Pay It Forward
Welcome to Willow’s weekly coffee and tea garden. First of all I would like to offer my condolences and prayers to Willow and her family at the passing of her sister this week.My name is Paul; I’ll be your barista today. I’m happy to see you have come for a cuppa and a chat. I am delighted to be back at Willow’s serving you, our treasured readers, a cuppa and sweets while we chat. Please come into the garden and make yourself comfortable. Willow fluffed the cushions on the chairs and set the tables in the garden so we can have a cuppa and chat as we soak up the sun and enjoy the beautiful plants. She has also brought out the heaters so we can stretch our outside tea time further into the fall. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our world-wide readership. Also available is a large selection of spirits for addition to your cuppa or in its place. We can relax amongst the flowers while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. How has your week been? My week was pretty rough but improving, thank you. Last week I told a story here of the last time I was in the terminal where I spent so many years coming and going. I found it to be a sort of fun piece, however from the readers’ reactions it came across as a rough story of screw or be screwed. To a certain extent that is true and it is one of the reasons why I eventually got out of long-haul trucking – I dislike myself when I am always anticipating the worst of people, even though that is what is takes to succeed. That said, there have been some times when I felt good about the role I played in helping people. I’d like to tell such a story here today, with your permission, of course. Perhaps it will help balance the negativity of last week’s story.
This happened many years later when I was driving regional for a gas tanker company, hauling Super-B’s as pictured above. It was a good job but because people drove most on holidays – we always had to work. The pay was excellent – double time and a half on holidays – and the heaviest thing we lifted was one end of a hose. Besides the Super B’s were fun to drive at 80 feet long, 30 wheels on the ground, two trailers, weighing 140,000 pounds when loaded- that’s about the weight of two small houses. We could legally haul about 58,000 liters of gas (a little over 15,000 US gallons – or if you used 10 gallons a week, enough for 28 years). It was a scorching hot 100 degrees F at 7 pm when I finished loading at Suncor’s distribution center in Toronto and pulled out of the loading racks. The sun was just starting to lower itself in the sky on this July 1 Canada Day weekend. Standing in the air conditioned driver’s room signing my bills of lading fresh off the printer, I contemplated my log hours. I could see the heat waves rolling off the tanker outside the window, and unseen, the 58,000 liters of gas inside. I had lots of fuel aboard so I didn’t have to stop for that on the way to Ottawa but I would need coffee and cigarettes and a sandwich about the half way mark – perhaps Kingston. The service plaza off the 401 just before Kingston had all that and was easy to access with the truck.
I swung up into the cab and noticed the A/C was starting to cool the air after being parked for an hour loading. Updating my log book, filling out paperwork and filing load sheets, I then pulled to the exit gate and waited for it to open, spitting my truck and me out onto the mean city streets. Winding the truck through the street lights and intersections, I eventually turned onto the Eastbound 401 highway entrance ramp. Accelerating up to the speed limit, I engaged the cruise control and relaxed in the air ride captain’s chair. The next time I slowed would be to stop for a break and a coffee at the Kingston service plaza three hours from now. The huge Super B was at its best in this world – moving 100,000pounds of gas along at 60 mph smoothly and steadily. Inertia was its best friend. I was along for the ride, just making sure nothing got in the truck’s way. The Jake Brake- an engine brake on large diesels- was even keyed into the cruise, making sure that the weight didn’t push the speed too high running off the hills.
Would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet or two? So, three hours later the service plaza exit signs came into sight in the dark. 10:15 pm now and traffic was horrendous. Even out here on the big road (trucker slang for multi-lane divided highways) all three eastbound lanes were solid with traffic –although it was still moving at speed. The service plaza had a separate area for tractor-trailers in the rear and I took the ramp leading me down. There were only a handful of trucks parked in an area that could easily accommodate 100 tractor-trailers- it being a long holiday weekend. As I glanced over at the car fueling area, it looked unusual – taped off with barricades and lines of cars. Snapping on the parking brakes, I left the truck running for the A/C and stepped out, locking it up behind me. The air was still sizzling at over 90 F as I hurried to the convenience store in the center block of the fuel islands. Here there were sandwiches to go and cigarettes and drinks. A crowd surrounded the cashiers and I could hear loud and angry voices. Keeping one ear peeled, I poured myself a large coffee and picked up two wrapped chicken sandwiches to go and made my way to the cashier for smokes and to pay. One cash was open and running through non-gas purchases. I could hear the conversations at the other cashes: “I’m sorry but our computers are down and we can’t pump any gas.” Angrily: “What the hell am I supposed to do with no gas?!” “I’m sorry sir, we are having them fixed as fast as possible but it may be tomorrow before we can pump any gas.” “I don’t have enough to get into Kingston, what the hell do you expect me to do?!” Yikes, the busiest day of the year on Canada’s busiest highway on a holiday and their fuel pumps were down? Wow, sure was glad that I wasn’t that station manager. I glanced out the store windows and realized there were literally hundreds of cars outside waiting. Well, time for me to skedaddle.
As I started for the door, my attention was caught by a young woman who had pushed her way through to the front of the crowd. I paused for a minute to see what she was going to say and after she had been told there was no gas she asked if any Kingston stations could bring some out to her as she was almost out. The manager told her they had tried that earlier but because it was a holiday none of the in-town stations could spare anyone to come out. She looked crushed and tears welled in her eyes. She asked what she should do and the manager just shrugged – the crowd ignored her. She turned dejectedly with wet cheeks and walked slowly out the door. No one paid her any attention and my heart went out to her, so I followed at a discrete distance to see if she was with anyone. Had she been with a group or even another person, I would just go about my business. If she was alone, I didn’t know what I was going to do but I couldn’t leave her stranded here in this crowd all by herself. She opened the door on a compact older Toyota that was clean but had obviously seen some years of life. Once I saw she had no one to help her, I approached.
“Hi there. I’m Paul. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation in the store. You’re short of gas?” Not sure what to make of this she replied simply: “Yes, I’m almost out and I don’t have enough to get into Kingston (about 20 miles) to get more.” As she spoke she was wringing her hands with nervousness. “I can give you enough gas so you can get into the city for more.” I had no idea I was going to say that until it came out of my mouth – apparently I had a plan but had not informed myself. Her eyes lit up and she said loudly with excitement: “You can?” “Shhh! It would not be good if anyone overhears us.” “Oh, sorry,” she whispered. Ha! I hadn’t really meant to come across as so conspiratorial, just for her to keep her voice down. “Look there is an emergency cross over into the truck parking right there,” as I pointed, “Take that and you’ll see a tanker truck parked halfway down. Pull up in front of the truck so the headlights are pointing at the side of your car with the fuel tank. I’ll meet you there.”
The truck area was not well lit and I found myself thinking how brave she was to park in the dark where there was little help. By the time I had walked over she had parked as requested and I unlocked the idling truck, turning on the headlights. There were a few other trucks between us and the car area, so we were not visible to anyone else in the service plaza – thank God. I unscrewed her gas cap and looked inside with my flashlight – sure enough there was a spring loaded safety flap inside the neck of the fill pipe. I told her to stay beside her car while I opened the truck valve compartment and the storage compartment. I pulled out a new large red safety cone that had a hole in the small end – it would do for a funnel.. Putting on gloves I grabbed one of the 5 gallon steel drip pails we used under the valves when delivering, and filled it ¾ with high test gas – if I was going to give away gas, it might as well be the best. That would give her about 4 gallons of gas, plenty to get to town. Bringing the pail, a ground strap, a drip cloth, a new pair of gloves and the safety cone, I walked over to her car. I had also grabbed a big wire tie we used to secure connections when pumping. I stuck the wire tie in the tank neck to hold the safety open, placed the drip cloth on the ground and set the pail down while I clipped the ground strap (to stop any static sparks from igniting the gas when pouring it) to her car and the pail. Getting her to put on the gloves, I instructed her to hold the safety cone like a funnel, and I slowly poured the gas into her car. When we were done, we checked her gas gauge, which now showed ¼ full, removed the wire tie, replaced her gas cap, wiped the few drops from her car with the drip cloth and threw the equipment back into my storage compartment. She was quite amazed and asked how much she owed me. I told her it was free – I just asked that in the future if she found someone who could use help and she felt safe helping them that I would ask her to pay it forward. She commented that I could make a fortune here at this service plaza tonight – I told her to keep quiet, I could just envision a mob. And so we parted ways and I continued on to Ottawa not ever even having known her name or where she was going. As I drove I worried. Basically, I had stolen product from our customer – the gas was not mine to give away. Regardless of the reason or use, it was still stealing and I do not like that. Pondering this for the remaining three hour drive to Ottawa, I came up with a solution. When I pulled into the station to which I was delivering, it was 1:30 am and the site was open but with no customers. I grabbed the drip pail and ground strap and went over to the high test pump. I put the same amount of fuel into the pail from a pump and then went inside the station. I explained to the manager what I had done and told him I wanted to pay for the gas with my debit card, which I did, keeping the receipt. Then I took the pail of gas back over to the station’s fill pipes where I was delivering their gas, and again using the safety cone as a funnel, poured the gas I had paid for back into their storage tank. This effectively paid for the gas I had given the young woman in Kingston. I felt much better.
Finishing up the delivery I returned to the terminal and closed off my shift. After the holiday I was off for three days and I dropped by the office to see terminal manager. I explained what had happened and that I couldn’t leave the young woman stranded and how I had paid for the gas I had given her in the parking lot. I showed him the receipt. My biggest concern was that someone may have seen us and thought I was stealing gas and giving it to friends. I assured my boss that was not the case. It was the only time I had ever done this. He just nodded – I could tell he was split in that it was dangerous to take a few gallons from a tanker (it is called splash loading and is illegal here – because the gas coming from the valve splashes into the gas already in the pail and creates static and potentially an explosion). On the other hand he had a young wife and sisters who were often getting into problems like running out of gas and he appreciated the fact that I helped such a person. He just thanked me for telling him and left it at that –no official positive reinforcement for stealing and breaking the rules but no remonstration for stealing and breaking the rules either. It was as I expected, which was fine.
Epilogue: Two months later I received a letter in my company mail – it congratulated me on being chosen the Sunoco driver of the month and said I could pickup my leather jacket and gift certificates from the manager. No reason was ever given for my selection. On that note, that’s about all we have room for this week, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and enjoy the garden. Sweets anyone? I hope you didn’t mind the story today, and that you found it a bit more positive than last week’s story. Please join me in thanking Willow for her invitation to tea. We are all happy that Willow is back and honored that you all dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Willow’s other posts while you’re here. Willow is over there serving her guests and chatting it up. Let’s go see how she is today. Have a great week. We look forward to seeing you back here for sweets and beverages of your choice again next week.
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