Station Yourself Carefully

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Iím sure itís not my imagination, although I did attend college in the early 70s, but it sure seems to me that, despite the relatively modest price for gasoline - $1.35 for self-serve, regular - the actual stopping and pumping is a more arduous and dangerous process then it ever was during the gas lines, odd/even energy crisis. At least then there was order. Now, itís chaos.

You have multiple gas-hungry vehicles entering gas stations from multiple driveways angling for multiple pumps (Iíve seen as many as 24) dispensing fuel from multiple islands, with only one employee with one cash register (also selling cigarettes, candy, lottery tickets, sundries, etc.), handling multiple customers, with their multiple demands and needs, some of whom are paying with cash while others are paying with a credit or debit card.

Complicating the process even more is the automobile-design fact that the gas caps are not on the same side for every vehicle. Most are on the left or the right side, with perhaps a few still located behind the license plate in the rear. And typically, most drivers want to line their fuel tank/gas cap with a pump on the same side so theyíre not having to stretch the hose across the trunk (hood) and then awkwardly angle the nozzle into their vehicleís fuel tank.

Therefore, vehicles entering from the left that have their gas caps on the left are wanting to line up on the same side of the gas stationís pumps as the vehicles that are entering from the right that have their gas caps on the right. And the vehicles entering from the left who have their gas caps on the right are wanting to line up on the same side as the gas stationís pumps as the vehicles entering from the right that have their gas caps on the left.

The effect is that you have cars lined up backward and forward, nose to nose, rear to rear, all over the station, while other vehicles are entering and exiting at crazy angles, with still more vehicles circling the pumps - like birds of prey - scouting for an available pump and on finding one, anywhere on the premises, sometimes even turning a backward 180 in order to fill the open slot.

All this activity occurring while people (pumpers) are walking to and from the cashier, and back and forth from the pumps to their vehicles. And God help all of us self-servers if thereís inclement weather or, worse, a need to top off our fuel tanks because of a predicted two-inch snowstorm. Then the fun really begins.

There really is a need for crosswalks, pedestrian bridges or directional arrows to manage all this movement, especially when you consider the underlying impatient fact - itís every man for himself, and women and children are not first. Itís not exactly the Titanic, although there is likely to be death and disaster. It occurs every day, everywhere, every time anyone gases up. People and their vehicles are scurrying around trying to get in and get out with minimal guidance and maximum self-interest. Throw in the principle of decency (i.e. who was in line or in queue before whom, regardless of station entry point or pump angle) and youíll have still worse behavior, and we donít even have an energy crisis.

But I think we do have a crisis, of sort. A crisis of caring and consideration - and safety. I know there are warning signs posted at gas stations about topping off, smoking, leaving the vehicleís engine running, using a battery-operated device and so forth, but there needs to be some mention about access and egress. Otherwise thereíll be a new expression for mass confusion: Itís like a gas station out there.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.