The American Watering Hole

This is an exploration of an idea brought up by this article here. I suggest you read it, it’s useful and has some good tips for what might be the most dangerous spot that we all visit. My article is about why I believe gas stations are so dangerous.

I agree that gas stations are definitely the American equivalent to a watering hole on the African plains, but not just because business is happening. Transactions take place in every store, yet gas stations are notorious for being dangerous. I believe it’s because it is a transitional space and because of the mixing of societal classes.

Transitional Space

This is an idea I first heard from John Correia of Active Self Protection. If you haven’t been watching his content, you’re seriously missing out.

One of the things John harps on is the idea of the transitional space. It’s really a simple idea. Anywhere there are people transitioning from one place to another, from one mode of travel to another, etc. Examples include sidewalks, doors and entryways of businesses, pickup/dropoff locations, parking lots, and gas pumps. When someone is on foot and has quick access to another form of travel, it means that they can come right up to you and they can be in a car speeding off in seconds. If a person grabs your bag/wallet/phone/macguffin and runs out a door, then they’ve broken your visual contact. The transitional space is dangerous because people can use it to escape. How specifically depends on the space in question, but that’s what defines a transitional space.

Mixing of Classes

Gas stations are sort of unique. Everyone goes to them, no matter what your station in life. Unless you literally don’t own a motorized vehicle or you pay someone to go fill up your car for you, you visit a gas station about once or twice a week. There are other places that everyone has to visit, like the DMV or other government offices, but never very often. Places we go all the time are usually stratified by our income.

For example, if you spend a lot on clothes, you don’t shop at Goodwill. You drive right past Kohl’s and hit Von Maur or Brook’s Brother’s. If you’re like me, you don’t shop at Whole Foods or some fancy grocery store, you probably buy from Wal Mart or Buy-4-Less.

Nearly every kind of store is stratified by cost.  The well-to-do don’t mix with the lower and middle class because they have access to places the rest of us can’t afford.  Not that rich people are incapable of violence, but if I was to rob someone I’d rob a guy in a Mercedes before the dude in a jalopy.  Rich people going to high end restaurants and stores and salons isolate themselves from those who can’t throw around that kind of cash. 

There is one exception, though.  The gas station.  There are no high-end gas stations.  There are ‘nice’ ones and there are ‘scary’ ones, but a gallon of gas costs the same at both and 16 oz fountain drinks are 99 cents.  None are priced out of your price range, no matter your budget. Gas stations are almost unique in their universality.

Putting It Together

So, what do we have?  A transitional space where everyone is mixed with everyone else and cars are coming and going everywhere.  Can you imagine a better place to ambush someone?  Seriously, look at these two images.

My point is this: these are the same picture, just different predators.

Why would a person knowingly go to such a dangerous place?  Because you have to.  Gas stations, just like watering holes, are mandatory.  You have to go and go often.  Unless you’re filthy rich, it’s non-negotiable.  Your Audi gets fueled the same place as everyone else’s car.


Next time you fill up, keep your eyes up and your attention beyond your own car.  Watch the people coming and going.  Profile them.  Deduce their motives.  Judge them.  You’re in a dangerous spot, act like it.

See you next Friday.  -S_S

7 thoughts on “The American Watering Hole

  1. Good read. I saw that same post over at CG but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. Another complicating factor of gas stations is that a lot of folks have to go to them in the dark, like in the way home from work.

    Your idea of social class disparity is a good one. I recall that there is a big correlation between violence and the gini index (which measures economic disparity). The higher the index, meaning the more polarized the socioeconomic conditions, the worse violence becomes. As you point out, gas stations are a prime spot for this disparity to show up.

    I definitely find myself following certain habits at stations, like picking pumps within clear sight of the cashier, well-lit areas, and a “head on a swivel” attitude. I actively appear unfriendly to those around me. All of this to encourage would-be predators to pick another target.

    Liked by 1 person

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