A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Sometimes human interaction proves too much for me.
I realize I may have a lower threshold for rage than others, but I’m fairly certain this recent experience would be enough to get any woman’s blood boiling. I present to you an episode which I am calling: “Nina and Claire Attempt to Get Gas in Englewood, New Jersey.”
It began simply enough. We had been in New Jersey enjoying a tangential relationship to someone who has a pool, as it was a wonderfully hot day. As we headed back into the city, I realized that we were in bad need of fuel. Unfamiliar with the town and what our options might be, and aghast at the price we’d seen at the only other place we passed by, we stopped at a place called Delta Gas, a tiny station which advertised a surprisingly competitive rate.
More: Tri-State Area Gas Map
We pulled in from one perfectly legal direction and installed ourselves at a pump just as a fat, bald guy in a little Porsche (is there any other kind, really?) was trying to pull in facing us. Because the station was so small, he was forced to drive around, pull in behind us, and park on the other side of the pumps. But first, he sat in his car, facing us, and shooting laserbeams out of his eyes. I wasn’t entirely sure what he expected to happen. Were we supposed to back up and drive around to the other side to make way for so obviously important a man? We were supposed to wink out of existence entirely so that he could fuel up and continue with his day as the only person on the planet?
I’m not sure. Either way, he needn’t have worried about us.
Despite the fact that he very obviously arrived after we did, and we’d been sitting in our perfectly respectable if somewhat unfashionable 2003 Subaru Legacy for some time, the attendant immediately materialized at the Porsche before the man had even turned off the engine. We waited, annoyed but still patient, for our turn. Sure, it was sexist. And sure, it was elitist. But maybe there’s some gas station attendant code about mandatory attention to those in expensive cars. Perhaps this man had no choice, as there is some written hierarchy as to which make and model of car must be serviced first. No, we didn’t really think that. My rage tank was already fast filling up.
Finally, the attendant slowly (did I detect of whiff of begrudging, too?) approached our car. With little more than a grunt, he communicated to me that he would like to know my preference of fuel type. I told him, he set up the nozzle, and he disappeared.
As Claire and I were chatting and waiting, we looked over and saw a man ambling over to the Porsche with the intent of shooting the breeze.
“When you gonna sell me this car, huh?” he said with grating jocularity. Actually, he said it about twelve times in the course of their conversation, each time like it was just as funny and clever a joke as the last.
I heard him make some mention of his being the owner, or perhaps the owner’s son, which is when I realized that he wasn’t a friend who happened by, but an employee. And that is precisely when Claire and I quit eavesdropping and realized that our gas had been done pumping for a very, very long time. I hung out of the window looking annoyed. And yet, they were still talking.
The man in the Porsche was holding court, clearly in an expansive humor. “Oh, I’m the kind of guy who can talk to people,” he was saying. “I drive all over in this thing! I’m from Brooklyn, and I still go there all the time…” He dropped off and glanced in my direction. “Uh, these ladies over here,” he gestured to us with visible annoyance and alerted his friend to our glaring presence.
The owner’s son or nephew or son-in-law or whoever he was slowly, so slowly peered around the pump until he made eye contact with me. He made no move to come closer.
“You need something?”
“Our gas has been done pumping for a long time, now.” I said as evenly as I could muster.
He shrugged and turned back to Fat Porsche Man. “The attendant will be out soon,” he tossed over his shoulder.
I can only guess as to what my expression might have been at that moment.
I was about ten seconds away from getting out and removing the pump myself. State laws be damned! What could they do to me? Throw me in prison? Fine me? To call it “self-service” at that point would have been a wild exaggeration. It was more like “self-preservation.” As my fingers itched towards the door handle, the attended finally plodded over and shrugged, by way of asking what the hell it is that I wanted. “The gas is done pumping,” I said. “It has been done pumping. For a very long time.” He grunted at me and finished the transaction, thereby releasing us from this tiny corner of the world to which I wish never to return. I never imagined that getting gas could turn into a lesson in class and gender inequality.
Naturally, we hadn’t gone more than a quarter of a mile before we’d passed three or four large gas stations with similar prices.
What’s the lesson here? That no matter how much progress this world makes, there will always be people with unfortunate priorities and values? That money talks? That if you’re fat and bald, you might want to try driving a Porsche? Next time, I’ll wait until I’m over the bridge.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
The Nina In New York Archives: