into my car's petrol engine (definitely not recommended. Twenty seconds later, my car spluttered to a halt on a busy roundabout and I had to be towed away - now that's humiliation!
By: Bryan Jones on June 24, 2016
We used to have "service at the pump" here in North Carolina but that was years ago. And then it was courtesy to tip them. I remember the first pay at the pump and was really excited. But now days, I hate pumping gas for security reasons so my husband does the pumping. Lisa
By: Lisa on June 24, 2016
I may have been the last person in Minnesota to pump my own gas after we made the switch. I remember how relieved I was when I finally could do it--after the last "full service" station pulled the plug, so to speak.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on July 3, 2016

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