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Gas and Tacos

While I was on vacation, I visited what must be one of the worst-managed gas stations in the country. Immediately, things didn't look good. The machine at the pump would accept cash or debit cards (no credit cards, but that's not a big deal) but if you wanted to pay with cash — and I did — the machine would force you to pre-pay.

What's wrong with pre-paying? I didn't know how much gas I wanted to buy! I wanted to fill the tank without regard to exactly how much that would cost. The gas station's plan was "customers will overpay, then visit the convenience shop to get change. And maybe they'll buy something else, too." Oh, no, we won't. My plan was "I'll just put $20 in. I know that won't fill the tank, but it will be over three-quarters full and that's good enough."

You see how their plan backfired. I was willing, even expecting, to spend more than $20. Their policy reduced their revenue. Actually, they're lucky they got any revenue from me at all — it gets worse.

The payment machine was badly labeled. You're supposed to enter the pump number, but the only prominent number in view is the payment machine's number, which isn't the same as the pump's number. Fine, I figured that out, but I'll bet a lot of people end up activating the wrong pump.

The next problem was that the machine wouldn't take my cash. I was trying to feed it a crisp new $20, a perfect specimen of the note, and it wouldn't take it. It's not that it was rejecting the bill after scanning it — it wouldn't grab the bill at all! The money-grabbing mechanism was broken. (Surely that's the most important part of the machine, isn't it?)

After failing to get the machine to work, I went in to the convenience shop to tell them it wouldn't take my money. But I couldn't do that right away because the cashier was on the telephone — talking to his mom. I had to stand there, waiting, for about 30 seconds for him to get off the phone.

"I'm trying to buy $20 of gas, but I can't get that machine to take my money," I explained. He nodded and quickly said, "it does that to everybody." He took my money and activated the pump. This was much worse than merely a broken machine. It was clear that (1) it's been broken for a long time without being fixed, and (2) nobody had the initiative to put a sign on it. It's apparently very important to this gas station that its customers become frustrated and annoyed before entering the convenience store, and that they should be thinking about the idiocy of the employees when they leave.

I did not immediately suggest putting a sign on the machine. I just wanted to buy some gas. I thought I'd come back inside and tell them to make a sign after I pumped the gas. But pumping gas turned out to be an ordeal, too, and completely soured my inclination to help them.

I thought the pumping was going well, until I reached about $19.00 and the pump slowed down. Just as I thought I was almost done, they reset my expectation. How annoying. I guess they're worried about accidentally giving someone an extra penny or two of gasoline due to pumping too quickly.

Extremely worried. Because it slowed down again at about $19.75. And this time it got ridiculously slow — the rate was approximately one penny of gasoline every three seconds. Yes, this made me wait an additional minute.

The gas station was not busy. I imagined how awful this would be if there were long lines — until I realized that there would never be long lines at such a customer-hostile gas station.

At work, we use the phrase "out of tacos" to describe a thing that's totally unsuited for its purpose. It's derived from Loren's experience trying to buy some tacos for lunch at a local Taco Bell. They were out of taco shells. This begs the question of why the store was open at all — "taco" is in the name and on the sign, it's the main reason people go there. But they were out of tacos, guaranteeing disappointment.

I was able to buy gas at this gas station, so it doesn't qualify as being out of tacos. But it was close. Maybe I got the very last one.

Tiny Island