Needing to stop for gas on the way down to Houston the other day, I pulled off of US-59 into a Valero convenience store/gas station in Shepherd. I drove up to the first pump in a row of six and got out to pump the gas while Carol Ann went into the store to use the rest room. I got out my credit card and swiped it before looking at the pump’s LCD display. When I looked at the pump’s LCD display I couldn’t read it. It looked like the display had suffered a “brown out” because the entire display was brown and unreadable. I had already swiped my card so I went ahead and keyed in my zip code (the first thing they all ask for after swiping your card) and pressed “Enter.” I saw no change in the display and the pump did not come on so I pressed the “Cancel” button, got back in the car, and moved it from pump number one to pump number four. As I was getting out of the car at pump number four, a large pickup truck pulled up to pump number three. I briefly noticed an old white haired rancher in jeans, denim shirt, and cowboy hat getting out of the truck.
I quickly forgot about the guy because as I approached pump number four I could see that its display was unreadable also. Frustrated, I threw my arms up and said to no one in particular, “Shit!” rather loudly. When I looked back at the pump I saw that it was on. “Thank you God!” Although, it was more than likely the clerk in the store, rather than God, who probably saw me having a tantrum and turned the pump on for me. Apparently they are accustomed to turning on the pumps for people since the pump displays are unreadable. I turned back towards the store, waved at where I thought the clerk (or God?) might be, and mouthed, “Thank you!”
I filled the car’s tank, a little over eleven gallons (it’s a small car), and then headed inside to pay for the gas. Two employees were behind the store’s counter. Both seemed to be of Pakistani or Indian roots. A woman was at the register and a man was standing around doing nothing. I walked up, laid my card on the counter, and said, “Pump number four.”
The woman looked up and asked, “How much do you want?”
“I’ve already pumped the gas, just need to pay for it.” I said.
About this time the old rancher walked in and interrupted by saying rather loudly, “Forty dollars on number three,” before turning around and going back out to the pump.
The woman turned back to me and again asked how much gas I wanted. Once again I told her that I had already pumped the gas. “I got seventeen dollars and twenty-one cents worth of gas on pump number four.” She looked confused so I quickly added, “I never swiped my card. I though you turned on the pump.”
“No,” she said. “I didn’t turn on the pump.”
I thought to myself, “You don’t suppose that……..no, I don’t think so!” and addressed the woman. “I tried pump number one first but couldn’t read the screen so I moved to pump number four but I couldn’t read the screen on it either. If you didn’t turn it on, it must have been on when I pulled up because I pumped the gas without ever swiping my card.”
She then pressed some keys and a little printer on the counter popped out a receipt, which she pushed over to me along with a pen. The receipt showed the correct amount, $17.21, but it also showed that a $40 credit had been applied and I was due a refund of $22.79. “But you haven’t even swiped my card. And what’s this forty dollars?” I said.
About that time the old rancher came back inside and interrupted us again. “You still haven’t turned on pump number three!” he grumbled.
“You said pump number four,” she said.
“No, I didn’t. I said forty dollars on pump number three,” he said.
“You told me pump number four,” she said.
“No, I was on pump number four after moving from pump number one and he was on pump number three." I said.
“You never turned on pump number three,” he said.
I felt like I was the straight man to Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" I said, “It looks like you paid for my gas with the forty dollars you haven’t yet paid and I’m getting the change from what you didn’t pay.”
“No,” he said. “I’m not paying that. I haven’t gotten any gas yet!”
By this time the male employee had come over and was listening in. He looked at the receipt and smiled like he had just come up with a great idea. Looking at me and pointing at the old rancher he said, “You can just pay him for your gas!”
Why was I not surprised that he would set himself up like that? I couldn't resist it and answered, “I don’t believe he accepts credit cards.”
“No, I don’t,” said the old rancher.
The man behind the counter shrugged and went back to doing nothing while the woman was still trying to get me to take the pen and sign the receipt.
My credit card still had not been scanned so I wasn't sure who she was charging it to. I certainly wasn't going to sign it. I suggested she cancel it and we could start over. The woman looked at the man and he looked at her. Both looked like they weren’t sure what to do so I said, “Tell the owner this kind of thing wouldn’t happen if he would get the pump screens fixed.”
“Yes, there must be a problem with them,” the woman said. “For some reason I always have to turn the pumps on for people.” Then she took the receipt back and asked once again, “How much gas did you say you got and which pump was it on?”
“Seventeen dollars and twenty-one cents on pump number four,” I said. She tapped on her keyboard and then asked me to swipe my card. I did and a new receipt popped out of the printer. She pushed it over to me with a pen and I looked at it very carefully. It appeared to be correct so I signed it.
“You still haven’t turned on pump number three!” the old rancher said as I was walking out. I wonder if he ever got his gas and managed to pay for it.
Carol Ann was waiting for me in the car. We got back on the highway and I tried to explain what had just happened. You can’t make this kind of shit up!