This story so intrigued me I eventually wrote a script about it. But to be totally honest, as a testament to the ridiculousness of the original event, I wasn’t able to make the story funnier in fiction. So what I am about to tell you is how I managed to take a routine trip from Pittsburgh, PA to Cleveland, OH to visit some friends from college and turn it into the biggesy fiasco one 480 gas station had ever seen.
As mentioned, I was on a brief visit to see a few friends from college and had borrowed the family jeep. What you need to know about this jeep is that while beloved it has a ton of mileage on it and in no way, shape or form is a Mack Truck. Got it? Great. Now, what I remember from that visit is not a lot, primarily because a few of us went out to West 6th in the “Big Cleve” as they say (by they, I mean myself and like, one other person) and consumed a bit more than a little bit of alcohol. It wasn’t a night where you become black out drunk or even sick. But it was one of those nights where somehow you wind up belligerant and on a mechanical bull in a pit with other people’s bras and a lovely photo such as this as all that remains of a memory:
(For educational purposes only.)
Following this night of bull riding glory, I awoke the following morning not feeling fantastic (read: completely exhausted and slightly hungover) but needing to go home to return the jeep for some important reason that now escapes me. But that’s not the point. I drove off into the morning sun and quickly realized I had not only no directions home, but also had no gas and no toll money. Apparently I don’t travel well after bull riding. BUT I vaguely remembered the 3 different highways I’d be following to Pittsburgh and figured I’d be fine. I just needed to get some gas and some cash.
I eventually pulled over to a small gas station and rolled up to a pump. I went inside the little convenience store with my credit card and put something along the lines of $13 on tank 4. Everything thus far was copasetic. I then strolled outside back to my pump and I genuinely don’t know know how to explain my rationale for what I did next. I stepped up to the pump and really clearly recall looking at the different nozzles in front of me. There were three regular pumps, and then to the left of all of these was a fantastically bright yellow one. It was in a cage. I can’t tell you why that was the one I grabbed. Maybe the bright color and massive DIESEL written above the nozzle called to me in their uniqueness and sunny appearance. Maybe part of my brain ran out of oxygen at that very moment. There really is no definitive answer other than I was a complete and utter nincompoop (the kind your mom calls you, not the urban dictionary kind) and grabbed the diesel dispenser despite never pumping diesel fuel into any vehicle in my entire life.
The bright colors and the word diesel (not to mention the higher price) really should have been the first tip-off that I was entering the realm of inexcusable stupidity. Instead, with the pump in one hand, I unscrewed the gas cap on my jeep and attempted to insert the nozzle. If I had been remotely sane, tip-off number two would be the METAL WRAPPED AROUND THE NOZZLE designed to prevent exactly what I was attempting. If you don’t know, and are therefore missing the punchline of this entire blog entry, diesel has the capability to destroy a normal sized-car’s engine that runs on regular gas. The engines are different, the gas is different, yet my idiocy remained the same. And so despite the fact that the pump would not fit in my car, I somehow finagled THIS BEAST in such a way that I could get gas to go into the tank:
So at this point perhaps you’re thinking “Ingrid. How did you ever manage to catch your mistake and have this tale to tell?” Well, let me tell you what happened next by the grace of God. As you may recall, I had decided to prepay. Despite my determination I apparently hadn’t been doing as many hand flexing exercises as I should have and couldn’t press the handle down on the pump long enough to get all my money’s worth of gas into my tank. It could have been the awkward position I had to contort my whole arm into to balance the pump so I didn’t keep spilling gas on the ground (I looked like some sort of ape). When I went to squeeze it again after losing my grip, the pump refused to start. And so somehow, despite all of these actions that bordered on lunacy, I had the sense to realize I was being jipped. And suddenly it was as if this jipping of five-ish dollars had awakened my mind. I looked down into my hand. “This isn’t regular” I recall thinking. And though I still had no idea of the gravity of what I had done, I calmly put the pump back on the dispenser rack and walked again into the gas station convenience store.
There was a small line inside so I stood and waited a few minutes until I could get up to the front desk to speak to one of two women (…?) who I would have called Merle and Madge if given the privilege of naming them. In fact, I’m fairly sure those were their names in my script. Neither here nor there. I went up to “Madge” and said simply (I thought) “Hey, I’m at pump four and I think I put diesel in my car, but the pump stopped working so can I just put some more money on and get what it ate back, too? Then I’ll put regular in?”
The world suddenly stopped. Madge just stared at me. Her mouth opened slightly. Merle dropped a quarter.
“What did you just say?” she said.
Ugh. I have to say my whole spiel again, I thought. Ok, whatevs.
“I said I put diesel in my car but the pump stopped working, so can we take what’s left and I’ll put some more on and do regular this time?”
“You put diesel in your car?”
A man piped up out of nowhere behind me- “You put diesel in your car?!?”
Was there an echo?
“Yeah, can I just get my money back, I have to get regular in it.”
And then Madge turned to Merle. Merle to Madge. Madge put her hand on Merle’s shoulder. They seemed to reach a nonverbal understanding. Everything became eerily calm. Then quickly Madge turned around behind her and threw open a previously unnoticed cabinet on the wall. It was full of what appeared to be dynamite (surely that wasn’t it?) and one bright hazard vest. She pulled out the vest with the speed of a paramedic and threw it on. Around the cashier desk she flew and motioned for me to come with.
“To pump four!”
“Oh my god.”
The two of us, me trying to keep up with Madge’s short but fast moving legs, went out into the parking lot and there was the jeep. Sitting patiently at pump four.
“You wait here! Don’t move!”
What the hell?
Madge went off to get what turned out to be orange construction cones and made a minor blockade around my jeep. While doing so, she threw out over her shoulder “You might want to call a mechanic.”
“Don’t you have the number for one?”
Well that just seemed dumb, I thought. But I’m sure Madge was thinking something similar about me. And by similar I mean times about fifty. I got my phone out and did the only thing I could think of. I called my friend whose house I had left not 30 minutes prior.
“Lauren, I got diesel in my car. Apparently it’s like, a big deal. My car’s being quarantined.”
“Wait, what? You put diesel in your car?”
“Hold on, I’m gonna get Big Nick.”
Big Nick is Lauren’s dad and an excellent user of google.
“Ingrid, Lauren said you’re having car problems?”
“Yeah, I put diesel in my car and appar-”
“You put diesel in your car?”
“Yes. Yes I did.”
“Hold on one sec, Ingrid, I’m gonna google this.”
While Nick was looking up the repercussions to my actions, a massive black mercedes pulled up and I took this moment (and the fact that it was the midwest) to walk up to this stranger who had a visible phone on him and ask him to please (for the love of god) call a mechanic.
“Excuse me, sir? Can you help me? I got some diesel in my car and I’m trying to find a mechanic’s number.”
“You got DIESEL in your car?”
Oh my god. I’ll tattoo it on my forehead. Yes. Moving on.
“Yes… do you know of a mechanic?”
“I’ll look one up, hold on one sec.”
Then Big Nick was back on the line with some answers. Though not ones that were helping my now increasingly panicked state.
“Ingrid. I think it might be a problem. You may have to get your engine syphoned out.”
“It may have to be taken into a mechanic’s and they’ll have to suck out all the diesel fuel. Have you turned the car on?”
“No, not yet.”
Just then, my new Mercedes Friend came back with a number for a mechanic.
“Hold on one sec, Nick, I’m gonna call these mechanics and ask them what to do and I’ll call you right back!”
“Ok, sounds good.”
I thanked Mercedes Friend and proceeded to call said mechanic.
“Bob’s Auto Repair.”
“Hi, my name’s Ingrid. I’m at a gas station on 480 East and I accidentally put diesel in my car. None of us are sure what to-”
“Wait. Hold on. You said you put DIESEL in your car?”
I swear, these people. Was I slurring my words? YES! I DID THAT! MOVING ON!
“Hey, Frank! I got a girl on the line that put diesel in her car! Haha!”
Frank in the background was equally amused. Ingrid, on the other hand, not so much.
“So, what am I supposed to do?”
“Well, here’s the thing. The best thing to do is get your car towed over to a mechanic’s. They’re gonna have to syphon out the tank. Whatever you do, don’t turn it on. You could cause some major problems if you turn that car on.”
“But I have to get to Pittsburgh!”
“Hm… I’d call the tow pretty soon then.”
“Ugggghhh. Ok. Thanks.”
Well. That didn’t go so hot. I called Big Nick back.
“Ingrid, what’d they say?”
“They said to tow the car over to a mechanic!”
“Hm.. alright. Well, I have an idea. How much money’s worth of gas did you get in the tank?”
“I don’t know, maybe like $8?”
“Ok. I think that if you fill the rest of the tank up with regular, it might dilute the diesel enough that the car will be ok. Call me back when you’ve done that.”
I hung up and turned around to see that my car was now completely and utterly surrounded by orange cones. Madge had gone berserk. I walked undeterred over to the jeep and put my credit card through the swiper.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna fill the rest of the tank up with regular and see what happens.”
“What? You can’t turn that key, it might blow up!”
“What? What do you mean it might blow up? It’s not going to blow up!”
“Well, you’re on your own then!”
And with that, Madge stormed over to the convenience store and stood staring at me out the window for the duration of the event. As mother used to say, she’s not one you’d take with you into the trenches. Regardless, I filled up the tank with regular, asked God to forgive me for the indiscretions I couldn’t think of because I was too scared I was about to blow up, and I got into the driver’s seat. Key in hand, I called back Big Nick.
“Alright, Ingrid. I want you to slowly turn the car on.”
I swear, I couldn’t remember the last time I was that scared. I felt completely ridiculous in my quarantined jeep at that small gas station on 480. But somehow, perhaps because I did feel like such an idiot, I mustered up the guts and shoved the key in the ignition despite the syphon woes and the “you’re gonna blow up” taunts. I turned the key. The car literally lept forward 4 feet. I was like Crazy Mazy bumping and tooting too and fro for about 5 seconds and then the car calmed down. I did a test run around the parking lot just in case, and then headed off onto the road, thanking Big Nick and Lauren profusely. I had survived almost complete intellectual deficiency, severe embarrassment, and the threat of annihilation. I had come out alive!
It wasn’t until about 25 minutes later that I realized I still had no toll money. And that I also would have to stop 5 more times to continually dilute the engine on the way home. Icing on the cake as they say.