How NOT to behave at a gas station.

What a Gas!

Photo from the movie "Zoolander"
Photo from the movie "Zoolander"

I’m fairly certain this hasn’t happened to anyone…but if it has, please share your experience:

On Friday evening around rush hour, I stopped at Warren’s Shell Service at 1201 Chicago Avenue to fill up my tank. With my 8-year-old sitting in the car, I locked the nozzle to fill the tank automatically; I wanted to elicit a long overdue smile from him (he’s recovering from a broken collar bone).

I knocked on his window and got a sad stare. Not surprising.

Then, I pressed an imaginary elevator button and slowly bent my knees. From his perspective, it looked like I was heading down one floor. When I popped up, he was laughing.

I should have stopped there, but once you get a sad kid laughing, you're addicted.

I crouched below the windows and walked, hunched over, to the opposite side of the car. When I popped up unexpectedly, I could hear his laughter from outside the car.

I wanted more.

Creeping to the rear of my car, I pounded on the back window and watched him jump with delight before finding his sneaky mom playing games.

What a rush...and he was having a great time, too.

Next, I wanted to pop up near the driver’s side window. I crept under the gas hose (still pumping gas into my car) and stood up quickly, only to realize I’d accidentally yanked the hose out of the tank.

You’d think there’d be an automatic shutoff when a rapidly-pumping gasoline hose becomes disengaged from the tank, right?

Imagine if you will, this slow-motion vignette:

Hose pulls out of car, snags on the hood of a down coat…owner of coat stands up and feels something wet rushing down her back…realizes it’s gasoline and knocks the hose out of her coat, wondering why the hell gas is still shooting if the hose isn’t IN THE CAR…hose hits cold concrete and continues shooting everywhere…owner of coat reaches down to unlock hose while service station attendant comes running to assist terrified owner of now soaking-with-gasoline coat.

“What the?” the attendant yelled.

“I’m so sorry!” I stammered, knowing I shouldn’t have crawled under the hose.

“It should have turned off!” he said. “Are you okay?” he asked, looking me over.

“I’ve got a lot of gas on me,” I said, taking off my coat. “Why didn’t the hose unlock when it came out?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m getting some water.”

He went into the station and came back out with a large bucket of water. First, he rinsed my feet, then the side of my car. He used several more buckets of water to dilute the gas that had spilled all over the concrete.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” the attendant said.

“Me too,” I said. “I’d have that pump checked.”

“Definitely,” he said, and I believed him.

“Did you ever see that movie where the guys have the squirt-fight at the gas pump?” I asked, laughing at my own idiocy.

“Huh?” he said.

“It’s a bunch of guys…they’re not really very bright…they squirt each other with gasoline…”

“Can’t say I have,” the gas station attendant said.

“You’ve got to check it out,” I said, just wanting to go home. I was afraid that any little spark might blow me up. (The movie was ZOOLANDER, and here’s the scene I’d been referring to).

“Thanks again,” I said to the (clearly shaken) attendant. “I’m really sorry.”

“Not a problem,” he said, waving goodbye.

I got into the car and rolled down all the windows.

“What’s that smell?” my son asked, using his good arm to hold his nose.

“I spilled some gas on my coat,” I said.

“That's really dangerous...and now it’s really cold in here,” he said, rolling up his window.

“Honey, keep it down,” I said. “Just till we get home.” 

“Are we still stopping at Redbox for a video?” he asked.

Had he not been depressed all day about missing his soccer camp and drum lessons and all the other fun things two-armed eight-year-olds take for granted, I would have shouted, “Nate! I’m covered in gasoline. No time for videos!” Instead, because I’m the biggest sucker in the world, I made a hard right into the parking lot so he could pick out a video.

As we approached the entrance, several employees stood outside.


I had visions of someone flicking a butt toward me…igniting a mother in front of her child…you get the picture.

Well, I made it home alive with the video. My down coat and my shoes weren’t so lucky.  Still, the way I look at it, the outcome could have been far worse…

victoria smith December 05, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Not me personally, but my Mother had an incident with a gas pump a long time ago. When she lived in the Edgewater Beach apartments on Sheridan Road, the bright pink building that looks like a birthday cake....they had a mini gas station in the building in the basement. She filled up her car and the proceeded to drive off without removing the hose. Well,,, she pulled the tank off it's cement stand . Of coarse there was gas every where, fire department etc....and a very embarassed woman. She was ok and so was the building and her car, but I wish that I had been there to see all of this. The attendents talked about it for months!
Richard Schulte December 05, 2011 at 01:26 PM
“That's really dangerous...and now it’s really cold in here,” he said, rolling up his window." Smart 8 year old. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 300 Americans die as a result of vehicle fires annually (and 1,500 Americans are injured in vehicle fires)-usually after an accident. You were fortunate not to be a statistic. Just a little static electricity and you could have been (burnt) toast. 1 gallon of gasoline has enough energy in it to proprel a 2,000 pound car 30 miles. I guess the warning signs at the gas station (and on the gasoline tanker trucks) just aren't big enough. In the old days, an attendant was required to pump gasoline because of the danger. There was a reason why the law required gasoline to be pumped by an attendant-it's still the law in Oregon and (I think) New Jersey.
J C December 05, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Being one of the ingredients of NAPALM , One should never fool around while refueling a vehicle ! We always take a fire extinguisher with us when we road test cars at the shop, Just because you never know what might happen. Everyone should have one inside their car. And a spare in the trunk . Be safe people not sorry.
Debirag December 05, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Citgo Station on Greenbay near Asbury: pump never shut off, gas everywhere, had to pay almost twenty dollars more than needed. Attendant refused to help, police came and blamed my car, fire department said they would cover the ground with sand (don't think they did), Citgo's (they're a Latin American company) regional director refused to refund me. Never going back to a Citgo station again!
Richard Schulte December 05, 2011 at 05:35 PM
I believe the Evanston Fire Prevention Code and State Law requires an emergency pump shut-off. Citco is a Venezuelan company (Hugo Chavez-another socialist dictator).
Debirag December 05, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Police did 0 except try to make out something wrong with my car. I still have the report reference # on file.
fishman December 05, 2011 at 06:51 PM
I once drove off without pumping the gas and when I came back to the pump, someone was already pumping (I pre-pay inside). When I went in to pay for another tank of gas, I told the clerk what happened (not expecting him to do anything). He shut off the pump and went outside to scold the person for pumping my gas. The BP at Dempster and McCormick has a customer for life and I will remember to stay focused - it's a challenge these days.
Christine Wolf December 05, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Actually a great idea. I have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen and one near my fireplace. Makes sense to carry one in the car. Thanks.
Christine Wolf December 05, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Can't blame you, Deborah.
Christine Wolf December 05, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Speaking of BP, a lot of people boycotted BP after the oil spill. What do you think about that?
Richard Schulte December 05, 2011 at 08:52 PM
The Gulf Coast is as clean as a whistle today. Oil is a naturally occurring substance and oil leaks from the ocean floor are a common everyday occurrences. There is bacteria in the ocean which "eats" oil. You may recall the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in the Gulf of Alaska in the early 1990's. No permanent damage. Actually I specifically patronize Exxon/Mobil and BP to show my support for these two companies because they have been demonized by "environmentalists". Environmentalism only exists in prosperous countries. Exxon/Mobil and BP make America prosperous. Hence, E/M and BP are the ultimate environmentalists. It is the socialist countries, think East Germany, the USSR and China, which have no concern for the environment. You may have heard about arsenic in apple juice-60 percent of the frozen apple juice concentrate in the US comes from China. Where do you think the arsenic in the juice is coming from-you guessed it, socialist China. China has no environmental regs to speak of. Hence, the comment about Hugo Chavez-the socialist dictator of Venzeula.
Richard Schulte December 05, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Actually not a great idea. In order to use a fire extinguisher properly you have to be trained in how to use one. Fire extinguishers need to be serviced annually. The cost of the fire extinguisher and the annual servicing means that they are very expensive. More than likely, if you purchase a fire extinguisher, you won't have it serviced. Next time you go to the gas station, note the location of the fire extinguisher already provided. As a fire protection professional, no way would I attempt to control a gasoline fire with a fire extinguisher. My advice would be to get the hell away from the gasoline and let the fire department handle it. If your clothing catches on fire, stop, drop and roll. I just saved you the cost of buying a fire extinguisher-they are a waste of money, unless you know what you're doing with one.
fishman December 05, 2011 at 11:14 PM
I look at boycotting BP like Barbara Streisand calling for a boycott of Colorado a few years ago. It only hurts the little guy (the BP franchise owner/ski lift operator) and has zero impact on the people the boycott was intended to hurt. Well intended, but completely misguided - in my opinion
John Brinkmann December 11, 2011 at 03:23 PM
As serious an incident Catherine, I cant help but be amused by your humorous recantation of events...Very glad all turned out okay and sincerely understand your well intended (and creative) effort to bring a smile to your kid's face...Regardless of how safe we strive to be---poop still happens...and safe to say you've most likely retired from any further improv routines while fueling up---But I can't help wonder if Warren has this ordeal on security video cam?---no doubt it would go viral on youtube!---(just teasing)---again, very happy all turned out well---hope your son is recovering and feeling better---he certainly has one heck'uva story to tell to his kids someday about grandma---:D
Christine Wolf December 12, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Thanks, John, though I'm not sure which name unsettled me more: "Catherine" or "Grandma" :)
John Brinkmann December 12, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Many apologies Christine---no idea how I came up with Catherine, but have no fear--someday you'll wear 'grandma' with great pride--:D
E. March 21, 2014 at 10:04 AM
Gas station at Green Bay & Lake St. in Wilmette: I set the hose to fill my tank using the auto-shutoff switch. The switch malfunctioned and never shut off. Gas went spilling all over my car & the ground after the tank was full. Attendant was unapologetic and made me pay for all the extra gas. That's the last time I will ever buy gas there, and now I'm always wary of trusting the auto-shutoff switches on pumps.
E. March 21, 2014 at 10:19 AM
BTW, I find it astounding that an adult would take the risk of crawling under the hose of a working gas pump. Do you also talk on your cell phone while driving? Every day I see Evanston moms (yes, more than men) breaking this law, often driving inattentively, and modeling for their kids to follow in their footsteps.
Lisa Edwards March 21, 2014 at 12:26 PM
Christine, this happened to me a long time ago in Indiana. Luckily I was near, but the pump DID NOT click when my tank got full! Gas started running down the sides of the car before I yanked it out. No water, so I used the station's windshield cleaning liquid to wipe the gas off. I'm glad you & your son were okay, though.
Stan Wojciechowski March 21, 2014 at 01:48 PM
It never ceases to amaze me how silly people can be when dealing with kids. Sometimes the kid shows more common sense than the adult. A gas station is no place to be clowning around. The slightest spark could have caused a disaster. Keep an eye on the pump and save the play time for a more appropriate location.
Christine Wolf March 21, 2014 at 01:50 PM
You're all absolutely right about not clowning around at the station. I learned a great lesson.
Scotirish March 21, 2014 at 03:21 PM
Glad you are safe as well as your son, however the first thing that jumped in my head when you mentioned the gas station was that you must really have needed some gas because while the guys who work there are very helpful that is the most expensive gas station in Evanston for certain and maybe for miles around.
E. March 21, 2014 at 03:32 PM
Yes Scotirish, you are correct. I never get gas there and often wonder why anyone else does, given how they price gouge.
Sara J. McMurray March 22, 2014 at 09:58 AM
Bought gas at Warren Shell one time when I was new in town. 15 years ago. Still smarting - no reason ever ever ever to pay their prices and cannot for the life of me figure out how they stay in business. Glad you're safe Christine and it all worked out. Sh*t happens. Lesson learned!


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