After considerable thought, I have decided to devote today’s column to the second-most annoying issue that affects our society today: getting gas in New Jersey. Number one will always be people who clip their toenails on airplanes.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: there are people out there who clip their toenails on airplanes. I sat next to one of them on a red-eye flight back from Portland last month, and she spent the entire 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. hour clipping her toenails. And as I was sitting there, trying to sleep but overcome by the sight of her grotesque feet and enormous toenails, all I could think was: I’ve finally found something more annoying than getting gas in New Jersey.
But it was difficult, because getting gas in New Jersey is pretty damn annoying.
For those of you who aren’t sure exactly why getting gas in New Jersey is so annoying, please allow me to explain: by law, in the great state of New Jersey, you are not allowed to pump your own gas. A professional gas pumper must do it. This is also the law in the great state of Oregon. After careful consideration, I believe this is the only thing these two places have in common.
Now, before I get into why the professional gas pumper makes things so annoying, I would like to explain why he’s there in the first place. According to NJ.com, the law dates back to the 1940s and originally went into effect for safety reasons. While other states had similar laws that were later repealed, New Jersey stuck to its guns, perhaps under the assumption that people from New Jersey are more likely to light themselves on fire than citizens of other states.
But nobody in New Jersey seems to be entirely sure of this. In fact, after asking approximately 20 different New Jersey residents why they don’t pump their own gas, I have received roughly 20 different answers, some of which included a racial slur.
Here are some of the suggestions: It’s so you don’t get gas on your hands. It’s for job creation. It’s to speed up the fueling process. It’s because some kid blew himself up years ago. It’s for elderly people. It’s so you don’t catch gas pump herpes. It’s so you don’t steal the gas pump and use it to beat people over the head with it at Jets games. It’s because the National Gasoline Council filed an injunction to stop Chris Christie from pumping gas because he kept eating all the mid-grade.
So nobody really knows why there is a professional gas pumper person in New Jersey, but we do know he is there. We also know he makes the process far, far worse than your typical everyday re-fueling situation.
Now, for those of you who have never had your gas pumped by an attendant before, you’re probably thinking that it sounds pretty cool. You pull up to the pump. You hand the guy your card. And you never have to enter the elements, or stand up, or really do anything aside from say the word “regular” and then watch carefully to make sure he doesn’t put in premium while you aren’t looking. But I am going to explain to you the problem with this whole attendant thing, based on my own personal trip to a New Jersey gas station sometime last week.
The way it starts is, you pull up to a gas pump. This is approximately the same as pumping gas in any other major U.S. state, and also the District of Columbia.
Then you sit there.
The reason you sit there is because this particular gas station has approximately 11 pumps, and there is just one attendant for all of them. And I can promise you, this man did not get the title of “New Jersey Gas Station Attendant” due to his lifelong demonstration of efficiency and attention to detail.
So after roughly 30 seconds, the gas station attendant comes up to you. He takes your card. He asks what you want. And that’s when he’s got you. Hook, line, and sinker. At this point, there is some chance you may never actually leave the gas station. You may end up taking on “pumping gas” as a hobby, or possibly walking around the pumps and telling people that your car broke down three miles away and if you could just get four dollars, you could make it to your granddaughter’s christening.
The reason I say this is because once the attendant leaves, he is gone forever. He is either walking away to help someone else, or walking away to talk to the clerk behind the counter, or walking away to do whatever gas station attendants do, such as check their watch to see how long they must continue walking around assisting people at a task that could be performed by a trained anteater. But regardless of what he’s doing, he will not be back when your pump finishes pumping.
Now, in a normal situation when your pump finishes pumping, you can just leave. But not in New Jersey. In New Jersey, you sit there. And you wait. And you sit there. And you wait. And sometimes they have your credit card, so you are forced to sit there and wait until whatever moment the attendant deems your stopped pump to be worthy of his time.
Interestingly, I did not find this to be the case when I visited Oregon. When I visited Oregon, I discovered that the gas filler people are all very eager to help, and they run around to each pump like a marble in a Rube Goldberg machine.
But in New Jersey, it is waiting, and waiting, and waiting. So what happens is, a regular trip to the gas station goes from a four-minute event to a nine-minute event, five minutes of which is spent sitting there, staring at the gas station guy, trying to flag him down like you’re working the ramp at O’Hare.
It is incredibly frustrating. It is incredibly annoying. And most of all, it is needless. I say this because I have been pumping gas in other states for years, and I have never once contracted gas pump herpes.
Photo credit AP
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.