My life flashed before my eyes yesterday. Not literally, but almost. What seemed like a run-of-the-mill task – filling my car with gas – turned into an ordeal that lasted hours, included the fire department and two tow trucks and showcased sadly questionable workmanship as well as the outstanding contribution of a random passer-by.
All I wanted to do was get gas. Sam’s Club sells it cheaper than most places and I happened to be there, so, no brainer. As I got out of my car, went through the credit card motions and stuck the nozzle in, I noticed the attendant standing off to the side. He was just standing there. What do those guys do all day?
I found out. Every time I tried to squeeze the handle to get the flow of gas to start, it clicked backwards as if the tank was already full. I did this four or five times. Not being a woman of infinite patience, and imagining that the idle attendant would prefer to do something rather than nothing, I asked him for help. John was kind and chatty and filled the tank for me. So far nothing to write home about.
Gas stations smell like gas, and you always have this vague understanding that not all the gas makes it into the tanks of the cars and trucks and the containers that people are filling for their lawn mowers. Some gas spills out and makes a perpetually gassy situation – a little like when someone keeps forgetting that you shouldn’t give the dog dairy products!
Smelling gas at a gas station is generally not alarming, but the smell I smelled just as John squeezed that handle to get the last bit of gas into my tank was alarmingly strong. It was coupled with a sudden outpouring of gas from underneath my car! Gas did not pour out of the tank from where the nozzle was stuck in, oh no. Somehow, deep within the bowels of my car, gas was going in the wrong direction, was not staying put in its tank until called forth to put the car in motion, was internally regurgitating.
We suddenly saw a flood of gas on the ground, moving quickly forward past my rear tire. How many gallons of gas had to issue from my tank – from somewhere between the nozzle’s entry point and some hidden and clearly not-securely-tightened joint – to make a spill that traveled several feet in front of my rear tire? We watched it seeping slowly, probably not an overly brilliant thing to do, but I wasn’t thinking maybe I should get out of the way of a highly flammable substance. I was thinking I just spent $14 on gas that’s now on the pavement! (You with large and hungry gas tanks, eat your hearts out – I drive a Prius!) Still, it’s $14!!
It reached as far as it could, as if the tank expelled however much was above whatever spill line we couldn’t see, and then settled down. We realized no more was coming, a rather anticlimactic moment, to be honest. John, the man for this job, as attentive as an attendant could be, went and got some absorbent stuff that looked like dry, chewed up cardboard and he shoveled it on the gas. This is what it looked like when I took a picture a little later after the gas had evaporated. Where does gas go?
“Can’t drive this car now,” I said to John, lamenting the cheese, ham and lettuce in my car that would not get to my fridge quickly. (The case of wine I was not worried about!) But okay, not the worst thing that could happen. I called AAA. This nice man dutifully took my info and then told me he was sorry but he could not authorize a tow until the fire department had determined that the leak was no longer active. He could not take my word for it, nor John’s. Okay. Let’s not mess around when it comes to gas. Is the gas at this point hazardous? Should we not even be standing here?
How do you call the fire department for such a thing? 911 gets you “What is your emergency?” to which I replied, “It’s not an emergency but I do need the fire department.” Which is also about when Sandy arrived, happy to leave work for a little adventure. We put my groceries in his air-conditioned car.
The three guys from the fire department came in the big fire truck, all like Seriously? Sorry, guys, the AAA guy made me call you! They took out their flashlights and got down and looked up and under as best as they could. No active leak here, ma’am, call for your tow. I don’t know what they were doing before coming to Sam’s gas station – playing cards maybe, watching a training film or a funny movie, washing the truck? – what exactly do firefighters do when they are not fighting fires?
On a scale of 1-10 of fire experiences, this one probably makes it to 0.5, but hey, we all play a part, right? Come to think of it, that old name for them – firemen instead of fire fighters – might be the better term right now for them (and they were all men) since it’s more general because it is (you have to admit) a stretch to say they are “fighting” a fire here at Sam’s. I guess you could say they are “fighting” the possibility of fire. They are the guys who know about fire – if only we could call them firepeople to allow for the brave women who also choose this profession…
Hey, don’t leave yet, I thought, and then said, “Maybe don’t leave yet? What if the AAA guy doesn’t believe me that you said it’s okay and has to talk to you directly?” Sure enough, the AAA guy didn’t believe me and had to talk to the firefighter directly. Then he authorized the tow.
Attentive John, all this time, is clearly happy to have some excitement in his morning. A lady in a purple dress with a car full of groceries and a regurgitating gas tank, a call to the fire department, tow truck on the way – even having to shovel out the absorbent stuff! – this gives him a story to tell, right? It’s not his favorite ball player driving up in a Ferrari, I know. It’s not an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, where’s-a-superhero-when-you-need-one moment. But it’s better than just standing there!
For you lucky ones who have not had to wait for a tow any time recently, I can pass along that there is one new development in this process that can help pass the time, if such things enthrall you. AAA sends you a link that takes you to a screen that allows you to see where your tow truck, en route to your location, currently is. And not only that, like a little toy on a little track, the truck moves on your screen as it advances to your location! See the little truck on Route 64? I’m sorry I can’t make it crawl along 64 for you.
This enthralling image let me see that my truck was coming from Waynesboro – good heavens, why Waynesboro?? Meaning we would be a while. Meaning we had time to pace, time to contemplate/ fumigate over: Why does gas pour out from underneath your car when you are at a total standstill and are just filling the tank? It happens – even I who know nothing about cars can tell you – when the person who installed the $1200 brand-new gas tank on your car not long ago doesn’t quite finish the job, doesn’t securely attach one thing to another (the vent hose to the filler neck, as it turns out) and over time, with vibration, and finally, with that last surge of gas going in, it pops off. Gush, gush, gush, out comes the gas.
So, yeah, I suspected shoddy workmanship. Umansky is the name of the dealership where I had had the work done. I called them to say what happened and that I was waiting for the tow truck and that they could expect my car there in a short while. I called the lady who had told me to call her directly if I ever had any problems, which she had told me after I had problems there the last time. Just about then a guy in a very white shirt driving a car with a Umansky plate and dealer stickers on the window drove up to fill a reddish Honda with gas. Sandy and I guessed he was a sales guy. I strolled over and asked him if he worked for Umansky. Yes, he said. Oh, how ‘bout that, I said, I just called them about this car of mine. He was clearly not interested in my story, even when I got to the part – which I promise you was 25-words-or-less – about having this problem because of what looked like a workmanship issue. Sorry, he said flippantly and off he drove, doing not the slightest thing to improve my impression of this dealership.
A few minutes later another Umansky vehicle drove up to gas up, this time the courtesy shuttle driven by a lady. After my experience with the white shirt, I didn’t approach her, but maybe she read the this-is-Umansky’s-fault banner written in invisible ink behind my I-bet-you-don’t-care-either look. Maybe she is just a good person. Whatever the case, she appeared interested and then asked what was going on. In no time she was on the phone with her boss trying to help. In the end, because of Audra’s caring actions, I canceled the AAA tow truck (see that CANCEL ASSISTANCE button? came in handy) as she told me to and waited for the Umansky-sponsored Charlottesville Wrecker tow truck instead.
My phone rang and it was a lady from AAA verifying that I had indeed canceled. Yes, ma’am, thank you, I am being assisted by the company that should be assisting me. Only she forgot to call the driver, who showed up while the Charlottesville Wrecker guy was tightening the straps that would keep my non-leaking car from falling off his flatbed.
Audra not only made the tow truck happen. I have a feeling she had something to do with the rest of the story, which was a simple, prompt and no-cost-to-me fix of the detached vent hose. Audra’s bosses will hear from me. Her praises I will sing! The dealership can’t give me back the time I lost. They can’t calm my recurring oh-God-what-if-that-hose-had-popped-while-driving-along-at-70-mph fears. Visions of fearsome and fiery wrecks are not their responsibility, I understand. But they can commend (and hopefully reward) this woman who went above and beyond her job description and made an otherwise maddening situation far more tolerable.
VENT HOSE IS NOW SECURE, my $0.00 receipt says. They fixed it – I hope! We are required to trust some things in this life, things we don’t understand, things that have to work right in order for them to be safe. Accidents happen, I know. But here’s one that didn’t, and I am breathing a little easier.
You only have to see your gas tank regurgitating once to never want to see it happen again.