Pumping Gas at the Strip Club
Updated: Mar 14
My gig went until 2am, and striking the stage before I could leave the nightclub took longer than usual. By the time I got on the road headed home, it was 3am. And on the way, my gas light flashed on.
At this hour of the morning, where could I safely stop for gas as a young woman traveling alone? All attendants in quiet Cary, North Carolina, had long since clocked out and turned off the lights at all fuel stations on my route home -- all save one. I decided to stop there, because I'd be safer where there were people around.
This particular gas station was above a strip club -- that's why they stayed open 24/7, and that's how I knew there'd be people on the premises. The land sloped down from the main road, and if you followed the gas station's parking lot down the hill, you'd round the corner and find the gentlemen's lounge in the back.
I pulled up to the gas pump and began refueling. I popped my hood to check the oil -- my dad taught me how way back when I was in high school, and made sure I knew how to add more if it was low. That habit helped me get an extra 80k miles, at least, out of my first car -- so that's my routine every time I stop for gas. Even though the little Kia Rio I was driving was brand new, I wanted to see what its oil usage was like, so I could more quickly detect a problem in the future. It's simply a smart and easy way to take care of my investment.
As I worked, outside of a strip club with my stage makeup on, I attracted many interrogating stares. How strange I must've looked in that context -- the only women around were half-naked, working downstairs, and there I was, under my hood, done up to the nines but wrapped in a winter coat, surrounded by intoxicated, sexually frustrated men wandering to and fro. Could she be some sort of car strip tease bonus show for a special occasion? they seemed to wonder. Why did this one get to clock out early?
I left my hood propped as I went to grab paper towels.
"I just don't know what is wrong with women these days!" I heard a nasal, whiney voice grow louder as it became nearer. "I mean, do you not want a good man to help take care of things?"
I could hear another male voice replying unenthusiastically with a quasi-sympathetic, "Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah..."
"Why would she break up with me? When I was taking care of that for her?"
I was bent under my hood, pulling out the oil dipstick.
"And what's that other guy gonna do for her?" The tone was so bitter.
The voice became extremely loud as they rounded the corner of the convenience store.
"I mean, how ungrateful can you be? I guess now I see what she's really..."
The voice trailed off as he spotted me, hovering over my engine with the dipstick. I knew I had it coming.
"Uh, excuse me, do you need help?"
I sighed. There were enough people around that I could pretend I thought he was talking to someone else.
But he walked right up beside me to try again. "Ex-cuse me, are you having car trouble?" he asked condescendingly, as if he were morally obligated to help me, but doing so would inconvenience him severely.
I was startled by his aggressiveness, and turned to face him. The voice and subject matter I'd been overhearing made me think I'd find a spoiled frat boy, but what I actually saw surprised me even more than his aggressive persistence.
A middle-aged man stood there, maybe 5'8", in jeans, sneakers, and a windbreaker. His posture leaned backwards to balance the weight of his protrusive gut, which stretched his jacket to the point where it barely zipped. His greasy greying hair was disheveled, and the pores on his broad face gaped wide with glistening oil and alcoholism. He squinted with an arrogant smirk -- which may have been his attempt at a "smolder" for all I know -- while rolls of fat protruded from his wrists as he shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Nope, everything's fine, thank you," I said flatly.
"Then what are you doing?" he pressed judgmentally.
"Checking the oil," I replied sarcastically, dipstick in my right hand, and oily rags in my left. I plunged the stick back in to read the level. Why is it that men always assume women don't know what they're doing when it comes to cars?
"You know how to do that?" he inquired skeptically.
"Evidently," I retorted. I read the oil measurement and reinserted the stick without looking at him. How could this guy seriously not understand why he has problems with women?
"Why are you putting oil in a Prius?" he mirrored my sarcasm back at me, triumphantly.
Why do you think I owe you an explanation, or that I'm obligated to pay attention to you, or that you're entitled to any of my time?
With soft, velvety venom, I stopped what I was doing, turned to face him squarely, and hissed, "It's not a Prius."
His eyes grew wide, then flickered towards my vehicle in desperate search of a logo. In misidentifying my car, he'd inadvertently proved that he didn't know a thing he was talking about.
"Ohhh..." his ego deflated. I'm pretty sure that was the facial expression men make when they feel their twig and berries shrinking.
I slammed the hood shut and stood up straight, towering over him in my high heels with my regal lionnes mane of hair. Normally I'm very polite, sweet, and passive, but everything about this human rubbed me the wrong way. It was after 3am and I was at the end of my capacity for giving undeserving courtesy. Never before had I been so rude to someone offering me unsolicited help, but then again, never before had I been offered help so rudely.
I raised my eyebrow as I stared him down, hands on my hips. His friend squirmed with empathetic discomfort.
"Well, sorry to have offered..." he stammered, now making it sound like he had bent over backwards so magnanimously to rescue me, and I'd spat in his face. They slunk away back down the hill, where the women were paid to tolerate their company.
I drove home hot headed, and recounted the story briefly in a Facebook status. By morning (aka 1pm the next day), it had gleaned several comments of laughter and amusement, but no one summed it up quite as well as a saxophonist colleague of mine:
"He was just trying to put the 'us' in 'Prius'."