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N.J. gas shortage's unlikely beneficiary: gas station attendants

November 06, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • A motorist carries gas cans past a line of cars waiting for gas at a Citgo station in Hackensack, N.J.
A motorist carries gas cans past a line of cars waiting for gas at a Citgo station… (Chris Pedota / AP )

They spend their days exposed to the elements, getting their hands dirty and rarely receiving tips -- until now.

New Jersey gas stations are all full service, a pleasant surprise to many out-of-state drivers who attendants say will tip them for their trouble.

Not so the average New Jersey driver, although that appears to be changing as post-Sandy gas shortages persist.

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"My guys are one of the most disrespected jobs. Gas pumpers work in the rain, the snow and the wind and they don't get tips. People are just used to it," said Jack Tabibian, 52, owner of two stations in Fairfield, N.J. -- a BP that serves a middle-class area and a Sunoco that serves a wealthier, suburban crowd, "Now we're getting thank yous, we're getting tips from people, because they appreciate it."

Tabibian has about half a dozen attendants working in shifts to manage the gas lines, which are still long, despite the odd/even car-license restrictions. The attendants earn about $8.50 an hour, tops, but lately have almost doubled their daily pay in tips.

One attendant, Biki Thakur, 23, of West Caldwell, made $60 in tips one day this week, many  $5 each -- unheard of before the shortage.

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"They were so happy to get gas. Other days, they don't think," he said, adding, "Now the power is on our side."

 Tabibian said he can't understand why it's customary to tip waiters and bartenders, but not gas station attendants. He bought his first station 31 years ago but still occasionally pumps gas and has had customers insist on keeping small amounts of change rather than tip.

Then there are those who insist they asked for less gas than was pumped -- a rarity these days, when customers instead jockey in line and try to evade rationing restrictions.

 Pumping gas can be stressful, Tabibian said.

 "This is an industry where you have a lot of newcomers," the Turkish immigrant said. "They are cursed at, told off, told to go back to your country."

 Then there are the truly dangerous customers. Tabibian knows four attendants killed in as many years in his area alone -- shot, run over or dragged by angry drivers.

 He hopes the recent goodwill lasts, but he's not optimistic.

 "I'll never forget how nice everyone was the week of 9/11," he said. "And that's gone now."

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