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March 15, 2012

New Jersey’s Gas Pump Problem

by Anne Paddock

New Jersey has always enjoyed favored status with me because I grew up in the northeastern part of the state – an area known for farmland and as a bedroom community for those who worked in New York but wanted to escape the intensity of life in an urban city. Through the years, numerous jokes about New Jersey – the accent, the “joyzey shore,” the Cherry Hill water tower – have been repeated along with the question that always perplexed me: “What exit are you from?” as if New Jersey was a narrow state where all residents could claim an exit off the New Jersey Turnpike.

The New Jersey I know is a beautiful state with four seasons and a diversified population.  The residents of the state have a reputation for being blunt, a bit intense, and at times rude and although I’ve been the recipient of a fair share of hand gestures for driving errors, I have never considered my fellow Jersians that much different from other northeastern residents or urban dwellers until I experienced the wrath of the Garden State gas attendants.  

Last year, while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant to fill up my gas tank.  He put the nozzle into my tank and left to take care of other customers.  The pump had an automatic shut-off so when the tank was full, the gas stopped pumping. After a few minutes, the gas attendant did not return so I looked around and he was leaning into a car window talking to a young girl.

I continued to wait and then got out of my car and put the nozzle back. The attendant came over and told me that I wasn’t allowed to do that. I told him I was in a hurry to pickup by daughter at Newark Airport to which he said he didn’t care. All I could say was “then do your job” to which he replied “you fucking bitch.”  In shock, all I could manage was “what did you say?” He repeated his name calling and I walked away into the convenience store and asked to speak to the manager. I told the manager what happened and he shook his head as if to say “not again.”  He followed me back out to the car and confronted the attendant who was named Jason:

Manager:  Jason, did you call her some bad words?
Jason:  She called me bad words first.
Me:  No, I did not call you names, I told you to do your job after waiting 3 minutes for you to remove the nozzle while you were talking to the woman in the car across from me.
Manager: Jason, say you’re sorry.
Jason:  (arms crossed) No.
Manager:  Jason, say you’re sorry.
Jason:  No
Manager:  Jason, say you’re sorry or you’re fired.
Jason:  I’m sorry but I’m not really.

Jason was probably 18 years old and should not have been dealing with the public.  According to New Jersey gas pumping laws, Jason had one day of training to pump gas and I doubt much of that training was in customer service. I shouldn’t have told Jason to do his job as this statement clearly set him off but I’ve often wondered how else would a customer get a gas station attendant to stay focused on doing his job and not flirting with the driver in another car? As a customer should I really have to sit and wait for an attendant to finish his flirtations or ask him to remove the nozzle from my car 3 minutes after the pump stopped? After that incident, I vowed not to buy gas in New Jersey and I kept that vow for a year.

Last week, I was driving through New Jersey again and stopped to refuel at a gas station on the New Jersey Turnpike by Exit 3. As I  approached the gas pumps, I noticed the attendant was smoking and blocking the lane so I drove around him and pulled up to the pump. I got out of the car to slide my credit card and punch in my billing zip code when the gas station attendant approached me and ordered me to give him my credit card. Itold him I would slide the credit card and input my security code. He punched in a few numbers on the keyboard to lock the pump and told me I wasn’t getting any gas at this gas station and to go to another gas station.  My thoughts: oh, we go again.

I went into the convenience store and there was a woman behind the counter so I told her what happened and she called “Nick,” the manager. Nick came through the door and I struggled to maintain eye contact because he had about 8 piercings on his face.  I told Nick the attendant was smoking, blocking the lane, and wouldn’t let me slide my credit card and enter my billing zip code.  Another shaking of the head and we walked outside.  Nick approached John, the attendant and asked him “Are you trying to get fired? You can’t smoke and you can’t refuse to sell gas to a person because they want to slide a credit card and input security codes.”  John walked away and didn’t say a word. Nick couldn’t have been nicer. He had another attendant unlock the pump and personally pumped the gas into my car apologizing profusely. I thanked him and drove off.

New Jersey passed a law 63 years ago in 1949 banning customers from pumping their own gas. At the time, the legislators seemed to believe that pumping gas was too dangerous for the driver of a vehicle (although I would argue that driving a vehicle is a lot more dangerous than pumping gas).  Gas attendants are required to have one day of training (N.J.S.A. 34:3A-4 and N.J.A.C. 12:196 -1.4) to learn how to do this job safely and effectively before being certified to put the nozzle in your gas tank, remove it, and handle customers.

There are proponents that claim the law supports employment at the estimated 4,000 gas stations in the state (point well taken), provides safety (does New Jersey know something that 48 other states don’t know about self-serve gas?), is a convenience to customers, especially the elderly (approximately 13% of New Jersey’s population is older than 65), and is part of the culture of New Jersey (this may be true). Opponents (of which I am clearly one) claim the law is outdated, causes inconvenience, inflates gas prices, and makes for a very unpleasant experience.

I dread stopping for gas in New Jersey and will continue to do whatever I can to avoid the Garden State gas attendants.  Generalizations are tough but I’m two for two and tired of having confrontations with rude gas attendants who obviously hate their job (note to New Jersey legislators:  in all honesty, most people would hate this job).  Unless New Jersey (and Oregon, being the only other state that prohibits the public from pumping their own gas) knows something the rest of the country doesn’t, the state should get with the times and allow people to pump their own gas.  The reputation of the state may just improve.

POSTSCRIPT: In April, 2012 Governor Christie announced that an agreement had been reached to phase out the 1949 law that prohibited citizens from pumping their own gas, but there is still another vote ahead. Gotta love that guy!

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