Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Article: The Gas Station Guessing Game

I came across this small article over the weekend and it made my eyes pop out of my head a little bit because it was as if I wrote it myself. It's a short first hand account of the troubles that someone with a c5-c6 spinal cord injury faces getting gas by himself at gas stations.

Obviously, this is a major challenge I've always faced as well. Like with this guy, getting out and pumping gas for myself is near impossible. When I first started driving my van I was almost always with my family and my then girlfriend so I had that buffer when it came to getting gas. As I started branching out more independently in college I wanted, and needed ways to get gas by myself as the situation called for it. Eau Claire, WI had little to no full service gas stations so we set things up with a place that we had a family account with, and when I pulled up they knew to come out and help me. That worked pretty well and gave me the confidence to run out and get gas in even in desperate situations by myself. But a few years before I moved away that gas station was sold and knocked down to make room for a Walgreen's and our side deal went with it, so I was back to almost exclusively piggybacking for help getting gas with people I knew again. Nobody ever had a problem helping me out, but nothing shook that need and desire to take care of such a thing on my own somehow. Especially during those likely situations when it was absolutely necessary.

But that was just around town. When it comes to longer trips I always have to plan ahead by having someone with me, making a tank last roundtrip, or having someone on the other end of the trip help out. Still, I've had plenty of close calls running out of fuel. And believe me, few things out there rival the stress factor, for example, of approaching your final destination in the middle of the night with your low gas light on, feeling like you're coasting on fumes, and that if you run out of gas you have little to no options of filling back up. That happened on the way home from a trip to Duluth, MN a few years ago. I gambled that I had enough gas to get there and back and almost lost.

My scariest moment being unable to get gas on a road trip came on a return from Madison, WI almost ten years ago. A friend that was supposed to travel back with me decided to spend the night at the last minute and thus I was on my own to drive back in a snowstorm. I didn't realize that I was likely to run out of gas until I passed the point of no return to turn around and get help. So I just gunned for home and hoped for the best. When I got about 30 minutes from home it was obvious that I wasn't going to make it, so I made a high risk high reward decision to pull off onto the next exit and just figure something out (I seem to remember that my car phone wasn't working as well). It was cold, blustery, it was somewhere around 3 am and all of the gas stations were closed except for one. As fate had it there was an attendant standing outside having a smoke and I asked her if she could put $10 on for me. I drove the last 20 minutes home with my hands shaking in relief and I couldn't remember the last time that I was so happy to be home again.

When I moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for law school I felt like one of my biggest hurdles forging out on my own was figuring out how I could get gas without that safety net of family and friends nearby. Thankfully, on a "get to know my new surroundings" driving mission less than a week after I moved here, I found a full service gas station within five minutes of where I was living. It was like a huge weight got lifted off my shoulders. I have since moved away from that full service station but it is located near where I work out every Friday afternoon so I still go there the vast majority of times that I need gas. Most of the rest of the time I have a PCA follow me to the Holiday on my block and fill me up. If I'm in a real pinch the Shell station up the street has a "if you have a disability then honk twice and someone will come out and help" policy. But like this guy alludes to, sometimes when you honk you just get curious looks. Like he says, it's the law under the ADA and many states to help people with disabilities fill up on gas when they can't do it themselves, but it's definitely one of those it looks good on paper but not in actual practice things.

Throughout all of my adventures getting gasoline for my van I have learned that the best policy is to plan ahead and abide by the Boy Scout motto: Always Be Prepared.


  1. Wow, extremely interesting. I’m thankful I followed the link from your facebook page for this new perspective on a daily obstacle.

  2. Move to Oregon! It's illegal to pump your own gas there. My sister lives in Portland so when she comes back to Wisconsin, she'll often sit in the car wondering why no one is coming out to pump the gas, always takes her a few times to remember. And then when I'm traveling through Oregon I always get flustered and embarrassed when I get out of the car and attempt to pump my own gas, and the attendant runs out to stop me. Not sure if there are other states like this.

  3. Wow, that's what I'm talking about. If only...

  4. And as for M's comment, one of my primary goals for this blog is to shed the proper light on "I would have never thought of that" type issues related to this type of disability (SCI). Hopefully, readers can learn something new and react positively when they see these types of situations arise with others.

  5. Okay, seriously, Shawn. I never would have thought of this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. You bet. And obviously your husband has been a great help to me over the years on all of our numerous long distance adventures (e.g. Badger games in Madison), and thusly is one of those "has never had a problem helping me out" persons I alluded to. He has my perpetual thanks in that regard. Shout out to Brad!