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Travelers get angry over cost of fueling up

Duane Hoffmann /

You have no doubt experienced the gas station double take by now.

“Double take,” as in compared to a year ago, it feels like it takes double the cash to fill up the tank.

It makes you mad, doesn't it? You're not alone. Tempers have been rising steadily along with gas prices. While no one seems to be officially keeping statistics on incidents related to gas rage, many folks have clearly reached their boiling point.

Gas prices made me do it!
Consider these recent news stories:

  • In early June, police in Cypress, Calif., arrested Dr. Antonio Reyes for using a tire iron to threaten another driver who tried cutting into a long line of cars waiting at a Costco gas station. Reyes told reporters that he'd first tried reasoning with the “cutter” by telling him, “You have to go back to your line — this is very impolite,” but that didn't work.  Instead, tempers flared, and threatening words and gestures were exchanged. That’s when, due to his “exasperation,” the doctor grabbed the tire iron.
  • A Bay Area woman set fires in restrooms of two different gas stations (and a Starbucks).  When arrested she told police that she “woke up that morning wanting to do something about high gas prices.”
  • And then there's this sad and extreme story from Detroit. Last November, a price war between two gas stations ended with one gas station owner killing his “rival,” the owner of the gas station across the street who kept lowering his gas prices. Then in March, shortly before his trial was to begin, the accused shooter was also gunned down.

Digital defense
Clearly these are extreme cases, but even folks in quaint Monroe, Conn., have had enough. Stephen Lazarecki, Jr., owns the Monroe Turnpike Service Center and says for years, whenever gas prices needed to be changed, the service center manager would take a ladder, prop it up under the gas price sign, climb up and change the numbers. But as gas prices began rising precipitously, the station manager started getting heckled by drivers. Sometimes they'd throw coffee cups at him. Other times, they’d throw “whatever garbage they had in their cars” as prices were adjusted.

Not anymore. The station recently installed a digital sign. Now employees can change the posted gas prices from inside the building and steer clear of angry motorists.

No need to throw things
Of course, well-mannered travelers should always refrain from throwing things at gas station attendants or threatening other motorists with tire irons. Sure, you can get mad about the cost of filling the tank, but you do need to keep your cool when you're at the gas station. Here are some tips to help you out:

Don’t get mad ... just don’t buy gas
Or don’t buy as much of it. If you don’t visit the gas station as much, you won’t need to confront those high gas prices as often. So try one or two of those gas-saving tips offered just about everywhere: walk more, ride your bike, take public transportation, carpool or convince your employer to let you telecommute one or two days a week. When on vacation, choose destinations where you can walk or take public transportation to attractions and book one of the many hotels now offering gas rebates or other incentives.

Don’t shoot the messenger
Don’t waste your breath yelling at gas station attendants or service station owners. Independent station and convenience store owners make very little on a gallon of gas. And gas station attendants and sales clerks — who must fill up their tanks, too — often times work for minimum wage. The big bucks are being raked in elsewhere. Yet it’s the front line folks who are fielding most of the complaints.

Sal Risalvato, the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline-C-Store-Automotive Association, says, “The motoring public is angry and justifiably so. We want to be mad at them for being mad at us, but we can’t. We just have to suck it up.”

Compare, contrast and cool down
At Craig’s Service Center, an independent station in Middletown, N.J., station owner Craig Copeland hasn’t seen anybody “freaking out or having fits.” Copeland said, “Generally it’s under the breath comments like ‘what a rip-off’, and complaints about having to pay $80 or $100 for a fill-up.”

Copeland has trained his attendants to agree and side with the customers. “Instead of engaging with angry customers, we try to educate them. Instead of defending the high gas prices, we try to explain.”

And sometimes, they just laugh. “It’s the folks in the SUVS who complain about paying $4 for a gallon of gas while drinking a $4 cup of coffee or a $4 bottle of water. They’re paying the equivalent of $40 a gallon for coffee, yet complaining about $4 a gallon for gas. If they’d cool down and put it all into perspective, they’d realize $4 gas is really a bargain.”

Adapt with anger management skills
In San Bruno, Calif., an anger management consultant who also owns a gas station is helping his customers combat gas rage with a stress-relief dunk tank. According to the station’s Web site, “As gas prices skyrocket, you can combat your anxiety by dunking a Shell employee ... You deserve it.”

If dunking isn’t therapeutic enough, the service station offers free popcorn, cranks up live music on Saturdays and awards free car washes to customers who rant at cashiers.

Jonathan Wulf thinks the dunk tank is great idea, asking, “how can you get angry if you’re having fun?” Wulf is a licensed clinical psychologist associated with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and offers a few additional anger management tips for folks who don’t have a dunk tank at their hometown gas station:

  • Instead of getting mad, try being grateful that you even have a car, that you have a car that works and that there aren’t really long lines at the gas station.
  • Don’t wait until your tank is empty. If you can put in $30 worth of gas instead of $60, it may not feel quite as painful.

Seek help from above
Getting angry definitely won’t change the price of gas, but some folks think praying will. A Baltimore, Md.-based public relations consultant (and Seventh Day Adventist) has been touring the country leading prayer circles at gas stations. Rocky Twyman’s “Pray at the Pump” movement has touched down at gas stations in Washington, D.C, San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis and other cities.

And while praying (so far) doesn’t seem to be helping, at least one motorist believes it’s certainly worth a try. That tire iron-wielding doctor in California now preaches patience to other exasperated motorists, and suggests they “pray for something to happen so prices go down.”

Harriet Baskas writes's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the , a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for