EDIT: Just found this draft post from mid-March (which I never published) while editing Comms Principle #5, which I will publish over the next few days. I’m sufficiently over my sense of injustice now to publish it.
So, I’m driving to work Thursday morning, and stop at the gas station. It’s 20 degrees.
The pump is the slowest I’ve ever known, delivering about a gallon a minute. I give up after 5 minutes, shut the pump off and I’m about to get into the truck when a voice beside me says “Excuse me, sir…”
It’s a lady in her 70s in a Beetle. I say hello and she says “Can you put some air in my tire, it’s running flat and I don’t know if I’ll make it to the dealership”.
I look at my nice clean suit, tie and white shirt, then look back at her, and decide I can’t in good conscience leave her to try and do this herself.
She pulls over to the air machine. She opens the window and hands me a quarter. I look at the machine and tell her it’s a dollar. So she hands me a dollar bill. I tell her I don’t think the machine takes bills, only coins. She says she’s sure they’ll change it for me inside.
So, I go get change, start the pump, and ask her what tire and pressure. She says it’s the right front and that it’s 28 psi. I look at the right front tire. It looks absolutely fine. I ask her what makes her think it’s losing air and she says it’s been getting flatter for the last half hour. Not wanting to be difficult I say OK and it turns out the pressure is 25 psi. I fill it to 28.
She opens the electric window and leans across and says “Actually could you make it 30?” I make it 30.
She then says “I wonder if you’d mind doing the other 3 as well. I think it was the right front but I’m not sure.
I don’t have my coat on and I’m now pretty cold, but rather than being disagreeable I fill the other tires to 30 psi (it turns out that all are in the mid to high 20s). I finish and tell her they’re all set at 30. In the meantime she’s been sitting in the car, looking at the manual and says “Oh, it says here they should be 32. Could you fill them to 32?
I tell her that if she’s going to a dealership anyway, she’ll be fine with 30. She looks horrified and says “You mean you’re not going to inflate them to what is required by law?”
I tell her that it is not required by law, that 30 will be just fine to get her to the dealership and ask her whether she thinks I work at the gas station (all this time standing there freezing in a suit and tie, and with my hands by now filthy).
She says “No, but I thought at least you’d be enough of a gentleman to help an elderly lady.”
Inside my head, the “Hmmmmm….” is replaced by “WTF?”. But I respond with a perfunctory “Have a nice day ma’am” and walk away, thinking that she got all the “gentleman” she deserved.
I get a sense of intense frustration when meeting someone like that. Nothing you can do or say will make them a better or more reasonable human being, but there is still the annoyance that somehow you’d like to do or say something that will show them how unreasonable they have been. I always think of this kind of frustration as a Jerry Lundegaard moment.
I’ve met only a handful of people like that in my entire life, but every time I do I remember them forever. Why people who are of so little value create such long-lasting memories I have no idea. On the other hand, if they weren’t memorable then I suppose that might mean that they had become the norm – which would of course be infinitely worse.