I live in an old house out in the country, with a somewhat antiquated heating system that I supplement with a kerosene space heater. (I think what we call kerosene here in the U.S. is known in the other parts of the world as paraffin.) I like this arrangement, as power outages are fairly common around here, and my kerosene supply means I’ll have heat whether or not I have electricity.
For the past six or seven winters, I’ve been getting my kerosene at a particular service station on the other side of town. I fuel up every two weeks or so, and have a nice, friendly relationship with the man who runs the place, a kindly, soft-spoken Pakistani gentleman.
Last week, I pulled up to the kerosene pump, which is off to the side of the station lot. There was a car parked there, but no one in it, or pumping fuel, or anywhere in sight. I got my two jerrycans out of the trunk and began filling the first. At this point, a young woman came charging out of the office, shouting. She was hauling a small boy along by the hand. I didn’t pay much attention until, a few seconds later, it became apparent that I was the object of her tirade. She stopped in front of me, shouting, “I pre-paid! What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get away from there!”
“Oh!” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize someone was using this pump.” I had already pumped about eight dollars worth of fuel. She kept shouting, saying that I was stealing her gas. I said, “Look, why don’t I finish with this can, then you can go ahead and get what you need.” My manner was calm and polite. I explained, when I could get a word in, that I’d been getting kerosene here for years and never been asked to pre-pay. I apologized again, and suggested we sort it out in the office, but that I didn’t want to leave an open container of flammable liquid sitting out in the open. The young woman continued to shout at me, though, and said that not only was I stealing her stuff, I was copping an attitude, and I was an A-word, and a B-word, and a C-You-Next-Tuesday word. And the other A-word that’s a little longer and more offensive than the first A-word.
I stopped pumping and just stared at her. “Excuse me?” I said. The girl wanted to know what I thought I was doing, didn’t I see her car parked right there? I think it was at this point that I realized that nothing I could say would satisfy her, that anything I did say would only escalate the situation. So I went back to pumping the gas. She pulled out her phone and asked me how I would like it if she called the police. I stopped pumping again and looked at her. “Miss,” I said, “You’re calling me a thief and cursing at me. I have nothing to say to you. Call the police if you want. I’ll be done here in a few minutes, then I’ll go inside to pay. You do what you think best.” The little boy had begun crying. I turned away from her and resumed pumping. She kept on shouting, and now was yelling at her child, too. I turned back to her, held up my hand, and said, “Miss, we’re done. Do whatever you want.”
She went storming back to the office, the wailing boy in tow. I finished pumping my kerosene, loaded the cans back into the trunk, and went to the office, as well. She was regaling the other customers and the teenage cashier (the Pakistani gentleman was not there, unfortunately) about my outrageous behavior. I continued to ignore her, paid for my kerosene and left. The whole affair had taken less than five minutes.
It was a distressing incident. I felt very embarrassed, and I wished the regular owner had been there. I lead a quiet, relatively conflict-free life, and I’m not accustomed to having curses hurled at me at top volume. I don’t as a rule invite quarrel and disputation, and if something does arise, I’m far more likely to quit the field of battle than to engage. I realize my responsibility for what went down, but it was basically just a misunderstanding, a situation that could have been easily resolved without all the amperage and high drama. I’m not sure how else I could have handled it. It’s not likely I’ll ever see this young harridan again, anyway, so that’s fine. But the whole business left a really bad taste in my mouth. 0313-13
I reread your story a few times and it appears that you initially committed yourself to only fill one gas can upon hearing that someone else had prepaid for the gas but when the conversation did not go well, you continued to keep pumping until both cans were full and you put them back in your truck. I’m rather flabbergasted you continued to pump kerosene into 2 gas cans even after knowing the other woman had already prepaid for the kerosene you were now pumping without any indication to her of stopping.
And just because you have never prepaid for kerosene does not mean that every other client of the service station also purchases their kerosene in the exact same way. I, for example, always prepay when buying gas to go into gas cans for the simple reason that the pumps are strong and if I prepay, the operator sets the pump to only give me XX amount of gas so that I do not overfill the can by accident. The other woman clearly did prepay for her own kerosene and if the station operates like the ones where I live do, you were pumping your gas on her dime.
What to say when she came barreling out of the station office? Immediately stop pumping kerosene and say, “Oh, I am so sorry! I’ve been buying kerosene here for years and just assumed the pump was available as usual.” Promptly put the cap on your not full can while saying, “Let me go fix this right away with the station operator so that you can get the kerosene you paid for.” Go directly to station office and you take the initiative to resolve the problem. “I seem to have made a mistake and started pumping my kerosene like I usually do and did not realize this woman had prepaid and was ahead of me. Can you please fix this? I pumped $8 worth of kerosene.” Then wait your turn after her to get your kerosene since she was there first and she had prepaid before you. This situation got totally out of control because 1) you had somewhat of an entitled attitude to getting your usual allotment of kerosene as you normally did; 2) your comments to her were like throwing kerosene on a fire…pun intended. You kept explaining your actions and saying nothing that actually assuaged the other woman’s belief that you usurped her position for gas and was taking something that belonged to her; 3) she controlled the entire situation when you had the means to stop the drama or at least nullify it with dignity. Was sticking to your guns and getting every drop of your bi weekly kerosene pumped into your two jerry cans before you addressed her grievances worth the drama?