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Filling Up in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 14 September 2009 09:15
Panama gas(Panama) One of the most ripening moments of my life was pulling into the gas station for the first time on my own and saying, viagra sale "fill ‘er up, unleaded regular." It wasn't one of the things, surprisingly, they taught you in driver's education. I say surprisingly because driver's ed is notorious for addressing the type of details not even an engineer or a traffic cop would need or want to know. "You arrive at a 4-way stop with a police car, a mail truck, and an ambulance," was one question I memorized fondly. "Which vehicle has the right of way and in what order may they each proceed?"  I grew up in New Jersey where all the gas pumps have personal attendants, the majority of whom are Hispanic and have generic names stitched on their chest pockets like Jose and Raul. The rumor on the street was that doing so created more jobs for the state's less qualified workers. My inkling though was that the government just didn't trust its constituents, notoriously rowdy and ill-mannered, to operate potentially hazardous machinery. Regardless, what I mean to say is that as a driver in New Jersey, verbally ordering your gas purchase was simply a way of life.

In Panama, some stations have attendants, some don't. What you can count on though is the absurdly small quantities of gas people will put in their tanks.

"Lemme ask you something," I once said to a taxi driver. He had stopped en route to my destination (this happens all the time) at the gas station seeing as though the small finger of his gas level was teetering on dry.  They like to drive around like this, Panama's taxi drivers, with the little warning light blinking (or as I like to think of it begging) for fuel. When the time comes, they'll pull into the bombera and buy $1-$3 worth of gas. At the current rates, pumping this amount of money will be anywhere from two to ten seconds. It's quite a short period of time compared to the three dollars' worth he might get from a movie at Alhambra Plus Theater or the enjoyment of lunch from a favorite local fonda.

"Lemme ask you something. Why the hell are you spending only $2? Here, I'm paying you twenty to get to the airport. Why don't you just take this twenty," I said as I folded the bill into his hand, the way you might with a homeless person, suggesting they be responsible with your donation.  "Why don't you just take this and see how far it goes. Go ahead, see how much gas we can get for twenty bucks." This was met with the indecisive look of someone presented with the opportunity to carry drugs across the border.
Non-taxi-driver Panamanians do this less, but it's still a noticeable habit. At least far more noticeable than growing up in New Jersey. Filling up, if you can afford it, saves time and gas. Or was this just the biased Northerner in me, he who looks at everything in the Third World as backwards and foolish.

When proposed, my driver was hesitant, as if he was breaking a cultural norm or doing something unimaginably damaging to his car. And maybe rightfully so. I remember reading a story once about a man lost at sea for nine days. Nearing death by starvation, he was rescued by a cruise ship but in jubilation ate so much buffet food that his rigid, unadjusted stomach exploded and he died. I can't recall where exactly that story came from, but all of a sudden I understood better my driver's concerns. Instinctually filling up the tank is just that, an inborn pattern of behavior that we take from our past, and if his father had ever met someone from New Jersey, deciding against it made the utmost of sense.

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