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Gas pumps have the capacity to evoke unbridled rage, as evidenced by a recent incident at a Brandon, Man., station.Andrew Clark/The Globe and Mail

It’s all about the details.

That’s the takeaway I’ve gleaned from watching (repeatedly) the video of an incensed driver assaulting a gas pump in Brandon, Man., on April 25. The clip was posted by the Brandon Police in an effort to track down the perpetrator, who is wanted for mischief. It is a sublime representation of unbridled, insensate, savage indignation. The driver is angry, apparently, because he has been asked to prepay before filling his tank.

He begins by violently punching the gas pump. This initial assault does not abate his rage. The driver, a bearded man whose Chevrolet Impala is parked beside the self-serve station, then bridges himself on his car and stomps the gas pump with both feet. He turns and yells toward what we must assume is the service station. Once again, he pounds the pump with his fist.

Next, he pistol-whips the pump with the nozzle. More yelling. He returns the nozzle to his gas tank. Why he does so is uncertain. Is he expecting a different result? Does he believe the bruised gas pump will capitulate to his mighty wrath and begin gushing fuel? More yelling ensues. Finally, he hurls the nozzle into the air. He drives away, but not before remembering to reattach his gas cap.

Disturbing though it was, I have to admit that a rush of reluctant admiration swept through me while watching the video. There are many who can sympathize with his anti-gas-pump stance.

Gas pumps are bossy, demanding monsters. In the struggle between man and machine, they are the undefeated champions.

Who hasn’t wanted to take a swing at one?

Let’s examine the experience.

You approach the gas pump. If you have one of those “easy pass” key bobs (which almost no one does), then it’s a matter of click and pump. Otherwise, you must insert a credit or debit card. Then the gas pump starts giving orders. “Chip Card Detected. Please Leave Card In Reader.” The interrogation commences. “Car Wash Options.” Some gas pumps ask if you want a soft drink? A bag of chips? “Select Fuel Amount.” Do you have a points card? A loyalty program? Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

“Enter PIN to confirm.”

Finally, “Transaction approved. Please remove card.”

Some high-tech gas pumps play commercials while they give you this treatment. In other words, while the gas pump blasts you with questions, it simultaneously pitches obnoxious advertisements for some junk food or lame cup of coffee. Today, with the added spectre of COVID-19, there is the additional dread that keying-in all the information required will result in the user contracting a potentially deadly virus.

To be fair, in the grand scheme of things, gas-pump frustration is not high on the list of crimes against humanity. It stings, however, because the gas pump was one of the first machines to start telling us what to do. Long before artificial intelligence and super computers, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Nirvana was a new band, automatic banking tellers and automatic gas pumps were the first machines to talk back, to tell us what to do.

We may have evolved to hate them, in the same way that human beings are hard-wired to fear men on horseback. It’s primal.

Still, as much as we are frustrated by the machines that serve us, we should always consider the part we play in our own consternation. We should pay attention to the little things.

For instance, if only this Sisyphus of the Self-Serve had taken a look at the rear of his Impala, he would have noticed that it was caked with dirt and that his license plate was not visible, that, in fact, his license plate is completely obscured, as if someone had spray-painted over it. Therefore, it is very likely that the gas-station attendant would not activate the pump because the vehicle could not be identified if the driver decided to flee rather than paying.


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