Sometimes I am just not very mindful. I am particularly awful about the gas tank. My coupe is in some ways lacking bells and whistles, which I like; but it doesn’t nag you about the gas, which can be dicey. Sure, there’s a light if you want to look at it, but if you wanted to look at that, you would see the gauge, now wouldn’t you? And as I said, mindful – not always so much. I often end up with a quart or so of juice and a big-thirst engine.
So the other day I was out on the freeway when something made me look, and then look for the nearest exit. I pulled into the very first opportunity – pert near dry.
Here in Oregon we don’t pump our own gas – it’s the law, which makes for regular conversations with strangers. The boomer getting ready to quench my thirst seemed a wee bit distracted. When he had to ask twice about my octane preference, he apologized. “We’re having a little problem with the customers behind you. – sorry”
I looked. Two young black men in a beater. A red-headed pump boy waving his hands at them and calling into the store on his radio. I set the parking brake and got out of the coupe.
I asked my guy. “They having trouble paying for their gas?”
“I don’t know – they said something racial to the kid, and he’s pissed.”
I looked deeper. The two men in the car were agitated and yelling at each other. I stepped over the hose going into my tank and walked to my trunk. A managerial woman came out of the mini-mart and waved off the young pumper, who asked her if he should call the police. “Not yet.” She gets down by their window and is saying that 10 bucks won’t cover the 30-dollar tab. Ginger pumper is writing down their plate and getting out his cell. I walk up with my card out and said to the manager, “I’d be happy to pay their tab.” She stares at me – “Seriously?” I look at, and listen to, the guys in the car who are still yelling at each other - in KISWAHILI. "Um, yes, be my pleasure."
“Jambo, Somali, then?”
“What? Yes.” I have their attention.
“The prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, would like to buy your gas today, is that ok?”
While the relieved manager ran my card, we chatted; the driver had said “Fill it with ten dollars" , and pump guy had only been mindful of the first words. The Somalis now had a full tank and exactly ten bucks between them. The fellow riding shotgun was advising that they drive off having paid what they had promised. The driver thought this might be a bad idea. I told them I would go their bail, but that a better tactic in the future would be to give the money they had to the pumper up front. And not use the word ‘fill’. Shotgun thought that paying first was not a good idea, as then there would be no reason for the pumper not to pocket the bill and give them no gas. Good African sense. We settled on show the money for clarity, and give it over when you got the gas. We discussed the inadvisability of driving off, as they could be chased or found.
I got my receipt for their gas and mine, and wished them well.
They thanked me in both languages and faiths. We shook hands”
“Please, I must know your name” said the driver. I leaned in.
“I am Madame Moto-Muzungu de Bujumbura. Amani. Go with God.”
And two laughing Somalis drove off shaking their heads.
The manager said – “That was the best mom talk I have heard in a long time.”
And maybe it was, because the Mother’s Union is an international organization. Or maybe it was white savior complex, ‘cause I can come down with that on occasion, Or just burning some cheap privilege. Or maybe I invented Gas-Splaining. I don’t know. What it felt like was Luck – my unbelievably consistent luck. Why should I be so privileged, to get to be useful, so often? If I was any good at taking care of my car, I would not have been there.
The red-headed kid looked at me and looked at my pretty red sportscar and said “Must be nice to be rich and able to throw money away.” Oh, son. I don’t actually have much money to throw away, but I am rich – when I remember how rich I am.
Boomer pumper opened my car door and said “Have a good evening, ma'am.”
I said “I always do.” Whenever I pay attention.