On the Ridiculousness of Getting Gas in New Jersey

There are those who appreciate what they see as a pleasant reprieve from pumping their own gas. However, I hate getting gas in New Jersey.

A one-day respite in my work schedule allowed me to get in my car and head for the beach. Heading down Broad Street for the Vine, I saw my gas gauge at a little over a quarter of a tank. No reason to pull over in a sketchy neighborhood for expensive city gas.  I could make it a good way down the Expressway before I would need to get gas.

About an hour later I pulled into the Frank S. Farley rest stop. I hit the ladies’ and got a small frozen yogurt. As I pulled out of my parking spot, I glanced at the gas gauge. Almost empty! Fortunately, a large gas station still loomed between me and the highway.

Half of the station island seemed to be closed, but one spot on the open side was free, and I pulled towards it. Suddenly, a heavyset man appeared, wearing a luminous neon yellow vest and waving his arms madly. Perhaps I had pulled into a crime scene by accident, compromising crucial evidence.

But then the man in the blinding vest began to wave me forward with huge, swooping gestures to the empty space at the pump. Then I caught sight of the words on the pump itself: “Full Serve.” My heart sank.

At the Frank S. Farley rest stop, it began with an attendant frantically waving at me, causing me to stop before I realized he was merely directing me, as if, but for his beckoning, I would have crashed heedlessly into a car at one of the occupied pumps, as if  all people’s wits desert them when they cross into Jersey.

Having pulled up safely, I had nothing to do but wait. The first attendant remained where he was, no doubt to make sweeping gestures of doom should any other cars approach. A second attendant flitted between the three other waiting cars. As the moments stretched on, I debated whether I could make it to that gas station at the AC welcome center – only about twenty miles more.

But finally the attendant appeared at my window. Here is another aspect of the full-serve gas experience which I hate: handing my debit card to a complete stranger outside my car.

“Ten dollars of regular, please,” I said. Of course, before he engaged my pump, he had to disengage the nozzle from the car waiting in front of me. “That was $10 of mid-grade, right?” he asked when he came back. “No, regular please,” I said. He inserted the nozzle and started the pump. My $10 of gas took little time to pump, but of course I had to sit and wait for the attendant’s return. I imagined my car feeling slightly embarrassed to be waiting with the nozzle attached, the way you feel when the dentist leaves the room and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to remove an irritating little dental device yourself or just sit drooling til the dentist comes back.

My wait lengthened still more as a car approached the island from the opposite end. This diverted the attendant from the four waiting cars, because he had to run out, his yellow vest effulgent in the dusk, to wave his arms back and forth at the coming car as if facing down a rogue jet on the tarmac. The driver halted, perplexed, and reversed the car a bit. This just caused the attendant to windmill his arms in the opposite direction. Was he merely gesturing for the newcomer to pull into the newly vacant pump? Or did he want the driver to pull around to the opposite side of the island? Or judging from the attendant’s intensity, the whole gas station was about to blow sky-high and he was warning the driver away, it being too late for the rest of us.

As I received my card and receipt and headed back out to the Expressway, finally free of the full-serve pump, I remembered an irritating night at the theatre that left me with the same feeling. The actor was a few minutes into his opening monologue. When a few late arrivals crept to their seats, the actor stopped, looked up at the stage manager, and said, “Let’s have the late-comers seat themselves, and I will start over from the beginning.” He swept back offstage, the Stage Manager reset the cues, and the actor began the show again. An actor in a good play gives something worthwhile to the audience. But when that actor decided to start over, the favor was suddenly from me to him, as I sat politely for his showboating do-over.

This is like sitting in a New Jersey gas station. Ostensibly it is a favor to you to have your gas pumped by someone else. But in reality, it’s irritating to wait for someone else to engage the pump when you could do it yourself in less than half the time, and get back on the road. While the gas station is trying to perform a service for me, I feel as if I myself am doing the gas station a favor by putting up with this ridiculous situation. When I fill up my tank, I want to fill up my tank, not sit there telling myself at least I’m supporting job creation in New Jersey.


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  1. This is a very interesting piece. I understand your frustration, but I think that supporting Job creation in New Jersey shouldn’t stop being important especially during a recession/depression. I’d personally hate having this job, but now it’s stating to look like an interesting career after you’ve likened to dentistry. Speaking of which, I wonder if you ever want to fill your own cavities so that you can get back on the road asap.

  2. “Or judging from the attendant’s intensity, the whole gas station was about to blow sky-high and he was warning the driver away, it being too late for the rest of us.” 🙂

    That was really funny. I could imagine that guy and everyone’s confusion. I also hate full-service gas stations and I’m so glad we don’t have them around here.

  3. Full service is not so foreign to the older generation. It wasn’t so bad just sitting in the car and waiting while the windshield was washed and the smell of gas was only in the air and not on your own hands. It’s kind of a kickback to the slower times of Al’s Mobil.
    Amusing observations though.

  4. “…….wave his arms back and forth at the coming car as if facing down a rogue jet on the tarmac….”
    MY FAVORITE PART LAINA…..I DISLIKE FULL SERVICE GAS ALSO. IT SHOULD BE CALLED SLOW SERVICE GAS . I’m a huge fan of when the attendant will purposely set the flow rate to the popular… “molasses in January” setting, so he can deal with the stress of simultaneous multiple car fill-ups…..
    good stuff Lain- keep it coming.

  5. It is a state law in NJ to have full service attendents, isnt it ?

  6. Lovely. However, I must say that I think it’s a Jersey thing, not a full-service thing. Here in Oregon we’re not allowed to pump our own gas, and I don’t think I’ve ever had service that wasn’t prompt, attentive, accurate and friendly. Not to gloat, or anything…

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