In one of our most popular articles of all time, I wrote in one paragraph about how gas stations and convenience stores are the water holes of our time. Even in the best neighborhoods, gas stations and their associated stores attract all manner of cretins.
Of course, it all makes sense. Where commerce is taking place, both the shop as well as the customers will have money. Along those same lines, the fact that the customers usually show up in cars (and can fill them with gasoline) suggests that they have assets beyond mere loose change. Thus, any customer at such a place can become a victim of anyone seeking their hard-earned money. The only question is will he or she be targeted for potentially violent crime or mere panhandling efforts? Just this weekend I was a “victim” of the latter, and the “scam” in this case was one I had not seen before.
I had just done some grocery shopping and wanted to fill up my tank afterwards. Unfortunately, the gas station I usually go to—where I can use “reward points” from the grocery store I frequent to get a small discount—was very busy with customers. There was also a tanker truck there filling up one or more of their underground tanks, restricting access even more. Not wanting to deal with the chaos, I went to another station about a mile up the road that was still on my way home.
This station is set up with pumps on both sides of a central building that houses the cashier and a small convenience shop (almost identical to the picture above). After circling in my car completely around the building to check it and the environment, I parked at one of the pumps (the only car at any of the four pumps on that side of the shop). I got out with keys in one hand and pepper spray in the other. After locking my doors, I operated the pump with one hand and kept the spray in the other. I always pay at the pump using a credit (NEVER debit!) card. Why? Bad things often happen INSIDE convenience stores; I like to spend as little time as possible at such places while maintaining some measure of mobility.
I started the pump and left it running while I strolled around my car, making sure to scan all around. By constantly moving, I presented a “moving target” and was also able to bring certain parts of the area under observation that would not had I remained in one place (behind the pillars holding up the roof, behind the pumps, etc.). Soon, a beat up early 2000s maroon Toyota Camry pulled in on the opposite side of my pump. The driver got out (I could see someone else in the passenger seat), opened the trunk and took out a red plastic gas can. He approached his side of the pump and then popped his head around to my side and started to say something to me to get my attention.
At first, I was concerned because I could only see his head peering around the pump; his hands were behind the pump. I scanned right and left to see if anyone else was approaching, but the area behind me was quite open and quite empty. He almost immediately held up the can with both hands and asked if I could spare a gallon of gasoline, as he was living in a mobile home and was using gasoline to run his generator/heater/whatever (I was not really paying attention to his half of the dialogue so much as what he was doing). I politely but firmly refused and he got back into his car and left.
I have never run into this one before. I have had demands for straight-up cash, for cigarettes, for bus fare, for money for stereo speakers ”in the back of this van right here”, etc. But I have never had anyone ask me for a gallon of gas to run a generator.
It left me trying to figure out how it was that I was “targeted”. There were other cars and people at the pumps on the opposite side of the building (who this guy ignored when he drove off), and the pumps on both sides are equally exposed to the very main road that goes past. Was I targeted because I am on the small side? If so, to what degree was this guy willing to “force” the issue? Once he tried interacting with me (the “soft sell”), was it my demeanor that made him move on?
In the end, I’ll never know. And that’s the key right there. The scorecard here is not like one from a sporting event. From my perspective, I HAVE to “win” EVERY time. He can pick and choose, and as long as he wins at some point, from his perspective, HE is a winner.
Much of what I now do at gas stations (as outlined above, and even the terminology of the water hole) I learned from John Murphy of FPF Training in his Vehicle Environment Skills class. Circling the lot/building, locking the car after getting out, scanning the area to break task-fixation while getting the pump going, letting it fill while moving and scanning, keeping pepper spray IN HAND, and dealing with society’s derelicts were all things I learned in that class. While some vehicle classes are all about shooting through windshields and identifying what parts of cars are cover and what parts are concealment (and I will be taking a vehicle class later this year with another instructor that seems to have a bit more focus on those things), I really liked how Murphy ran this particular class. Honestly, I have used what he taught me in that class in 2016 on a weekly basis whenever I fill up my car’s gas tank. I recommend everyone who drives or spends any time in or around cars take that class—or a similar class if you can find one—that can place you into realistic, everyday scenarios. You can then tweak and adjust as needed for your own personal situations.
To reiterate, gas stations and convenience stores are to the human criminal element what water holes on the African savanna are to lions. Watch how many of John Correia’s Active Self Protection videos take place at such locations. Read your local newspaper and see how many robberies happen at these places. Have a plan and follow it; take care of business there and move on with your day.
Anyone ever experienced this particular come-on? What other ones have you experienced? Please share here or on our Facebook page, as I know I—and I am sure our readers—would love to stay abreast of all of these scams and schemes. And as always, thanks for reading.