A handwritten sign stuck on the pump said, “CASH ONLY please pay inside.” The pump had a credit card slot, one so old the plastic was chipped and the keypad numbers were wearing off. I guess it was broken.
“Could I get twenty dollars on pump 2?” I asked the girl behind the counter. She jabbed at the cash register until it spat out a little white piece of paper.
“Here you go,” was all she said.
I hadn’t done that in years and years, gone inside to pay cash for gas. It threw me all the way back to when I was in high school, driving the big blue boat my dad had bought for his teenage driver, and I used to always put five dollars of gas in the tank on a Thursday to get her to the end of the week when Dad would fill it up the rest of the way. I remember trying to figure out some way to get the hood ornament off the car without Dad noticing. Couldn’t he tell that things like that mattered? There was not a single other vehicle in the entire high school parking lot with a hood ornament.
A scrawny red hen with a pack of fluffy chicks crossed my path as I walked back to the gas pump. It felt strange to just pop the gas cap cover, unscrew the cap, pick up the dispenser and start pumping. I was used to having to swipe my card. When I picked up the dispenser, gasoline spattered everywhere. Some hit my sandaled feet, and burned cold there while I fitted the end of the dispenser into the car. I squeezed the lever and the machine beside me set up a rattling whine. Every second or so a loud thump shook the hose, making it twitch like an angry snake. Alarmed, I raised my eyes to the underside of the canopy that covered the gas pumps. Dangerously rusted panels showed pipes with cracked paint visible underneath, like someone on the operating table with arteries exposed. It looked like the whole thing might fall down on top of me.
Was I going to die pumping gasoline at a tumble-down country gas station? Was the pump going to burst? Catch on fire?
A couple of women in a huge red pickup were pumping at the pump ahead of me. Their pump was thumping right along with mine, and they didn’t seem to care. Maybe they pumped gas at this station a couple times a week, and it hadn’t fallen down on them yet. While I watched the pump for any signs of spewing gas or mechanical failure, the digital numbers on the display ticked up steadily until they reached 19 dollars. Then the pump slowed and came to a final shuddering stop at $20.00.
Would you like a receipt? The digital letters ran across the little strip of screen over the keypad.
I pressed no.
The message continued to play, unresponsive, Would you like a receipt?
Grateful to have my gasoline, and that the pump hadn’t gone to pieces, I climbed back in my car and drove away.