March 09, 2011

Did I Just Get Punked?

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It started out as just a typical trip to the gas station/convenience store. There I was, waiting my turn in line at the pump. I was SO not looking forward to plunking down $3.25 for each gallon of gas. But the tank was empty, and my car refuses to run on mere fumes. 

So, since I had a few minutes to kill, and, being nosy a shrewd observer of life looking for blog fodder, I began looking at the other customers at the gas pumps. 

In front of me? A tax client from that morning. I had thought that doing taxes made him nervous, but he looked just as uneasy while pumping gas.

To my left? A two-door Chevy that was held together with good wishes and bungee cords. This car was literally a wreck. A nylon strap held the trunk lid closed; the front bumper was askew, and the parking light on the right side was without its usual amber shade. The windshield wipers were at the 12 o'clock position on the windshield - and it had not rained at all that day.
A young woman was sitting in the driver's seat, I bet she was in her early 20s. She was rooting around in a canvas tote bag (maybe for gas money). Then she abruptly stopped, and lowered her head into her hands, like she was trying to rub away a ferocious headache.

Poor thing.

When nervous guy had finished up and left, I put my car into gear and pulled closer to the pump. While I was holding the nozzle handle (it was a strange setup - the nozzle did not rest in the gas tank like I am accustomed to, so I had to stand there and hold the nozzle handle at precisely the correct angle AND press the lever to dispense my gasoline.

What a PITA. But while my hands were busy with this task, I was free to watch the woman in the car next to me. At first, her head was down, chin to chest. I thought, for a nanosecond, that she might be dead. But then, she put her head back against the headrest, and mouth open, she sat there, motionless.

Was she asleep? Dead? Meditating? At no time did I see her exit her car. She made no attempt to complete a transaction at the gas pump (other than the preliminary search for currency or a credit card in her tote bag).

Being a concerned citizen nosy old hag, I pushed the button that let me talk to an attendant inside the store. I expressed my concern for the health of the young woman. The man's response? "We've been watching her for a while". Huh. That seemed to be working well for him.

I finished pumping my gas, and replaced the nozzle into its cradle, and tightened my gas cap. The gas door closed with a satisfying thud; my job was complete.

Or did I have unfinished business? 

I got into my car, and glanced at the young woman. She was still sleeping (at least I thought she was sleeping), mouth agape, head back. 

Have you ever watched "What Would You Do?" on ABC? It's a hidden camera show where they present situations where bystanders should, for ethical reasons, get involved. I remember they had shows that took place at a gas station (someone would need help changing a tire - would anyone assist them?). I must admit that that show flashed through my head, and I was tallying up the positive points I may garner from my push button conversation with the attendant.

Hidden camera show or not, I just couldn't leave without checking on the young woman. So I got out of my car and walked over to the driver's side of her vehicle. 

I gingerly knocked on the driver's window, startling the driver. She had some difficulty getting her window down (probably because she was groggy), and I asked her if she was all right.

She said, "I'm beginning to calm down."

When I asked her if it might be a good idea if she just moved her car to one of the parking spaces in front of the store, so she could take a nap, she said, "But I might need to get some gas." She assured me again that she was okay, and was calming down, so I told her to get some rest and take care, and I returned to my car. When I looked back at her, she had slumped forward, her head lower than the steering wheel. Driving away, I glanced over - she looked like a headless torso in the driver's seat.

Where was John Quinones and his camera crew?

During my drive home from the gas station (all of about ten minutes), I couldn't help but obsess about that woman, and what I could/should have done. I felt a deep sense of disappointment in myself, like I failed a test administered by the Committee on the Proper Activities of Good Mothers Everywhere. I was just sure that a "good mom" would have intervened in a big way - like, maybe even adopting the woman, and sending her to rehab/college/ER - whatever it would take to make her whole again. I failed mothers everywhere.

She had no business driving anywhere. I don't know if she was ill, or sleepy, or under the influence of pharmaceuticals or alcohol, but she would have been a danger on the road.

And I left without knowing her fate. When I got home, I called that gas station, and asked if she was still sitting there. A female employee answered the phone, and acted like she didn't know what the hell I was talking about. In her spot was a gold Jeep...not the beige-ish junkyard-ready vehicle I had seen twenty minutes earlier.

I checked the local paper when I got up yesterday morning, and saw no news about multi-vehicle accidents. I could only pray that the young driver got home safely, and that no other people were in danger while she was on the road.

Should I have called the police? An ambulance? Should I have offered to buy her something to eat and drink? (In my defense, I considered all three ideas, albeit briefly. I also thought about the consequences I might cause her to suffer if I called the authorities). 

What is the proper protocol for possibly impaired drivers at the pumps?

As John Quinones likes to say, "What would YOU do?" 

Check out What Would You Do? here.


  1. Oh girl, we are 'soul sisters'. I am forever getting involved. I am a magnet, or maybe an angel, who knows? Sometimes I can be devilish. I'd have asked her what she needed. Then probably regretted having to be her supplier :)

  2. It's hard to help people who don't ask for help and don't respond to attempts to provide it. Short of calling the police, I don't know that you could have done much. And if you called them, she'd likely get cited for something, because she was behind the wheel. Even if they didn't see her operate the motor vehicle, I think they can cite her. Hmm. Very difficult situation.

  3. We all second guess ourselves, but it is what it is. You asked if she was okay, so rather than be a buttinsky you gave her her space. And although this wasn't a funny situation, your writing style certainly is.

  4. Thats scary! Glad you were there to at least check on her.

  5. I think you did more than most people would. I do think it is hard to intervene in a situation when people are mentally unstable. You have to balance your own safety against their possible reactions. And I think the people working at the gas station would need to take action. You're a good person.

  6. Ugh, I lost my comment!
    I agree with Jenners.
    You did more than most people would have.
    No matter what there is always more that *could* be done.
    But honestly?
    You notified the clerk, they should have taken control of the situation.
    The end.


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