FLINT - Here is my routine at the gas station:
1) Pull up to pump, glance at the little gauge in my car, make brief mental calculation of how much gas I'll need, prepare money as I walk inside so I'll be ready when I get there.
2) Walk to station, stand in line behind a man who is playing an extended game of "Find That Ciggie" with the befuddled teen clerk.
Customer: "You got Marlboro Lights?"
Clerk, studying the Wall O' Cancer Sticks behind him like he's never once looked at it before: "Hmm, I think so."
Customer, pointing: "They're over there. See, right there."
Customer: "Next to the Basic extra lights. No, to your right. Your other right. Up. Down. Now left. Your other left. There. Ain't that them?"
Clerk: "These are the hard pack. Did you want the soft shell?"
Clerk: "Filtered or unfiltered?"
Customer: "Hmm, I'm not sure, even though I've smoked the same brand for 40 years. I think I'll stand here for five minutes deciding until blood spurts from the ears of the people in line behind me."
Clerk: "Perhaps while you're making up your mind I could interest you in a lottery ticket. We have 1,612 varieties."
Customer: "Great! I'll carefully examine each option while absent-mindedly scratching my rear end as if nobody will notice."
I know what you're thinking, "Hey, dummy, why don't you just pay at the pump?"
The answer is, "Because I like paying in cash." More to the point, I really, really dislike paying for things with a credit or debit card. It's too easy to run up bills on a credit card and it's too easy to drain your bank account with a debit card.
So, dinosaur that I am, I pay cash for just about everything. When I get a paycheck, I go to the credit union, take out a set amount and put it in my wallet. When my wallet empties, I stop spending. And if I run out of cash before my next check, I simply don't buy anything or I root around on the floor of my car for some loose change. It's barbaric but it works for me.
Given that the average American carries $8,000 in credit card debt, I recommend you try it, although be aware there are downsides, most notably at the gas station.
First, I seldom am able to get a full tank. Stations all now assume that cash payers are crooks who will bolt the second the tank is full, so we have to pay in advance. I usually under-estimate. That's frustrating.
Paying cash also means you have to wait for the clerk to activate the pump once you get back to your car. Often he or she will forget. But in fairness, why wouldn't they - it's been 30 whole seconds after all.
Worst of all, though, is when you overestimate how much gas you'll need and you have to troop back in to collect your $1.58.
Those occasions mean I get to stand in line twice for the same gas purchase. It also means a second chance to watch someone play "Find That Ciggie."
I'm getting good at it, though. The Marlboro Lights are usually the third row over from the left, eighth shelf down. For the love of God.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.