What should have been a short 15 to 20 minute trip for gas nearly turned into a horror show as my econoline van is on its last half gallon.

After a canceled work appointment, I moved down my list to “fill tank”. Trips to the gas station are never enjoyable because, civil rights be damned, station workers are not coming out to help unless you are either known to the owner or customer traffic is low enough to risk lending a hand.

Early after I left the University of Florida, I had to quickly establish a rapport with one of the local stations to ensure service when I need it. Establishing rapport usually means arriving on a weekday in the early even around 7 or 8 p.m. Stations usually aren’t under high demand at those times and its easier to make friends with the workers or the owner.

At the Texaco Station on the corner of Congress and Lake Worth Road in Lake Worth, FL, I had done just that in August of 2000. The logical choice today would have been to drive out to Lake Worth and visit my usual station. The funny thing about logic, however, is that there can be several logical choices–like the closest station.

So it goes. Heading east bound on Lake Worth Road, I stop at a long light on Kirk Road. In that time, I make a decision to enter the left turn lane because there are two stations–Speedway and Circle K–on the North corners.

In a significantly ominous sign, the lady in front of me actually runs out of gas. Since there’s no way I’m joining her troubles, I manage to fit my vehicle between her and the median to make my move when it’s clear or I get the green. The situation was clear and turned into Kirk Road then turned into Speedway.

I take a spot, grab my phone and call information which connects me to Speedway.


“yeah, I’m a disabled driver, could you please send someone out to help me pump my gas?”

“uh… disabled driver?”

“Yes sir. I’m in a wheelchair and need help at the pump. I’m in the white van.”

“Ok. Wait a couple of minutes. I’ll send somebody out.”

That’s usually a very good sign. Slight consideration of the theoretical implications of a disabled customer then acceptance. Within a minute, a station worker comes out to help.

The first sign of a problem should have been the broken English but I don’t think that way. The first problem was the fact that the gentleman had clearly never ever used the automatic credit system at the pump and, quite possibly, had never pumped gas before.

The young man played around with the credit card for several minutes and then with the pump itself for several minutes. After many adjustments and attempts, he came to the conclusion upon handing back my credit card, “You have a problem with your fuel tank.”

“What kind of problem?”

“Your tank is leaking.”

“what?!? Like my tank could explode at any second?”

“no think so. Do you have any fuel left?”

This question sets off some alarms in my mind. I start to think that this punk just doesn’t want to help because he has no idea on how to slide a credit card. At my residence, I park on an incline and I’m surrounded by concerned and curious neighbors. Any fuel leak would be immediately noticeable. From my right side mirror, I can see the intersection where I was stuck behind the woman who really ran out of gas. No odd or dangerous looking puddles. One gallon of gas has been put in my van. The engine is on and the needle remains at slightly above 1/8th of a tank. Something isn’t right.

“I’m completely empty.” A lie. “How much fuel did I lose?”

“One gallon. For this one gallon, I must charge you one dollar and eighty-nine cents.”

“Ok. But where can I go to fix this? Am I going to randomly explode on the road?”

“I do not know. Please wait. I will be back.”

You lying asshole. I can’t smell fuel. The tank went slightly up. You can lick whatever fuel stays behind.

After signing the credit slip for a gargantuan $1.89, I did a 3 point turn to exit this station and head over to Circle K across the street. Of course, I had the overwhelming urge to see the giant puddle of new gas plus old gas. Three or four gallons of wet gasoline must be a dangerous situation.

Oddly enough, my spot was dry as a bone. Onward! To Circle K!

I went through the usual routine of calling information to reach the station workers.

“Circle K.”

“I’m a disabled driver and I need help pumping my gas. Could you please send someone out to help?”

“Disabled driver? Who is this? Disabled drivers don’t exist. Is this a joke?”

Clearly, the savages become restless when confused. “I assure you, ma’am, this is not a joke. I really am in a wheelchair. I really do drive. I really am calling you from the white van by pump #4. I need assistance at the pump.”

“Well… all we have are two young girls. Nobody is leaving the store. You’ll just have to wait for some kind gentleman to help you out.”

Some kind gentleman? My money is green but now I’m a beggar. I’ll even tip this mass of protoplasm against her company policy but I’m a beggar. She has extra personnel which is precisely the point of dealing with cases like this. I’m not going to argue here. “Ok, ma’am. I understand. Good-bye.”

Luckily, somebody is always watching out for me. Not even two seconds after this phone call, a Palm Beach County Sheriff Deputy pulled up to the tank across from me. Anybody else would ignore the “excuse me, sir” statement. I explained to the officer that I needed someone to fill my tank.

He was happy to assist.

With a 29 gallon tank, there’s plenty of room for chat. His name is Todd. He asked a couple of questions about disabled driving. I told him that getting gas is the most difficult part because of uncertainty and ignorance. Speedway refuses to admit incompetence and Circle K refuses to see if it’s possible to assist. I had an urge to get on a soapbox about civil rights and companies ignoring their own policies but I decided to leave it at light conversation until the tank filled.

Or he saw the massive puddle of fuel that should have been developing on the pavement… whichever came first.

When the pump clicked, he closed up. I wished him good blessings and was on my way.

Why did the first guy give up and blame my van when he couldn’t operate the pump? Why did the second girl implicitly slot me in the beggar category when Circle K has a policy on situations like this? What is the ultimate significance of getting help from a police officer rather than an ordinary citizen?

When I returned to my crib, I spent over 10 minutes waiting for the mysterious fuel leak. It never came.

This is life on Devil’s Island. Self-centered assholes are the rule, not the exception in South Florida. As an unfortunate side-effect, people like these make me stronger but more–possibly unnecessarily–aggressive.

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