In A Crisis, It’s All About Me

by admin on September 8, 2010

Thanks to numerous factors including (and especially) Hurricane Ike, there was a terrible gas shortage in the Southeast up until just weeks ago.  Gas prices went from $3.50 to $4.20 literally overnight, and the town where I live (not a huge city, but certainly on the map) was completely dry of gas for days.  Businesses shut down, restaurants ceased delivery service, my classes were half empty.  When stations would get gas, which was sporadic and sometimes only half of their normal stock at a time, lines would weave around the block, hours-long.  Reports of waiting for three hours to fill up were frequent.  Stations, when they did get gas, banned gas can-filling and imposed a dollar limit per customer.

My gas light had been on for days, so when I saw a line at a station up the block that did not seem terribly long (yet), I jumped on in.  It was 8:45 pm, and it took an hour for me to get to a pump (and yet I was still grateful).  I’d read plenty of reports of huge fights breaking out at gas stations, but there seemed to be a healthy “we’re all in this together” attitude and things were tedious but pleasant.  When I was only one car away from a pump, I noticed a sign on the pump that said at 9:50, the pumps would all be shut off for 10 minutes while a shift change occurred.  An attendant was going around putting bags over the pumps in preparation for the shut down.  I was irritated, since I was one car away from being out of there, but felt even worse for the line of cars behind me who no doubt would get no explanation for why they weren’t moving.  The line was much longer than when I had joined.

After fifteen minutes, people started to wonder what was going on.  I went inside to use the facilities while we were waiting and not moving, and overheard a conversation between the attendants.  There were three attendants, none of whom seemed to be a manager (poor planning on the part of the station, but extremely possible that they just didn’t know when they were getting their next shipment).  They were discussing a woman with an *enormous* SUV that I could see from the register.  Through their stressed and irritated conversation, I learned the following:

The stated, imposed limit on each pump was $50.  This woman had over $100 in her tank already.  She had been asked *three* times to stop pumping since she was over twice the gas-shortage limit, but had refused to stop pumping into her enormous tank.  All other pumps had been shut off except hers in anticipation of the shift-change, so NO ONE else at the station (12 pumps and a line of cars at least two-hours deep) could pump gas while she was pumping.  The shift change could not occur until all pumps had been shut off.  So this inconsiderate, selfish woman was not only bogarting more than twice her fair share of the distressingly short supply of gas, but she was holding up dozens and dozens of other cars with her greed.

Never having worked at a gas station, I don’t know if there is a way to shut off someone’s pump once they’ve begun pumping, but I have to assume there is not since the clearly agitated attendants seemed at a loss.  These poor kids had no idea what to do.  Another gentleman who had been in line at the register spread this information among the other people waiting at the pumps, and the animosity towards this woman quickly became palpable.  Every eye in the station was on her as she finished, but to their credit (and mine) none of us who had been waiting well over an hour with empty tanks lost our cool.  She cheerfully replaced the pump, got in her SUV, and drove off, clearly convinced that she had taken nothing more than her due.

Never in my life have I seen such complete disregard for other people, especially in a crisis situation where cooperation is the only way to get through.  I didn’t before understand why people got in fights waiting in gas lines, but that night I understood how it could happen.  Unbelievable.    1116-08

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint September 8, 2010 at 6:10 am

“Gas prices went from $3.50 to $4.20″

I barely noticed the rest out of sheer envy! I’d get on my knees in gratitude if my petrol ever cost that little!

Reply

irish September 8, 2010 at 7:19 am

It’s astonishing how clueless that woman seemed, especially as the OP mentioned that she ‘cheerfully replaced the pump.’ Quite possibly she wasn’t getting at all aggressive or agitated about it, but the equation ‘more for me = less for them’ just never entered her head. Clueless and ignorant are the only words.

Reply

Mom2PBJ September 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

Ah yes…I remember Hurricane Ike and the aftermath very well. I lived through it and yes, the gas shortage, high prices, and long lines were unbelievable. I guess, though, the one thing that saved me from having to wait in the long gas lines was the fact that the building I worked in was damaged and closed for three weeks so I didn’t have to drive anywhere.

Reply

o_gal September 8, 2010 at 8:25 am

To Bint: That’s 4.20 per gallon, not liter.

Reply

Amber September 8, 2010 at 8:57 am

Bint, I noticed that too but was agape at how much it was! We pay around $1.20/L!

Back on subject though, what a rude, self-centred woman!

Reply

Virg September 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

It must have been a house rule that stopped the attendants from pushing the emergency cutoff switch. That would have stopped the pumps (all of them, but she was the only one pumping) immediately, at which point they could simply have refused to restart them if she complained. With a phone call to the fire department to make sure they didn’t get an alarm, that would have solved both the time delay and her taking more than she was allowed.

Virg

Reply

badkitty September 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

Hats off to you for keeping your cool in that situation; I don’t know if I would have been able to resist the urge to stroll over to her and chat her up about inconsiderate, rude, selfish behavior in times of crisis. Might even have casually kept her from leaving with all my chatter.

Reply

Laura's Tank is Full September 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

The problem of course, Bint, is that when a person makes minimum wage in the U.S. (around $7/hr), and the gas jumps up a dollar or more over night, that person faces a sudden and unanticipated problem – do I eat, pay the electric bill, or buy gas to get to work? Plus, in many areas of the U.S., there is no other option than driving. So yes, in other countries gas costs more, but drivers aren’t blindsided by it, and there is the option of public transportation. Here, unfortunately, that is not an option for most. So many underemployed or minimum wage workers feel the pinch of high gas more than our European friends.
I am sorry the OP had to deal with that.

Reply

DGS September 8, 2010 at 9:41 am

The saddest truth about human nature is that in times of crisis, you will see people not only at their best (a very few) but also at their worst (a great many), including the people who will bogart scarce resources, whether those are gas or food or air and shoulder everyone else out of the way.

Reply

dorrie78 September 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

Of course they can shut off the pumps inside while someone is using. I drive a diesel VW and have had gas station attendants all over the place shut off the pump when I try to re-fuel because they think I’m mistakenly pumping diesel. And those pumps have been shut off by the lowliest workers, not by a manager. I simply don’t believe that out of three gas station attendants, not a single one had the knowledge that pumps can be turned off while someone is fueling.

Reply

AS September 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

Bint, I am assuming you are from U.K. or some other part of the non-US world where gas/petrol is almost double the cost. It is funny how people in USA take the low gas prices for granted. But I don’t think that is the point of this story, and somehow the comment seems a little off given the situation, even though it may be true, and sounds as if it is meant to make the LW understand how lucky he/she is! Maybe the effect is more pronounced as it is the only comment posted till now.

Anyways, back to the story – kudos to LW and all the other people in the 2-hour long line that they did not start a fight there. If I were there, not sure what I’d do – I’d probably tell her sternly that what she is doing is not right (but then, the people in the line probably had no solid proof that she is going above her limit). I was wondering if the staff could have called the manager and tried to solve the situation. Is the dollar-limit on gas a law? In which case, someone could have noted her car number and the appropriate legal body.

Reply

ginlyn32 September 8, 2010 at 10:35 am

Wow…that’s just…wow. Now, I’ve never worked at a gas station, so I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do not think you can shut down a pump that is in use. I do think that stations can set the pumps so that they can only pump out a certain amount. That is what they did in my area in 2008 when we went through a gas shortage due to a hurricane. Our limit was $40 and the pumps would shut off at that amount.

That woman, there is no word to describe that kind of entitlement.

Reply

Daisy September 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

Gas in my city is currently .955 per litre CAD, which translates to $4.73 USD per US gallon, and we’re all just happy it’s not back up over $1.00 a litre! The oil companies have us well-trained!

Reply

Emma September 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

@Bint: That’s a shame, I imagine you live somewhere in the UK? Where I live, in a mid-sized city in the Midwest, gasoline rarely goes over $3/gal and usually stays around $2.70. But then, gas isn’t measured in gallons everywhere, is it?

@OP: I would have totally lost my cool in that situation. It says something about your community that no one did.

Reply

Shayna September 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

Rude. Rude. Rude. What the heck is wrong with people? I don’t know about shutting down the pumps during filling, but in most places they can certainly program the pumps to do a $50 limit. Then again, that doesn’t solve the problem if the entitled wench replaces the nozzle and starts all over again. What they could do to prevent this in future is force everyone to pre-pay for their gas. Annoying, I know, but it would solve this problem. Ugh. People and their lack of consideration for others tick me off.

I’m in Canada, untouched by the recent events that have befallen the southeastern US, but I certainly feel for all of you down there. I hope things start to look up for you soon. Cheers, my American friends!

Reply

Lizajane September 8, 2010 at 11:32 am

Don’t all gas stations have those emergency shut-off buttons now? What year did Ike hit? I think if I’d been one of those clerks I’d have used it. But then, I don’t now what all is required to re-start service once that’s been used…

Reply

RP September 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I don’t know if there is a way to shut off someone’s pump once they’ve begun pumping, but I have to assume there is not since the clearly agitated attendants seemed at a loss.

They can but I’m betting that without a manager/supervisor the attendants either 1) didn’t know how, 2) were worried they’d get in trouble for doing so or 3) re-starting the pump would be tedious and/or difficult enough to make shutting it down not worth it.

If the station used handles at the pumps the attendant could have just gone over and lowered the handle to stop the flow of gas but I’m betting they had where you just push a button instead of lifting the handle the pump sits on.

Reply

essie September 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm

RE: the matter of simply hitting the emergency shutoff, it seems to me that the emergency shutoff is in place SPECIFICALLY to stop a pump that is running, so that in an EMERGENCY (such as a fire or an unattended pump that’s overflowing), the pumps can be SHUT OFF. If its only use is to lock the pumps once they’re all off, then it would be called a “Quick Lock” button or “All Lock” button or something like that.

Bint, the point isn’t the actual dollar amount; the point is that the price jumped by 20 percent overnight. A 20% jump in the price of ANY commodity is a major deal and can wreak havoc when someone’s on a tight budget.

Reply

Brenda September 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

They do have emergency shut-off systems that cut the electrical power to the pump. The employees may not have been informed of it, or simply forgot about it, or were afraid to cause a scene.

Reply

kero September 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I bet everybody now knows that woman and the car she drives and the only thing she can do is remind people of what a selfish woman she is.

@Laura’s Tank is Full– I think it is unfair to say that Europeans are not caught in the same situation that you described. There are some rural areas where the only option is to drive…their public trans system might be better than the US, but it doesn’t mean accessible for everybody. Anybody in the world can exprience the pinch between food, rent, and gas, not just Americans.

Reply

Xtina September 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I remember that gas shortage; it happened in my city here in the Southeastern U.S., and I sat in line for a pretty long time when gas finally because available as well.

People who think they are entitled or that rules don’t apply to them are among my biggest peeves. How dare this woman think she is more deserving than anyone else? It is any wonder that once word got out what she was up to, that other customers didn’t go over and beat the living tar out of her. Really, I’m quite surprised about that–in my city, in my neighborhood, she would have been jumped and people would have found a way to siphon the extra $50 she took right out of her tank.

Reply

Maitri September 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm

“the people in the line probably had no solid proof that she is going above her limit”

How about walking up to her pump and looking at the readout? All pumps in the US, AFAIK, have readouts so people know how much their gasoline is costing.

I would have walked up to her and said, “Ma’am, we are all waiting for you to stop pumping your gas, so that they can do their shift change. And you are over your allotted gas limit. Please stop and leave some for the rest of us. Thanks.” And waited patiently there for her to stop.

I wouldn’t be sitting there, giving her the stinkeye, and expecting her to notice.

Reply

Simone September 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Of course she was cheerful. She got what she wanted. Self entitled people, in my experience, don’t CARE that everyone is glaring at them. The only thing that matters to them is that they get what they want. If she even noticed the other customers or staff at all it would only be to think what grumpy, unpleasant and selfish people they were for trying to make *her* feel bad when she *needs* that gas.

Reply

kudeenee September 8, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I am sure that there is a way to shut the pump off. If you have to prepay, they set the pump to shut off when a certain $amount is reached. I imagine they could have done that as well or gone out and asked her to stop. I am surprised they didn’t have workers outside to spread the message about the limit.

Reply

GasStationGirl September 8, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Ok- having worked as a gas station clerk for five years, there is a very easy way to stop the pump while it’s pumping. All the clerks had to do was push her pump button on their gas console or on their computer, and push ‘paid’. It works with credit cards on the pumps, or pay inside people. Those clerks sounded very green not to know that. Their manager definitely should have set the pumps with a limit to prevent the drama with customers and stress on staff. Poor management.

Reply

Bee September 8, 2010 at 9:12 pm

A few quick calculations show me that here in Australia (with no petrol shortages, I might add) it’s not unusual for us to pay the equivalent of $4.88/gal! In fact, I’ve even paid more than that on long weekends.

There is an emergency shut off that could be used in the event of fire, overflow, etc, as was pointed out by Essie and RP. However, given that it wasn’t an “emergency” as such, maybe they young staff weren’t sure how to deal with the problem.

But yes, absolutely rude! Knowing that there is a shortage, and a limit in place, but getting over $100 of fuel anyway is selfish. But she obviously didn’t care. She can’t say she wasn’t aware if she was asked several times to stop. I’d be curious to know if she left with a full tank, though I assume she would have.

Reply

Candra September 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

At first I didn’t understand why the attendant pumping her gas didn’t just stop at the $50 mark and hand her the receipt…I’m from Oregon, where it’s illegal to pump your own gas. Maybe the gas station could have implemented such a rule during the shortage to keep people in check?

Reply

Kriss September 8, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I agree with the poster above who pointed out that it’s not about the dollar amount exactly, it’s about the sudden increase and what it does to those on a budget. I’m sorry for those of you paying an insane amount because the $2+ is still hitting my wallet hard. I hope that you have a well paying job and/or don’t have to commute far.

Reply

LilyG September 8, 2010 at 10:38 pm

My blessed father-in-law used to tell a story about his days in the Navy when a lieutenant and his men were rescued at sea. As soon as the Loot got on deck, he stupidly said, “Pull up the ladder boys, I’m here!”, ignoring the fact there were still some sailors in the water awaiting rescue.

I think this is a clear case of “Pull up the ladder, boys!”

Reply

Skoffin September 9, 2010 at 3:24 am

I didn’t like some of the dismissal we ‘Europeans’ got over how much we spend on petrol, sure if you go to London you will find a good public transport system. Go a bit outside of it? Not so much. Even through Europe you will find small towns where there is not much in the way of public transport. Even large cities can lack in that department. I’m actually from Australia, where I live the price has not been lower then a $1 for many years and had crept up to nearly $2 for some time. Meanwhile public transport is notoriously bad and simply non-viable for many people. I agree a sudden price change can drastically affect a households budget, and of course I do not find it fair. On this we can agree. However, I do not agree on we ‘non-Americans’ being dismissed particularly on assumptions.

I’m amazed at the LW’s self control really, and everyone else in line. If someone was acting that way in a time of crisis I’d be mighty tempted to let them know what I think of them.

Reply

Bint September 9, 2010 at 3:47 am

Of course I understand the point of it being a huge leap in price, but I don’t see why my comment is ‘off’. I’m just stunned. Our petrol is over $10 per gallon and we have huge areas with no public transportation either, in a severe economic recession. It was just a lighthearted comment because it struck me so much.

I’m also surprised anyone’s stunned by this woman. Has nobody ever seen panic buying? People don’t care about anyone else, or what the government warns them to do. Rude, selfish, definitely, but not exactly surprising.

The attendants should have shut her off pronto, kids or not. They’re equally to blame here.

Reply

Amy September 9, 2010 at 3:59 am

I am wondering if she knew there was a limit…..people don’t always read things that are hanging right in front of their eyes…

Reply

VanessaFGA September 9, 2010 at 6:09 am

“It is funny how people in USA take the low gas prices for granted. ”

!

Considering how gas has increased over the years, at a much higher rate than any other necessity, I wouldn’t call them “low”, but that’s just me. We don’t take them for granted, believe me, but I can’t think of one person who thinks gas is cheap. At the time Ike hit, not only did gas go up an amazing amount in the span of a few hours but there were constant lines and shortages (thanks to the news media and their scare tactics. To dismiss this as Americans taking their “cheap” gas for granted is pretty ridiculous.

Reply

Miss M September 9, 2010 at 9:50 am

I think the “taking for granted” comment isn’t a criticism of Americans nor of the outrage currently felt by those who are taken hostage by their mode of transportation and the fuel costs.
It is probably an indication of, maybe not amusement per se because there’s nothing funny about spiralling costs, but being tickled by what is considered high/low prices for fuel. I live in Scandinavia (Europe) and with a quick liter to gallon converter, and a currency check, I can tell you that on any given day, crisis or no crisis, I pay $ 8.15 /gallon ($1.79 pr liter). If there’s a bad day, or I manage to refuel on a day where the industry feels the crisis more, I pay $2.13 pr liter (9.7 pr gallon).
I’d say, as a European (but I don’t talk for other Europeans), I have a hard time really ‘feeling’ the outrage over growing fuel prices in the US, since on a daily basis, I lay down a huge wad of cash for gas. However, the fact that I think “prices are still so low in the states?” when I read the story doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathise with those who are feeling the effect of growing fuel prices just because I’ve been paying that price and more for the last four years. National or regional difficulties are still best overcome together, and the behaviour described by the OP is still outrageous.

Reply

Robert September 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I worked at a gas station and the first thing I was shown was how to shut down the pumps in case of an emergency. I can’t imagine there is any gas station where the employees would not be able to shut off the pumps. As far as requiring a manager…emergencies don’t wait for managers to come on duty, any employee should be able to shut down the pumps.

Reply

Shayna September 9, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I think we’re forgetting that this isn’t really an emergency situation, so wouldn’t it be against policy to use the emergency shutdown?

Reply

May Destroyer September 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Europeans pay the price for gas of taxes. In other words, it’s their own choice to do so. It would be much more of a hardship for Americans to pay such taxes because we are more spread out with much lower population concentrations than in Europe.

Reply

Bint September 10, 2010 at 4:06 am

‘Europeans pay the price for gas of taxes. In other words, it’s their own choice to do so. It would be much more of a hardship for Americans to pay such taxes because we are more spread out with much lower population concentrations than in Europe.’

I think we can all agree that high fuel prices are difficult for anyone, regardless of where they live. Someone in a big city might struggle just as much as a person living in a remote rural area, depending on their commitments. As the OP knew in her story, *nobody* has a choice about how much they pay for fuel, wherever they live – I don’t know where you got that from, May Destroyer, but it’s just not true. You just have to pay what’s being demanded, fair or not, as the OP found out when the price jumped up overnight. Kudos to her and everyone else for staying in control when faced with that woman.

Reply

Michelle P September 11, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I think we’ve gotten a bit off the subject. The point of the post is that the woman was being rude. I don’t believe for one minute that she didn’t know about the limit, and unless she was blind, deaf, and living under a rock she knew about the shortage and the lines behind her. Just another case of some people feeling entitled and the rules don’t apply to them.

By the way, I lived in Germany for years and the gas prices were astronomical; even when gas went up in the U.S. I was still thankful for the comparably low price we have.

Reply

Miss Raven, gleefully back to $2.50/gal October 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm

So, this is a story I submitted eons back and then forgot about. To clarify a few points, it is near-impossible for this woman to have not known about the limit for a few reasons. The first is that the shortage wasn’t new at this point, nor was it localized. It was all over the region, for days and days and every single station, when and if they received a shipment, had a $50 limit (or sometimes $25). The second is that the signs up were everywhere, including next to and above the display into which you feed your card. The third, and possibly most obvious (and most overlooked by commenters) was that she had been asked THRICE by employees to stop pumping and refused.

From what I’ve read here from those in the know, my guess about shutting off the pump was that it was not in fact an “emergency,” and crisis situation or not the woman was still a customer. Without a manager there to authorize that kind of action, I think any minimum-wage kid would be apprehensive at best about pulling the plug. I don’t fault the kids, but I do fault management for not having a big fat employee meeting to explain what to do in this case, which I’m sure happened more than once during the shortage.

Lastly, the customers waiting outside had no way of knowing for sure (and no one approached her), but the three or four of us inside overheard the employees behind the counter (who were not at all trying to be discreet) complaining as they watched her pump’s meter continue way past the $100 mark. Once the cat was out of the bag it was up to everyone else whether to believe it for themselves, but a few others did approach the attendants and ask what was up, and I have to assume they were all told the same thing we were. Two years ago and still completely unbelievable.

Reply

splatman October 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm

When I started reading the story, I kept thinking the commodity in question was natural gas, especially where it mentioned restaurants (some use gas appliances; no gas=no food), until I got to the part about long lines around the block, did I realized it was about gasoline, or petrol, as sometime I’ll call it, even though I’m American.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: