Coping with embarrassment at a gas station

Pumping my own gas for the first time was a highly stressful experience

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Hanna Preston is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

It happened the day after I moved into my apartment this semester. The day began on a good note — I was excited to have my car and live in an apartment rather than a dorm. I moved in my furniture and decorations, and the place really started to feel at home. The next step was to do all of the housekeeping tasks to make the place livable such as going grocery shopping for the basics, making a Target run for dishes and lamps and stopping at Best Buy to buy a modem and router to set up the WiFi. 

Driving through Charlottesville was a bit nerve-racking with its winding roads compared to the relatively straight highways and Manhattan grid I was used to, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Harris Teeter, check. Target, check. Best Buy — wait, what was that noise my car just made? A loud single beep startled me and led me to look at the dashboard where I saw a big, yellow light telling me I was almost out of gas. And then I panicked. 

Some background information — I’m from the suburbs of New York City, and my hometown is a 30 minute drive to Manhattan with no traffic and a mere 15 minutes from the New Jersey border. My high school was even closer to the border, and the nearest gas station was just over the border. Adding the fact that gas prices are cheaper in New Jersey than in New York, you can clearly see why I would always go to New Jersey to get my gas. Any long-haul drive I’d make would just be down the Garden State Parkway to the Jersey Shore. If I was going any further, my family and I would fly, effectively making it so that the only place I ever got gas was in New Jersey. Here’s the thing — it is illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey. I had never pumped my own gas before.

When I saw the gas light on my dashboard and connected the dots, I did what any person in my situation would naturally do — I burst into tears. After realizing I couldn’t just stay in the middle of the road crying, I pulled into the first gas station I saw. So far, so good. I turned the car off, did everything I thought I was supposed to, put the nozzle in the fuel tank — and then no gas came out. I tried again. Nothing. After trying a few more times and pressing some buttons, the screen displayed, “Go inside to cash register.” Turning bright red with smudged mascara under my eyes, I realized that I would have to go into the building to the cashier and explain that I didn’t know how to pump my own gas. 

I went inside, walked up to the woman and man standing behind the counter and told them that the fuel pump said to come inside. I paid for the gas at the counter and then stood there, bright- red, for what felt like an eternity — it was only around three seconds  — and carefully chose my words —  “Um, I’m from New Jersey, and this is my first time with a car in Virginia.” 

Blank stare.

“Uh, we’re not allowed to pump our own gas in Jersey. I don’t, uh, know —”

The man chuckled, and the woman smiled and said it wasn’t a problem at all. She explained to me in explicit detail how to use the pump and then wished me good luck.  I went back outside to the pump and fidgeted with it for a few minutes. I hesitantly put the pump in the car and pulled the lever. To my somewhat disbelief, it actually worked. I was in fact getting my own gas — all by myself. 

Aside from learning how to pump my own gas, I also learned that I made a huge deal out of a tiny problem in my head. All I had to do was ask for help. Yes, I was incredibly embarrassed. And terrified. And did I mention embarrassed? But more often than not, the thing you’re self-conscious about is not nearly as big of a deal as you make it out to be. 

Everyone has their little bits of inexperience, and many of us lack of some sort of common knowledge. It’s OK not to know how to do something, and it will be okay when you ask someone for help. And no one will comment on your bright red face and smudged mascara.

Hanna Preston is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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