You hear a beep, you look down, and there is an illuminated gas pump staring back at you from your dash. You’ve got 40 miles to empty and it’s time to make the stop. We’ve all been there.
You need that jolt of caffeine or you’re a bit peckish and want a little snack. You’ve got five or 10 minutes to spare. You crave that fountain drink and beef stick. It’s time to make the stop.
We’ve all been there.
I’ve also been on the other side of the counter, having worked for two years as a gas station clerk. I have inside knowledge that you need to know, and it’s not all about OU or OSU football.
Counting down the best times to properly enjoy the gas station experience.
3 p.m. – 6 p.m.: The absolute worst time to stop at a gas station. First, the gas pumps are likely full, and likely full of annoyed people. They’ve probably been at work all day and they’re ready to get home, and stopping to get gas is holding them up.
The interior situation is very sketchy at this time of day. The lines are long, full of people buying those 24-packs and lottery tickets, and people are restless. The roller grill has remnants of the dogs put out at lunch, the donuts are about to get thrown out for the day and the coffee is disgusting. Most of the heavy cleaning gets done by the graveyard shift, so the bathrooms can be a real crapshoot as well. See what I did there?
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.: This one depends a little on what gas station you’re going to. If you’re going to a corner store that’s not on a busy thoroughfare, you can skate in and out pretty quickly. It’s a big time for cigarette and tobacco sales, so the lines can be touch and go at the register. Same goes for gas lines, although it’s usually not too bad to get in and out. The main reason this time slot ranks so low is the cleanliness situation. As mentioned above, the graveyard shift does most of the heavy cleaning, so it’s likely the dirtiest it’s been all day.
12 p.m. – 3 p.m.: Theoretically, this doesn’t seem like a bad time. Most of the roller grill items are fresh, and people are happy to be away from work for a quick lunch, but this also causes a few log jams. This is when you are most likely to see a random group of actual hard workers (landscapers, construction, etc.) come in to get a snack, and for those that have worked outside all day, it’s a great time to get some air conditioning or heat. This is also a very popular time for the communal microwave to be utilized, which sometimes leads to some interesting smells.
From a worker’s perspective, this is usually right around the end of your shift as well, so the employees aren’t always in the best moods.
6 a.m. – 9 a.m.: Most people would put this last on the list, but I argue that during the morning rush isn’t a bad time to stop in to a gas station.
First, it’s still early enough that you haven’t lost all hope for your day. Usually that comes sometime around 10 or 11 a.m.
Second, the food situation. Some places do quality roller grill or even restaurant style items all day long, but the easiest meal to pick up at a gas station is breakfast, full stop.
Finally, this is usually when the inside of the store is the cleanest. Graveyard shift spent all night cleaning it up, just so you could spill coffee on it before you grabbed your cigs and spearmint gum and headed out to work.
12 a.m. – 3 a.m.: Sure, this is the most dangerous time to go to a gas station, but that also keeps the lines down. You can hop right up to a gas pump and/or right inside to grab a quick bite. I think what I like the best about this time slot is that you never really know what you’re going to get. Every person that walks into the store is an unpredictable blank canvas, and that makes me feel alive.
Of course the roller grill items won’t be fresh, but saunter in this time of night and sometimes you can get them for free because they’re going to be thrown out anyway (it never hurts to ask). Just be sure to watch out for a wet floor, because this is when the cleaning usually takes place.
9 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Generally, a pretty sleepy time at gas stations. From the worker end, it’s one of the worst times, because it’s when you’re most likely to deal with vendors/inventory, but on the consumer end, it’s an easy in/out. The coffee is usually still pretty fresh. The roller grill items are just going on. The bathrooms haven’t gotten destroyed yet (hopefully) and the gas pumps are an easy in/out. The most stress-free time to do anything at a gas station during the normal 9-5 workday
9 p.m. – 12 a.m.: Most people that are at a gas station at this time, choose to be at the gas station. They don’t have to be there, and that means that it often makes for a good customer experience. If you’re looking for something to eat, this is not your best time, but it’s generally too early for real crazy shenanigans and it’s too late for the real crazy lines, which means it’s a nice little sweet spot if you want to jump in and stock up on tomorrow’s tobacco or caffeine fix or fill up with gas for tomorrow’s drive to work.
3 a.m. – 6 a.m.: Maybe this is because of my many years working in morning radio, or maybe it’s because I have been on so many fishing and golfing trips, but the best time to go to a gas station is before the sun comes up in the morning. There are still just enough late night activities that you may see some real wild behavior, but most likely, it’s going to be quiet and you’re going to have the run of the shop. Not only is this the best time for that hot coffee, but the overnight worker has finished their cleaning, the fresh donuts just came in, and not a single person is in a hurry.
Take your time. Start up a conversation.
“Have you tried this new energy drink? Did you see this new flavor of potato chips?”
The person behind the counter is sleep-deprived and wants the conversation, and it’s not a tad bit weird to have it. But even if there’s no conversation, just your presence is keeping them engaged.
What should I rank next? No suggestion is too silly. Send me an email at [email protected] or find me on social media at @ToddOnSports.
Todd Lisenbee has been a producer/talk show host at both WWLS, The Sports Animal and 107.7 The Franchise spanning back to 2002. Todd has also done high school basketball, football and soccer play-by-play since 2003 and is currently the voice of the UCO Bronchos, a role he has been in since 2018. Todd is passionate about Manchester City Football Club, the Green Bay Packers and good barbecue. He’s bad at golf and even worse at fishing, but he thoroughly enjoys both. You can reach Todd at [email protected] or on Twitter/X or Instagram at @ToddOnSports.