Thursday, March 28, 2013


I was really excited when the full-serve gas station reopened in Pembroke a couple months ago because when it comes to pumping my own gas, I know about as much about it as I do about flying a jet plane.

A few days ago, I pulled into the Pembroke station because my gas gauge was reading below a quarter of a tank. I could see a guy inside the station and a mechanic working on a car, but no one came out. So I sat at the pump a while longer. Still, no one came out. Another car pulled in next to me. We both waited. Finally, the other driver got impatient and laid on his horn. No one acknowledged him.

Admitting defeat, we both gave up and drove off.

I couldn’t help but think about the old days when all gas stations had a little hose-type of thing that, when a car ran over it, would ring inside the station and alert the employee that someone was at the pump. My dad, whenever he became impatient, used to back up and run over that hose again and again until someone finally came out – usually irritated enough by then to clobber him with some heavy mechanical tool.

So on my way to Concord the next day, I once again stopped at the station. This time, the gas pumps had bags covering them. I didn’t have to be a genius to realize I was out of luck. Yet, I still sat at the pump, staring at it and willing the hose to magically leap off its perch and fill my tank for me.

By then, my car’s noisy little “low fuel” alarm was sounding and blinking. Frowning at the dashboard, I did what I felt was the only logical thing to do under the circumstances: I ignored it and still went shopping. I remembered someone once telling me I could go another 20 miles after the alarm sounded, so I wasn’t too concerned. And besides that, I had an urgent craving for World Table brand chocolate-mint cookie thins, which are to die for (and available exclusively at Walmart), so I was willing to take the risk.

It was only when I was headed back home from Concord in the dark that I began to worry. The front seat of my car was piled high with groceries and my back seat was piled high with my two rottweilers.  My gas gauge’s needle was pegged on “E”.  What, I wondered, would happen if I ran out of gas and had to sit around for ages waiting for roadside service to bring me gas? I was pretty sure the rottweilers would overtake me and eat all of the groceries…including the paper products.

I found myself wishing New Hampshire could be like Oregon, where it’s illegal to pump your own gas – probably because they don’t want dummies like me squirting gas everywhere but into the tank.

I was about eight miles from home when I realized I soon would be on Deerfield Road – one of the darkest, curviest, hilliest and spookiest roads in the state at night. Even worse, places to pull over on it are really scarce, unless you want your car to become intimate with a tree.

Panic suddenly set in.  I made a sharp turn into the lot of the convenience store on Route 28 and pulled up to one of the pumps. I then got out of my car and stared at the pump as if it were an alien being that had just been beamed down from another planet.

At that moment, another car pulled in next to me.  I practically attacked the guy when he stepped out.

“Can you do me a huge favor and show me how to put gas in my car?” I asked him. “I’ve never done this before!”

The look he gave me clearly told me he thought I was the one who’d been beamed down from another planet.

Not looking very pleased, he walked over to show me what to do. And at that precise moment, my two dogs, thinking he probably was the Boston Strangler’s  long-lost nephew who was about to wrap the gas hose around my neck, viciously barked, growled and lunged at the car’s windows.

The guy jumped back a few feet and decided to point at the pump from a distance.  I had no clue what he was pointing at. I mean, it could have been the windshield squeegee hanging there, for all I knew. Finally he said, “You’ll do just fine,” and rushed back to his own car.

I glared at my two dogs.

Becoming more and more desperate, I ventured into the store and threw myself at the mercy of the clerk.

“I’m in urgent need of gas and I have no clue how to pump my own because I always go to full-serve!” I practically shouted at her. From behind me came a calm voice. “Don’t worry, sweetie, just let me cash out my stuff and I’ll help you.”

I turned around to see a female customer who probably was young enough to be my daughter, smiling at me.  I felt like grabbing her and hugging her.

Sure enough, she went out to my car, explained step by step what she was doing, and filled the tank.  And my dogs were perfect little angels the entire time, probably because I was giving them my best “scare this one away and I swear I will hold your favorite squeaky toy hostage!” look.

“There you go!” she said, hanging up the hose and neatly clicking my gas cap back into place. “Now you’ll know what to do next time!”

No, I won’t.  I forgot to take notes.


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