By Janani Vithanage
These days, spending time in the petrol queue is almost every Sri Lankan’s new normal. Friends who used to meet up at cafes, restaurants or bars now ask amma to pack lunch for them before all heading out to meet at a petrol queue and “chill” together. Some of us even do our assignments while waiting for petrol. We Lankans no longer have “work from home” – we have “work from shed” (or rather in the kilometer-long line snaking away from the shed). Petrol queues have become places to meet new people and make new friends. We’ve made a list of the different kinds of people you may meet. How many of them have you already come across? Or maybe you’ll identify yourself as one of these types…
1. The Queuefluencer
This is usually a person from the younger generation. They’re very active on social media platforms and make it their task to keep all the followers informed of their whereabouts and how they feel about their latest petrol queue experience. You may see them going live on Instagram, walking along the queue and filming the cars, saying things like “it’s soooo long today guys” and “omg guys, it’s just so hot, so I’m gonna get back in my car, but don’t worry, i’ll keep giving you updates okay?”. If we’re lucky, we might see a selfie of them sitting in their vehicle wearing sunglasses. If we’re really lucky, we might even get a boomerang or a quick tiktok of them without their sunglasses on, giving us a little eye-roll, hair-flip or smirk.
2. The Political Analyst
You’re bound to meet at least one of these people at every petrol queue. These people are convinced that they know what’s best for our country and will speak about their political insights to anyone willing to listen. They know exactly what the President should do, exactly what the Prime Minister should discuss with the IMF and exactly how the opposition should handle this crisis. They sometimes sound so eloquent and passionate that you wish you had a mic to hold to their mouth.
3. The Fuel Expert
This is a very useful person to meet. These individuals, via contacts with petrol station managers or someone who works at the oil refineries or by some mysterious means known only to themselves, always know at what time a bowser will leave Sapugaskanda, Trinco or Kolonnawa, whether it will contain petrol or diesel, how many metric tonnes of fuel it will carry, which shed it will come to and at what time. Not only this, but they will also be ready to advise you on when petrol will next arrive, the quality of the petrol and how to use your petrol efficiently. What rain is to the desert, the fuel expert is to the petrol queue.
4. The Foodie
This kind of person is the favourite of all food outlets, UberEats drivers and PickMe Food drivers, because even though they bring a packed meal from home, they also keep ordering in between meal times. If you look into the vehicle of the foodie, you’ll always find them munching on something, whether it be a yoghurt from a nearby “kade” or a steaming hot kottu. This person sometimes goes hand-in-hand with the queuefluener, because they keep posting their food on their social media, making the rest of us feel jealous. However, some petrol queue foodies can be really sweet. They bring extra food like sandwiches and biscuits from home to share with those around them or even order extra drinks or food for their new-found petrol queue buddies.
5. The Introvert
This is the least social and most unproblematic person in the queue. He or she never gets out of the vehicle. They simply read a book, watch a movie, or enjoy some funny YouTube videos, while minding their own business. They enter the petrol queue, do their own thing, pump petrol and leave. Refreshingly peaceful no?
6. The Social Media Guru
This person is all about networking. As soon as they’ve parked their car, they get out and walk to the neighbouring cars, saying hi, shaking hands and exchanging numbers, and before you know it, a brand new WhatsApp group is born. Now the interesting thing is, the guru makes a new group for every petrol shed he visits, making them a hub of information. His or her phone eternally buzzes with notifications from various petrol acquaintances, informing him at what time fuel will arrive at which station. The Social Media Guru may be waiting in a queue in Nugegoda, but never doubt the fact that he or she knows about fuel availability on Galle Road, in Athurugiriya, in Wattala and basically everywhere else.
7. The Bottle Opener
This person is usually found in the petrol queue after dark. They realise that they have to stay in the queue overnight and decide that they need a little something for sustenance. If this is a relatively young person, you may notice their Instagram story showing a picture of their “sustenance” with the caption “anyone up for a drinkle at the petrol queue tonight?”, to which their friends will (hopefully) respond with “yeah machan let’s go!”. If it’s an older Bottle Opener, they will arrive at the queue fully stocked up and will go around surreptitiously asking their petrol friends if they’d like to join in for a drink.
8. The Ninja
This person is best known for his mind-blowing speed and stealth, because almost as soon as he gets there, he’s out of there. How does this happen? He parks his vehicle. He gets out of his vehicle. He looks around him and identifies a person who looks accommodating. He approaches the person and quietly says something along the lines of “Aiye I have somewhere urgent to be right now, so if I give you my number and leave my car can you keep an eye out and call me when the bowser comes?”. The Aiya, being a nice person, says “okay malli sure”. They exchange numbers. The Ninja slips into a passing tuk or leaps aboard a passing bus. And just like that, he’s gone, a shadow in the night.
9. The Principal
This person is most often found at the end of the queue or near the petrol shed itself. They have the (self-proclaimed) task of guiding vehicles to the correct filling stations, making sure they join the right queue and even directing the passing traffic so as to reduce congestion. They also take on the (self-appointed) role of disciplinarian, ensuring that no hooligans jump the line or start up fights. He or she is a truly upstanding citizen.
10. The Cricket Fan
I can confirm the existence of this kind of person because I’ve identified myself as one. This person emerged recently with the ongoing Sri Lanka vs Australia matches. The Fan will arrive at the petrol queue equipped with a laptop and an Internet connection. As soon as the vehicle is parked, he or she will start watching the live stream of the match. If they spy fellow fans in the queue trying to get a peek at their screen, they may invite them to sit in the car with them and watch. Passers-by will hear constant shouts of “CATCH IIIIITTTT” and “HOWZZZAAAAATTT” from that particular vehicle. Good times I tell you, good times.
While hoping that we haven’t missed out on any petrol personalities, we’d like to remind you that we’re all different and have varying ways of handling these hard times, so it’s important that we try to be tolerant and respectful towards each other as we navigate through this crisis. Remember, our grievances are not against our fellow citizens, but rather those who caused the problems in the first place. It’s not exactly fun and games, but when life gives you lemons, make lemon juice, buy some paper cups and share it with your petrol pals.