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For years, I thought that taking a filling your car with gas and taking off without paying would bring down the police on you faster than <please here enter some pithy allegory of your own choosing>

Two experiences have changed that:

First, and less importantly, I was on a 14 hour road trip with my wife’s family and 30 miles down the road after a stop at a gas station we realized that none of us had paid for gas. Not only were we not pulled over by state lawpersons, but at the next stop, when my Father In Law called the station and explained the situation, the manager suggested he just forget about it. Hmmm.

But more recently, and I admit, this was probably a few years ago, but after they made pay-at-the-pump available, I noticed a posting commonly placed on the gas station tanks warning people not to take gas without paying. This was a very poorly made message. To wit:

(A) The first thing you see is a stern looking person in a police uniform, obviously disapproving of anyone who would steal gas. What was notable is that this man had a toughness appearance factor in the negative numbers. He looked like someone who might have been voted vice president in Junior High. I have never been in a fight (as an adult) and don’t hold out high hopes of my ability should I find myself in one but my first thought when I saw the picture officer was “I could take him. Even if he had a taser.”*  If this was my response, I wonder how a more ethically challenged would feel upon seeing him.

(B) Next you notice the wording “If you take gas without paying, cameras or witnesses will see this and you will be reported.” Translation: Since you can look inside and see that no one is watching the video monitors, you can be sure that our only hope in catching you is if someone is really bored and watches you really carefully to see if you are not fake-sliding your credit card though the slot and then decides to spend some positive amount of time reporting you.” Do they really want to call attention to your good chances of a clean getaway?

(C) Then, since you have nothing better to do as you wait for your gas pump, you read that as punishment for being caught stealing gas you will be “fined an amount not to exceed 30 dollars.” 30 Dollars? What? So if (when I get gas for my suburban) I’m only caught one in every three times it will still pay off for me?

I had never had such a strong inclination to drive away without paying. 

I can only imagine the conversation of the Gas Station Owner Association Comittee to Prevent Gas Theft –

Owner 1: We have to do something! Now that we have pay at the pump, no one looks strange if they don’t go inside!

Owner 2: Okay, what?

Owner 1: Let’s put a stern warning on the gas dispenser.

Owner 2: With what?

Owner 1: Well, a picture of a police officer looking . . . really unhappy.

Owner 2: Maybe we should hire a model.

Owner 1: No, I’ll get my cousin, he just got his badge.

Owner 2: I don’t know, didn’t you tell me that he was effectively made fun of at an elementary school presentation by eight year old girls?

Owner 1: Well, yeah, but this way we won’t have to pay him.

Owner 2: . . . . . Well . . .

Owner 1: And then we’d have words on them that show them all the ways they may be caught.

Owner 2: But they never get caught!

Owner1: But they won’t figure that out! We’ll word our message cleverly! And we tell them about the really big fine.

Owner 2: The fine is only 30 dollars!

Owner 1: Yeah. . . rats. Well maybe if we put it in the words of the actual law, it will sound more scary!

 * I live in Minnesotat, but I saw another ad much like this in South Dakota, but they wisely chose a picture of an officer who I don’t doubt could handle an altercation with me.

** More recently, they have changed the law to take away your driver’s liscence for a month. Much more effective.  


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