Gas stations and random acts of urban incivility

As long as people drive gas powered cars, they are going to need a steady supply of this fuel, and most individuals purchase this at gasoline stations.

Recently the empty sign light on my car’s dashboard instrument panel went off, and after close to 24 hours or so, I finally decided to buy gas.

But as I approached the station I had to make a decision where to best park.

Like most urban self-service gas stations in big cities, the surface area of station was comparatively small, and three lanes for vehicles with two islands of pumps. The left outer island had access to two pumps (including one diesel).  The middle lane offered access to four pumps, while the right outer lane provided access to two pumps.

It was mid-morning and there was only one car, a brand new beautiful luxury Range Rover, parked in the middle lane. But it was situated, closest to the last pump, on an angle blocking the possibility of other drivers from filling their vehicles with gas from the other three remaining pumps.

As I pulled into the outer right lane, on other side of the Range Rover, in the time it took me to completely fill up my tank and pay, I noticed a white woman in her late thirties- early forties standing outside of the car talking on the phone via her air buds. She seemed to be discussing properties and gave off a real estate agent vibe.  After starting the pump, the Range Rover driver went back inside her vehicle, and occasionally glanced back over at the pump.

In the meantime, two cars waited behind the Range Rover. One was even halfway into the sidewalk and in the street. I glanced at the drivers and they were visibly upset waiting for her to complete the transaction and leave the space.

In certain neighborhoods, this situation may have escalated from a heated conversation, to a shouting match, potentially leading to physical altercations such as fistfights or the brandishing of weapons, and in extreme cases, even gunfire.

Short of directly asking the Range Rover driver why she parked her car in the manner she did, what might explain her actions? Perhaps she was distracted? People who are on their phones often forget what is going on around them. We’ve all been there.

Alternatively, if the driver of the vehicle was comparatively younger, we might opine that the reason that this senario unfolded in the manner that it did, could be attributed to  the drivers’ inexperience.

Then again, maybe the Range Rover driver, wanted to avoid the possibility of getting her car door hit by someone parking beside her.

Or perhaps  it’s a demonstration of entitlement, (whether it is socioeconomic or white privilege) or a little bit of both?

Whether you like it or not these small and often subtle  actions are demonstrations of personal power.  And they can rightfully be interpreted as microagressions and even acknowledged as acts of urban incivility.

Admittedly there are no formal courses in gas station etiquette.  When we first learn to drive a car, we may observe our parents at the gas station and may imitate their behavior. Alternatively a friend, girlfriend, or spouse tells us to park closer so that we can let other people fill the tank of their vehicle unencumbered. Or we learn through trial and error. But there is little excuse for a middle aged woman to do this.

This vignette has at least four principle takeaways.

The incident highlights the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings, especially in shared spaces like gas stations. The actions of the Range Rover driver, whether due to distraction or lack of consideration, demonstrate the potential consequences of not being mindful of how one’s actions affect others.

The situation also underscores why it’s important to be mindful of others in public settings. Proper parking etiquette at gas stations ensures efficient use of limited space and allows for fair access to fuel pumps. Failing to consider the needs of other drivers can lead to frustration, conflict, and potential safety hazards.

The scenario sheds light on the social dynamics and power plays that can occur in everyday situations. The Range Rover driver’s actions, whether intentional or not, can be interpreted as a display of personal power or entitlement, highlighting the subtle ways in which individuals assert control in public spaces.

Gas station etiquette may not be formally taught, but the incident emphasizes the importance of cultural norms and social expectations in shaping behavior. While people some may learn proper etiquette through observation or guidance from others, deviations from these norms can lead to perceptions of urban incivility and disrupt social harmony.

If we want to minimize hostility and possible violence, it’s important to recognize the impact that our actions may have on others. By cultivating awareness and empathy, we can take positive steps towards reducing urban incivility and the chain reaction of negative events that may stem from this.

Photo Credit

Photographer: Thomas Hawk

Title: Town Pump