My Life

Dispatches from the Wasteland: The Perils of Petrol Plummeting

Note: Yet another snippet from my work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo (click here to read this story from the beginning), picking up right after the lovely Justine, Police Officer Extraordinaire and Coffee Buddy at the convenience store where I worked, had just queried “You gonna shove your stick in the tank tonight?”


Ah yes, the sticking of the tanks. As in the huge, underground receptacles that held the fuel that fed the gas pumps. “Sticking the tanks” meant measuring how much gasoline was left. And this was an activity that no one who actually worked in the stores wanted to do. Ever. We hated it, far more than dealing with dumb-ass customers or wearing the wretched, scratchy company shirts that made us look like we should be lugging dried venison on a safari in 1912.

Remember, it’s 1986. Things just weren’t as high-tech as they are now, with apps on your phone that can perform a self-colonoscopy, if needed. In fact, in comparison, some things were extremely primitive, even by Oklahoma standards. And this, ladies and gentleman, is how one sticks the tanks:

Each store had been furnished with this incredibly long wooden stick, maybe fifteen feet in length, with inches marked off all down one side. It was like a yardstick intended for Godzilla. Because this thing was so long, we had to keep it outside. And since our store was in a crappy part of town where people would steal anything, the stick often went missing.

I actually appreciated thievery when it came to the stick, because it meant I didn’t have to stick the damn tanks until somebody ordered another one, and that was not my job. On the flip side, there was always a tiny moment of sadness when I arrived for work each evening and the stick was there, lying along the front of the store, waiting smugly for sticking time, like those bullies in the schoolyard who want to kick your ass because you could spell and you could understand a book that didn’t have pictures.

When you stick a tank, you snatch up Godzilla’s yardstick, hoist it over your shoulder like those poles that high-jumpers use, trudge out to one of the various tanks, open the access cover, twist open the cap on the tank (and these caps were ALWAYS rusted shut, even if you had just opened them the night before), stand the stick on its end so that it is reaching for the stars, then gently lower the stick into the tank. (You can’t just drop it in, because the stick could snap in two, and then you’re screwed).

Once the stick hits the bottom of the tank, you pull the thing back out, locate where on the stick that the wetness stops, find the corresponding inch marker, and note this figure on the Official Sticking Report.

Now, this might sound rather simple, but it’s not. There are a number of factors that can get mixed into the process that can gum things up and cause heartache. Some of these factors are just innocent little glitches that are mainly irritating without causing too much of a problem. Other factors are downright evil and can only be due to the work of the devil, pulling his marionette strings from the pits of Hades, or the Oval Office, wherever the devil is dwelling these days.

First off, you are not allowed to stick the tanks if any customer is pumping gas at the same time. I was never made privy to the reasoning behind this protocol, but the impression was given that someone could feasibly perish if you dare to stick while pumping is taking place. So, you had to wait until the wee hours of the morning, when the roads were relatively quiet and chances were slim that someone would require a petroleum product from your establishment.

Unfortunately, the only people who are on the road in the wee hours tend to be drunken people with focus issues. The entire parking lot could be vacant, not a soul in sight, when suddenly there’s a roar and some crazed redneck could come barreling out of the night, careening about in a rusted pickup that smells like disappointment and ignorance.

Why is this critical?

Well. Each gas pump had its own tank. This store had four pumps, ergo four tanks. You would think that all the tank access points would be in a central area. They are not. They are scattered all over the parking lot. Sometimes they are in incredibly stupid places, like smack in the middle of the parking lot entrance. (You’ve seen these things and may not have realized it. You know those metal plates in the asphalt that you sometimes drive over, and they make that horrendous noise like you’ve just lost your transmission? Bingo.)

Ergo, you have to be very careful when you are sticking the tanks, because you’re right in the traffic zone. But, because you’re bent over screwing around with the rusty cap or the wooden stick, people don’t necessarily see you, especially if they’ve had 14 margaritas over at Sally’s Pool Hall. They might see the STICK, because it’s taller than the store, but drunken people don’t take heed of a flimsy stick. Such a thing is not going to slow them down in their quest for some Doritos and a pack of beef jerky.

End result, you need to be very quick when you stick, and if you even think you hear tires squealing on pavement, you javelin that stick toward an unpopulated area and you run like hell.

Trouble is, there are challenges that might impede you from making a hasty job of things. For one, it’s often pitch-black around the tank openings. You can’t see the damn numbers. You have to wiggle the stick around, trying to catch a glimmer of reflective light from the stars or maybe a passing plane. Or you have to drag the stick over to a better light source, which means the tank access pit is wide open while you do so, and Aunt Effie, who just needs a few eggs for the church breakfast later that morning so she can serve the Lord, might break an axle when she pulls in.

Wait, there’s more. Because there are multiple tanks that need sticking, you have to DRY OFF the stick between tanks. Otherwise, you can’t tell where the new “wet line” is. So, there you are, with an oily rag, rubbing away on this enormous stick, trying to hurry and creating enough friction that there could feasibly be a flash fire. As you stand over hundreds of gallons of gasoline that would happily welcome the accelerant from your over-rubbed stick.

Meanwhile, Justine is inside the store, sipping her coffee and laughing her ass off as I race madly around the parking lot, twisting and sticking and reading and rubbing, not to mention running for the hills every five seconds when I hear a car coming from any direction on the planet.

And what makes Justine laugh even more? Fuel delivery night.

Because on those nights, there’s an additional tank to stick. This one is on wheels. And the access point is two stories off the ground. Yes, boys and girls, we actually have to climb ON TOP of the tanker truck that rolls up with fresh fuel. When I see that tanker pull into the parking lot, I know, without a doubt, that I have made some very bad life choices.

Picture it. I’m clutching that humongous stick, trying not to whip it around too much and possibly decapitate the tanker driver. I have to climb up this ladder on the side of the tanker, using only one hand, of course, because of the damn stick, and this ladder has very thin rungs spaced widely apart. It’s like a demented jungle gym designed by twisted and bored sadists who have decided that there isn’t enough needless suffering in the world, and they are on a mission.

Once I’m on top of the tanker? Well, I’m sure you’ve seen these things. The tank is round, one long tube full of sloshing liquid. Meaning the top of the tanker is not flat. It curves downward to both sides. One misstep and I could be sliding and tumbling to my death. Therefore, it’s all about taking slow, baby steps, inching my way to the access cap. Twist the thing open, shove in the stick, write down the number, slap the cap back on, slip-slide my way back to the jungle gym, and try not to poke anybody with the stick before I’m back on solid ground.

And hey, I get to do this whole routine TWICE. We measure before they unload the fuel, and after they unload the fuel, so we then know how much our bill should be. (I told you this was primitive. There was no hint of accuracy or logic. We were merely cavemen grunting and rutting our way through life.)

End result? On delivery nights, after sticking four tanks and the tanker, drying off the stick every time I turned around, running from drunken motorists, cussing the laughing Justine as she pops out in the parking lot and yells at me on the tanker “Hey, the coffee’s getting cold! Hurry up!”, I’m usually completely exhausted by 3am. I’m covered in dried sweat, reeking of gasoline, my leg muscles are quivering from the tanker jungle gym, and I’ve still got to help Aunt Effie fix her axle so she can greet Jesus at sunrise with a bacon-and-chive omelet. I just want to go home and fall face-down in my bed, moaning quietly.

It was the morning after one of these delivery nights that I had another thrill-filled adventure at this evil store. Because of the delivery, I had been behind on all my other duties, just barely finishing up when the next shift arrived. I staggered out the door, filled up my car with some of the fresh gasoline (might as well), and started to drive away.

Then I realized that I had forgotten to finish out my shift report. It would only take a second to do, so I left the car running while I dashed inside, added a few figures, signed the thing and shoved it in the appropriate slot, then raced back to my car.

The door was locked. What the hell? Did I do that? WHY would I do that? The car was running, so obviously the keys were inside, but I peeked in the window anyway to confirm. Yep. There they were, dangling away and teasing me. Out of desperation, I checked the passenger door and the hatchback. Of course they were locked.

You have GOT to be kidding me.


Click here to read the next bit in this series…


Originally published in a different from in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” in 2010. Modified considerably for this post.

Justine: “Oh, so you finally decided to drag your ass back in here and put on another pot of coffee.”

Me: “I don’t care if I ever make coffee again. You’re on your own.”

Justine: “Really, now? As a customer of this fine establishment, I feel under-served. Perhaps I should push that panic button.”

Me: “Do it, Just Mean. Do it.”

Jesus: “Does anybody know what happened to my bacon-and-chive omelet?”


20 replies »

  1. Okay two lessons learned. One – patience. Thanks. If I’d kept my sullied thoughts to myself yesterday, all the sticking would have been made clear. Two – I’m buying this book the SECOND it hits the presses. Let your agent know that you have customers, already willing to part with dinero to read this saga in the peace and privacy of their homes, chuckling insanely at all the fine writing which discloses some really funny stuff….Lastly, Thank YOU for your service, even though I never was in Oklahoma (yet), and you never served me personally. No wonder those ‘Mart” people look so frazzled…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I fibbed a bit and let my agent know that there are at least FIVE people interested in pre-ordering my next book. He was thrilled, and he congratulated me on breaking the total sales records for both of my previous books. He then charged me a consulting fee that was higher than any royalties I have ever received for all of my writing. I think I might need a new agent…

      Liked by 1 person

      • You may be right. But then you actually FOUND an agent, which in my experience (limited it’s true) is damned hard to do. Maybe I’m looking for representation in all the wrong places — oh what am I saying? OF COURSE I am. I live in Utah and I’m semi-liberal…

        Liked by 2 people

        • I was actually joking about having an agent (and maybe you’re joking along as well, not sure). But if I did have one, I’m sure her first bit of advice would be “are you really sure this Bonnywood Manor thing is the best way to present yourself?” Then I would have to fire her, or course, and start all over again… 😉


  2. “the pits of Hades, or the Oval Office, wherever the devil is dwelling these days.”

    The Oval Office. Must be, and the place will have to be fumigated and exorcised when he’s finally gone. Waiting for your installment. There is something…I don’t know, validating about reading your worst job saga. We’ve all had them. One summer I de-tasselled corn to earn enough for a train ticket back to LA. This was before I read The Stand.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s my understanding that the EPA, despite being a total mess of incompetence under the current administration, has already designated the White House as a Superfund clean-up site…

      Yes, we’ve all had some sanity-testing career opportunities. Somewhere in the archives it the tale of my part-time stint cleaning up the common areas of an all-male dorm on the weekends. Suffice it to say that drunken frat boys are filthy animals, and that’s the most pleasant phrase I can come up with…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had no IDEA there was so much involved in working at an all-night gas-plus station. Other than dodging drunks and crazies, that is. Geez man, I’m glad you escaped relatively intact.
    Oh, and Husband did that once — locked the keys in a car left running. You’re in good company. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • The number of “hmm, I never thought about that” things we had to do in the convenience stores is mind-boggling. For example, those soft-serve ice cream machines that were all the rage at one time? We had to completely break down the serving unit, sterilize all the parts, and then put the mess back together again. Every night. Well, supposedly every night. I would often encounter an overly-gunked machine which let me know that my co-worker the previous night hadn’t even bothered to LOOK at the machine, never mind clean it…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Brian – I feel for you! As mlrover says, there’s something validating about reading your worst job saga.
    I had a bad one like that too.

    One time, my sister locked her keys in the car just as a gust of wind blew the hem of her dress into the door. It was early in the morning in a big parking lot and she was completely trapped, pinned to a locked car, waiting for people to drive past and frantically waving and shouting at them. This was long before door codes and cell phones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No offense to your sister, but I would have happily paid good money to witness such a spectacle. Of course, I would have eventually rushed to help out, after I stopped giggling and put on my “concerned citizen” mask. Hopefully, no therapy was required after the incident…


  5. Haha, yep, at the station I worked at we had to check the tanker, then the delivery guy had to match our number to his last ending number and if they didn’t match he had to go up and check and then if they still didn’t match I had to go back up and so forth until our numbers matched. If it’s drizzling, snowing or otherwise messy weather it all goes to a whole new level. Fun fun fun. Are you using copy past for this or actually typing it all out here? If you’re using copy past there is an error you might want to know about. Shoulder became should… “When you stick a tank, you snatch up Godzilla’s yardstick, hoist it over your should like those poles that high-jumpers use, “

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I didn’t even get into the mess about the numbers not matching, as I had my share of those nights, usually the nights when I was super-behind with everything else and I didn’t have time for such annoyances.

      Thanks for pointing out the typo, and please continue to do so if you notice something and have the time to let me know. I’m very anal about glaring mistakes like that and I fix them as soon as I find them. And yes, for the record, I copy/paste from Word. I used to compose directly in the application (this was years ago, back when I used the Blogger platform) but I missed even more mistakes in that manner, so I went through a lifestyle change… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • My daughter does Nano and she is always happy to get typos corrected too. I just blog for fun and I’m not particular about things like that. I only correct if I know someone is looking for extra eyes on. Like for Nano stuff. I copy past too. I hate being in the middle of something and then losing it. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

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