Monday, December 28, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #99 - the story of the gas, the oil and the water

Shortly after I arrived in Israel I went to Jerusalem to see my obstetrician. After the visit I noticed I was low on gas.

Growing up, the only gas I knew about was the self service kind. And also the cheap kind. It was like a sport finding the station with the lowest price per gallon (96 cents instead of 99 cents). And so my parents, and eventually I, would drive to a particular station knowing the gas there was the cheapest. No matter that the station was in the next town over.

When I came home after freshman year, I used the Econ 101 concept of opportunity cost to justify filling gas locally (Gasp!) And until I moved to Brooklyn, the only time I got full service gas was on the New Jersey Turnpike (full-serve only – by law!). Did I mention that I checked my own oil, the air in my tires and my coolant? Self sufficient and well trained in the art of not getting ripped off.

Once I discovered my colicky firstborn didn’t cry (as much) in the car, the car became a place of refuge. My sanity hanging in the balance, full service gasoline seemed a strategic maneuver rather than a guilty pleasure. With my husband tending to the oil, tires and coolant and the very nice station attendant filling the gas, the economist in me justified it all in terms of comparative advantage.

Last summer when we visited Israel I had occasion to fill gas. I had seen Bob put self-serve in the car and watched him struggle with the requisite data entry at the pump (in addition to the credit card number, you must enter your license plate number and your teudat zehut number). It was a little intimidating. So when I saw a sign for sherut mele (full service) I headed straight for it.

Fast forward to my trip to the obstetrician. On one side of Jerusalem. The gas station I had used last summer – the only one I knew for certain that offered sherut mele – on the other side of Jerusalem. I drove across town, passing station after station, ignoring the signs posting the price per liter of gasoline (on the spot conversion of liters to gallons and then shekels to dollars to figure out what I pay for gas is outside my current skill set), and arrived at my trusty full-service station.

My nostalgia for blissful full-service vanished abruptly when the attendant insisted I needed fluids. Shemen (oil) and mayim (water) – you MUST to put! Not sure how to respond but instinctively sensing a rip-off I asked a few questions. He was insistent. Suddenly it occurred to me - I live in the Middle East! I must first speak with my husband before doing anything with the car. This was a language he understood.

Of course my husband was out of the country and so I drove straight to my trustworthy mechanic. Who promptly told me to NEVER buy shemen or mayim from the gas station. He then checked my fluids, added a drop of oil and sent me on my way free of charge. Rip-off averted.

Fast forward to a quick Dead Sea getaway. Me, my mother-in-law and my baby, then just 3 weeks old. The night before we left, Bob mentioned I should check the oil and water in the car. I made a face. He smiled. You can do it! What’s gonna happen?

Three weeks post partum and totally sleep deprived – I didn’t stand a chance
560 shekels later we drove off with gas (full-serve), coolant, and, according to the gas station attendant, four liters of the finest oil Israel has to offer. In a moment of weakness, the gas station rip-off I’d successfully been averting my whole life caught up with me. Compounded with interest.

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