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