East Valley gas stations ran dry within hours if they stocked gas at all Tuesday. Yet long lines at the few open pumps often moved quickly.
For some motorists, finding gas was like a cruel shell game as they waited in line, only to be turned away at the last minute.
An unlucky route choice could mean a fruitless drive for a dozen or so miles without encountering an active pump. While some motorists enjoyed 15-minute waits that only last week would have been considered absurdly long, others languished in line for more than an hour. All paid higher-than-normal prices.
In most places, calm or even charitable moods reportedly ruled the day. But the frustration level remained high from Ahwatukee Foothills to Apache Junction as motorists wondered where — or whether — their next fill-up would happen.
WHERE’S THE GAS?
The scope of the East Valley’s fuel shortage is nothing short of massive.
On Apache Boulevard from Tempe’s eastern border to Rural Road, no stations were selling gas by midmorning Tuesday. Taking Rural Road south to Chandler Boulevard, motorists could tap pumps at only three stations during lunchtime.
Except for two stations at Ray and Rural roads, no one was selling gas from noon to 3 p.m. on Ray from Rural to 24th Street, or on a 14-mile stretch on Chandler Boulevard from 24th Street to Gilbert Road.
The Food Mart at McClintock Drive and Apache received its last shipment by tanker truck at 5 a.m., but it was only 2,000 gallons, said employee Sara Bhanvadia. Workers hung up "No Gas" signs just before 11 a.m. Irked motorists who had been waiting in line raced off, tires screeching.
"People, they were so mad," Bhanvadia said. "But there’s nothing we can do about it."
Sal Terranova of Chandler, who needed gas four times in the last two days, said he had seen his share of angry people. As if to prove his point, a woman in a Lexus suddenly snagged his spot when he pulled his jalopylike lunch wagon near an open pump. When he motioned for her to move, she shot him a venomous stare before backing up. Despite the tense exchange, Terranova — like others at the Quiktrip on Arizona Avenue south of Warner Road — was happy to have waited in line less than 20 minutes.
Many motorists waited for more than an hour to pay between $1.89 for unleaded at a Circle K on Rural and Guadalupe roads, usually idling their engines with their air conditioners on. For some, an hourlong wait was merely the end of a longer quest. Wade Mason of Scottsdale said he spent 3 1 /2 hours total at three gas stations Tuesday, two of which ran out of gas while he was in line.
"I saw on the news some guy waited two hours for gas yesterday," he said. "I’d like to be that guy."
Marti Carroll of Mesa also visited two other gas stations before finding the Circle K, wasting almost 2 1 /2 hours of her day.
"Oh, praise the Lord!" Carroll cried when she became next in line for the pump.
In Gilbert, Kevin Owens’ gas station tank hit the empty mark about 3 p.m.
To the disappointment of waiting motorists, Owens instructed employees at his ARCO am/pm station, 1631 S. Val Vista Drive, to turn away incoming vehicles while he strung plastic yellow tape around the island of gas pumps.
One woman sped inside the yellow circle before Owens could close it off, hoping to squeeze out a few more gallons.
"It’s like they don’t believe you," he said. "It’s actually hilarious."
On Tuesday, anxious customers sucked out 9,000 gallons — a full day’s worth of gasoline — in just a few hours. The gasoline problem is generally good for business, Owens said, although he has seen some disturbing customer behavior.
"I had three guys try to take me out yesterday," Owens said. He had denied them gasoline after they cut ahead in line. "I said, ‘You can either leave or I can call the police.’ "
Owens’ staff has kept traffic flow under tight control, directing each vehicle to a specific pump. As a result, wait times haven’t exceeded 20 minutes, he said.
Still, the fast service also drained his gasoline tanks more quickly, and Owens expected a slow night with few customers until the truck returned with another delivery. He had received no word as to when that might happen.
"It’s complete anarchy," he said. "It’s unbelievable."
Meanwhile, in east Mesa and Apache Junction, motorists waited five to 15 minutes in lines at the few stations that still had gas.
"Yesterday we pumped 11,000 gallons of gas in 10 or 11 hours, which is horrendous for a gas station," said Dave Bozeman, manager of the Mobil station on Idaho Road and U.S. 60 in Apache Junction. "I’ve never seen it like this. It’s insane."
Vicki Perry, a cashier at the Chevron on Old West Highway and Idaho Road in Apache Junction, said the station ran out of gas at 10:30 a.m. Monday and had not received another load as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. A load of gas was scheduled to arrive just before midnight Monday. Cars waited for up to four hours, then left at 2 a.m. when the truck never showed up.
Though managers at multiple gas stations in Apache Junction and east Mesa said most people are following Gov. Janet Napolitano’s call to only take as much gas as they need, some people are still stocking up.
Queen Creek resident Ray Aguallo stopped at the Chevron on Ellsworth Road and Apache Trail where he waited in line for 15 minutes for $20 worth of gas he said will last for the next four days. He said there’s no need to top off or stock up, like the two men in front of him did by filling gas cans.
"This shows how unprepared we are," he said. "It’s ridiculous that everyone’s in such a panic."
Diamond Shamrock spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown said the company is doing everything it can to keep its stations supplied, but it doesn’t help when the public’s fear breeds greed.
"Everybody’s topping off their tanks because consumers are afraid that when they need gas it won’t be there, so that’s contributing to the crisis," she said.