Category Archives: My Life as a Fuel Clerk

Left Behind

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People left weird things in the fuel center where I worked for a couple of months in the summer of 2019. While I never found a baby in a trashcan, I did find a big box of candy and a bag of prescription drugs.

Pile of Gummy Fruit Candies

I found the candy first.

It was a busy Sunday afternoon, overcast all day with a drizzle in the afternoon. If you think a Sunday afternoon was a tranquil time at the fuel center, think again. All the tourists who’d spent the weekend in town were fueling up before leaving for home. All the locals preparing for the workweek ahead were getting their fuel before their Monday rush. The only fuel center day busier than Sunday was Friday, when people were getting ready for weekend adventures.

About half an hour before my replacement was scheduled to arrive, I looked across the fuel center and saw a large cardboard box on top of an empty merchandiser. My first thought was that someone wanted to dump an empty box, but hadn’t taken the time to break it down and put it in a trashcan. I sighed and headed outside to dispose of the box.

Thankfully I looked in it before I tried to snatch it off the merchandiser

Assorted Candy Lot

because the box was full (and I mean full) of candy. There were half a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks, lollipops. Smarties, and several other varieties of yummies. It was a jackpot for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.

Alas, the candy did not belong to me.

It was quite a dilemma for a trash picking, ground scoring scavenger like me. I was pretty sure the box had been deserted, not forgotten–pretty sure but not certain. If I had been simply a customer, I might have justified loading the box into my vehicle. After all, there was no one near the box. On the other hand, I was on the clock, and I was confident the company I worked for would frown upon an employee scavenging on company property during work hours.

Purple Liquid Poison on Brown Wooden Surface

My next thought was, What if it’s poisoned?

Let me say, I’ve eaten food from the trash many, many times. I once lived in a college town where dumpster diving at the end of each semester was my favorite sport. During the same period, my friends and I regularly scavenged from the dumpster of a local grocery store. I never limited my food acquisitions to sealed packages, and I never worried about being poisoned. But a box full of candy? It was too good to be true! What better way to terrorize a small town than to leave poisoned candy in a busy place where ti was sure to be found and eaten? Did I really want to be done in by the deadly sin of gluttony?

I hauled the box into the kiosk and called the CSM (Customer Service Manager) on duty.

I found a big box of candy outside, I explained. It wasn’t in the trash. I might have been forgotten.

The CSM told me to bring the candy into the supermarket. She was clearly over me and my fuel center problems.

She looked a bit surprised when she saw the size of the box, but she quickly handed responsibility over to one of the assistant store managers who was bagging groceries for a customer. The assistant manager looked perplexed, but after finding the name of a local day camp written on the side of the box, she said she’d get the candy back to the organization it seemed to belong to. I was glad I no longer had to think about the abandoned treats.

It was about a week later that I found the drugs.

Pile of White Pink and Brown Oblong and Round Medication Tablet

When I started my shift, I saw a white paper bag with the logo of the pharmacy owned by the company I worked for. The bag was on the ground near pump 3, and I figured it was empty and left behind by someone who had no qualms about littering. Once I got signed in on the POS (point-of-sale) system and updated by the coworker I was replacing, I went outside to condition the merchandise and pick up trash. I made a beeline for the pharmacy bag.

When I grabbed the bag, I was shocked to find it was heavy and rattled when it moved. I looked inside and saw four prescription bottles, each full of pills. Whoa! What was I going to do with this!

I brought the bag into the kiosk immediately so I could examine the bottles. While the bag had the logo of the company I worked for on it, the bottles were clearly from the corporate pharmacy down the street. The bottles also showed the name of the man to whom the drugs had been prescribed. Each bottle had a name of a drug on the label, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

Bunch of White Oval Medication Tablets and White Medication Capsules

I wondered what was going on here. Had the drugs been forgotten? Had they been dumped? if they’d been forgotten, why had they been taken out of a car and put on the ground? If they’d been dumped, why had they been left on the ground and not deposited in one of the trash cans?

I called the CSM on duty, a different one than the one I’d alerted about the box of candy. After I explained the situation, the CSM consulted with the same assistant manager who again happened to be standing right there.

The assistant manager asked if the prescriptions had been filled by our pharmacy.

I said no, the bag was from our pharmacy, but the bottles had lables from our competitor.

Throw them in the trash, she instructed.

It seemed so wrong to me. The patient had probably paid a lot of money for that medicine, and the guy was obviously sick if he needed four bottles of pills. Wasn’t there something we could do?

I knew the assistant manager had made up her mind, so I didn’t argue. I put the bag of drugs on top of the trash can in the kiosk. I figured the owner of the bag would come by in the next five hours while I was working and ask about it. When he identified himself, I could grab the bag from the top of the trash and hand it over.

I waited in vain. No one asked about a forgotten bag of prescription medication. No one skulked around the fuel center looking for a lost item. The drugs stayed in my trash can until I brought the day’s load of garbage into the store and over to the baler in the stockroom.

I hate an unsolved mystery. I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering about

Question Mark Illustration

those candies and drugs. Where did they come from? Who left them? Were they left on purpose or accidentally? If leaving the items was an accident, what did the person who’d left them think when the loss was discovered? How did the guy do without his medication? If the items were left on purpose, why weren’t they put in the trash can?

Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-gummy-fruit-candies-1050300/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-candy-lot-1656600/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/purple-liquid-poison-on-brown-wooden-surface-159296/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/colors-colours-health-medicine-143654/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bunch-of-white-oval-medication-tablets-and-white-medication-capsules-159211/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/ask-blackboard-chalk-board-chalkboard-356079/.

She Didn’t Want to See Me

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The woman strode briskly across the fuel center toward the kiosk where I was stationed. I already knew she was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. My POS (point-of-sale) system had told me so.

The woman was older than I am and had dirty blond hair. Her shorts and blouse were color-coordinated, and she wore fashionable sunglasses.

Hi! How can I help you today? I asked through the intercom. I typically waited for customers to tell me their problems, even when I was pretty sure I knew what was going on.

It told me to see cashier, she said referring to the screen on the gas pump. But I don’t want to see you, she whined. I want to do it out there.

I have to admit her saying she didn’t want to see me was a blow to my ego. It was a small blow, but a blow nonetheless. Like Sally Field, I want to know people like me. I’m very likeable. Well, I can be very likeable, when I’m trying.

I let her finish talking (and hurting my feelings) before I asked, Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take]?

She said she was.

I’m sorry, I said. We quit taking [the card in question] in April.

But I didn’t live here then, she pouted. She looked so much like an unhappy child I thought she might drop to the ground and roll around in a tantrum. I don’t know why she thought the date of her arrival in town would possibly matter.

I’m sorry, I repeated, although by this point I was only sorry she was still standing in front of me.

She scrunched up her face as if she were furious and stomped back to her vehicle. I don’t know if she used another card to pay of if she simply left. I’d stopped caring about what she did when she said she didn’t want to see me.

Stolen Sprayer

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When I worked at the supermarket fuel center briefly in the summer of 2019, one of my duties was cleaning fuel spills. When fuel ended up on the concrete during my shift (and this happened daily and sometimes more than once a day), I applied a special chemical to the fuel. The chemical somehow neutralized the fuel and alleviated the possibility of it catching fire. I’d soak up the whole mess with big pads make from a superabsorbent material.

This is the type of sprayer we used to dispense the neutralizing chemical.

The neutralizing chemical was liquid and came in large jugs. My fellow clerks and I had to pour the liquid from the jugs into a two-gallon sprayer, the type of device landscapers use to apply herbicides to weeds.

The sprayer was already falling apart when I started the job. One day during my first week at work, I needed to spray some of the neutralizer onto spilled gasoline. I couldn’t get the chemical to shoot out of the sprayer’s nozzle. I paged a manager to ask for help. The person who returned my page (but did not identify himself) told me to just turn the container over and pour some onto the spilled fuel. I was pretty sure that was not the way things were supposed to be done. If we were meant to pour the chemical, we would just pour it from one of the large jugs and not put it in the apparatus designed for spraying. But what did I know? I was the new kid, so I did what the manager told me to do.

A few days later the store manager came out to the fuel center kiosk to do the daily walk through (which did not happen daily, trust me). I told him the sprayer did not spray properly. He started looking at all of the components and found the tube that was supposed to connect to the hose was detached. He reconnected the tube to the hose. Success! Now the neutralizing chemical could be sprayed properly.

Sometimes the blue, slightly oily liquid pooled at the top of the sprayer near the handle that did double duty as the pump that worked to pressurize the contents of the container. I’d use the absorbent pads to soak up the liquid, but was never really sure how it had gotten there.

One afternoon right before my coworker showed up to relieve me, I discovered diesel was flowing slowly but steadily from pump 2. Even after I turned off power to the entire pumping station, diesel continued to flow from the nozzle. I grabbed the last of the absorbent pads from the supply area in the back of the kiosk, wrapped a couple around the malfunctioning nozzle and used the rest to soak up the spilled fuel. When I went into the supermarket to pull merchandise to restock the fuel center, I looked for more absorbent pads, but there were none. One of the managers told me to use cat litter to absorb the diesel on the concrete in front of pump 2. I gave my coworker the cat litter instructions and left the cleanup to him.

When I returned to work the next day, there was diesel all over the lane in front of and leading to pump 2. My coworkers had not used the cat litter to absorb the still flowing fuel. After nearly 24 hours, what had pooled in front of pump 2 eventually flowed over to the next pump. It was a real mess.

When I asked what was going on at pump 2, my coworker seemed completely unconcerned. There were no absorbent pads, he shrugged. He seemed to think there was absolutely nothing he could do to improve the situation if there were no absorbent pads.

He went into the supermarket to get merchandise to restock, and I got busy cleaning the mess he’d successfully ignored all morning. I spent the better part of the next five hours cleaning the spilled fuel.

The first thing I did was drag out the sprayer with the neutralizing liquid. I wanted to spray down all the diesel on the concrete so at least the fuel center wouldn’t go up in flames if someone created a spark. I had just sprayed everything down and used the short-handled scrub broom to make sure the fuel and the neutralizer were mixed thoroughly when I looked up and saw a customer standing in front of the kiosk waiting for me to assist him with his cash purchase. Dang! I hated abandoning my cleaning project, but the customer came first and all that jazz. I carried the scrub broom with me into the kiosk, but left the sprayer behind. I’d use it again momentarily; no need to carry it in and back out again.

By the time I helped the fellow waiting at the kiosk, two people had taken his place. By the time I helped them, three or four other folks had gotten in line. I was stuck behind the cash register for five or ten minutes. When I finally cleared out the line, I headed back outside to finish the cleanup. I looked around. Something was missing. Where was the sprayer? Had I brought it into the kiosk?

I went back inside the kiosk. No sprayer. Some low-down dirty thief had stolen the sprayer. How was I ever going to be able to clean the mess if I couldn’t spray the neutralizing chemical?

I paged a manager so I could alert someone in charge to the latest turn of events. When I told the manager who answered my page that the sprayer had been stolen, he laughed bitterly, as if he wasn’t even surprised.

After getting off the phone with management, I grabbed one of the jugs of the neutralizing liquid from the storage rack in the back of the kiosk and took it outside. I sloshed some of the liquid from the jug onto the diesel slick concrete. The application wasn’t as neat as it would have been from the sprayer, but the effect was the same. Once I had the fuel and the neutralizing liquid thoroughly mixed, I laid down a thin layer of cat litter. I figured I’d let the litter sit for a while and absorb the chemical stew before I swept up the whole mess.

I went back into the kiosk and enjoyed the air conditioned coolness. I’d have to go back out there eventually, but for now I’d relax a bit, if you call talking to customers, taking money, making change, and authorizing gas pumps relaxing.

I don’t know how much time passed before I had a moment to look up and gaze out of the window and across the fuel center. There…by the air pressure machine…was the sprayer. What? The thief had returned our sprayer!!!

I had to laugh to myself as I hustled over to scoop up the sprayer. The thing was such a piece of junk that the thief had decided it wasn’t worth stealing. I just imagined the chemical in it bubbling up to the top of the container, then sloshing around all over the thief’s vehicle. I bet that was a surprise. What really astonished me was that the thief returned the sprayer instead of just chucking it into a dumpster. The thief had probably not even made it out of the parking lot before realizing the sprayer wasn’t worth keeping.

I took the photo in this post.

Contrary

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Perhaps the most frustrating customers I encountered during my two months working at the supermarket fuel center were the ones who needed help but got pissy when I tried to remedy their situations.

The intercom that was supposed to allow me to communicate with the world on the other side of the bulletproof glass was a piece of crap. The sound cut in and out; sometimes there was no sound at all. The fuel center definitely needed new communication equipment.

One morning I pushed the button on the intercom and began speaking to a man on the other side of the window.

I can’t hear you, he smirked.

I put my mouth right next to the part of the intercom box that picked up sound. I kept my voice low, but since it was right next to the amplifier, it must have been loud outside.

What pump are you on?  I asked the fellow.

You don’t have to yell, he chastised me.

I guess there was just no pleasing him.

Customers often had trouble getting the pay-at-the-pump feature to work. Strange, because 98% of the time when I went outside to help, I could get the pump to accept the troublesome debit and credit cards. Maybe I had the magic touch, or maybe I have the attention span, patience, and mental capacity to follow the step-by-step directions given on the pump’s computer screen. Customers often acted as if our pumps were the cause of their hardships, but if the pumps were at fault, I don’t think my success rate would have been so outstanding.

People are funny. I thought folks would be happy when I got the pump to accept their credit/debit cards so they could get their fuel. However, over the course of two months, more than one person (more than twenty people) seemed to get angrier when I got the pump going. Of course, these people couldn’t very well complain when they were able to pump their fuel, but I could tell when people got angrier after I’d gotten the pump to accept their card. I think those people wanted to be upset and they’d decided (subconsciously, probably) to be upset whether they got what they wanted or not. 

Of course, some people were so invested in their anger, they didn’t even want me to try to help.

I do this all the time, customers said to dismiss me on more than one occasion after I’d gone outside and was trying to talk them through the steps necessary to get the pump to give up fuel. I knew the customers were having trouble because they’d come up to the kiosk and told me so, but when I went outside to help, I obviously wasn’t wanted.

I do this all the time, I was told, and I wanted to say, So what usually happens? Do you always fuck it up and have to ask for help, or can you usually muddle through?

Of course I kept those thoughts to myself. I also refrained from demanding to know why someone came up to the kiosk and reported a problem if they didn’t want my help. Do you just want to complain, or do you actually want to put gas in your car? I often wondered.

Sometimes when I was outside trying to help, the customer decided they’d had enough of my chipper personality. (Really, I was chipper when I went outside to offer assistance. I dare say I was friendly too, and pleasant.)

I’ve got it now, customers sometimes said pointedly, trying to get rid of me.

Uh, no, I’d say in my head while politely refusing to leave. I wasn’t going to walk back to the kiosk, unlock the door, and go inside only to have the same person up at the window again, complaining through the intercom that something was wrong with the pump. We were in this together now, and we’d see it through to the end, side-by-side, until the nozzle was in the gas tank and fuel flowed freely.

Forgot to Pump

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It was early in my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center (aka gas station), and the day had started early. (I’d crawled out of bed at 4am and clocked in to work before 5:45.) The place had been busy since the sun came up, and my brain was already on overload when the woman stepped up to the kiosk window. I asked how I could help her, and she told me pump 6 was authorized to pump $60 worth of gas.

At first I thought she was reading the numbers above the pump’s communication screen. The very top number told how much money the previous customer had spent at the pump. The second number showed how many gallons of fuel the previous customer had pumped. Many, many customers thought the presence of those numbers meant there was a problem with the pump and they wouldn’t be able to get their fuel there. They didn’t realize that once a payment had been made to me in the kiosk or a card inserted at the pump and the fuel nozzle lifted, those numbers would zero out and the pumping could begin.

I assumed the woman had been looking at the very top number, the amount the previous customer had spent. (When you assume, my late father would have said, you make an ass of u and me.) I told her when she lifted the nozzle, the $60 would zero out and she could begin pumping.

She shook her head at me. When she got out of her car, the screen said $60. She didn’t put in $60. She was going to pay with her credit card, but she didn’t want to put her card in if someone else’s money was already on the pump.

Slowly it dawned on my poor tired brain that the woman wasn’t talking about the uppermost number on the pump. She was talking about the communication screen. The communication screen said that someone had paid $60 on pump 6.

I looked over at my POS (point-of-sale) system. The screen showed me the activity on every pump in the fuel center. I could tell who had prepaid by giving me cash or letting me run a credit or debit card. I could tell who had paid at the pump. I could see who was pumping gas and who had yet to start pumping. Sure enough, pump 6 had been authorized for $60.

You didn’t pay me $60? I asked the woman. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if I had ever seen her before, much less if she had stood before me a few minutes ago and handed me $60. She shook her head no.

You didn’t already use your card on pump 6?  I asked her. I certainly didn’t want her coming back in five minutes telling me she had paid twice and wanting money back.

She shook her head no again. She repeated that she hadn’t put her card into the pump because she thought someone else had already paid $60 for that pump and she didn’t want to mess anything up.

I thanked her for being honest. It would have been so easy for her to simply put that $60 worth of gas in her tank. No one would have known…but her.

I’ll clear that out for you, I told her. I reached over and went through the procedure to refund the $60 on pump 6. I didn’t take any money out of the drawer because I didn’t know exactly what procedure to follow in such a situation. I figured I would come up with something before my shift was over.

When my screen showed pump 6 was available, I told the woman she was all set to go and thanked her again for her honesty.

The customers continued to line up and hand me money and credit cards. I authorized pumps and sold cigarettes and told people how many reward points they had. I’d forgotten about the $60 on pump 6 until a frantic-looking man stood before me.

I was here about half an hour ago, he told me. He was all but panting. I gave you $60 for pump 6, then went out there and put the nozzle in my truck. I thought it had pumped, but it didn’t pump, and I left without my gas.

I totally believed his story. He seemed genuinely upset and out of breath, and he knew what pump the money had been left on and how much money it was. I didn’t see how it could be a scam of some kind.

You’re really lucky, I told the guy. An honest woman told me about the $60 still on the pump. She could have just used the money, and I would have never known, but she told me about it. Then I told him to pull into whatever pump he wanted, then to let me know what pump he was on so I could authorize it for $60.

I don’t know if he realized how lucky he was. If that lady had used his $60 then he had come in later with some sob story about how he had forgotten to pump his gas, I would have thought, sure, right and sent him on his way. If he had insisted, I probably would have called a manager to handle the situation.

Who forgets to pump their gas? I wondered aloud when I related this story. Apparently it happens. It happened to this guy, and it happened to a friend of mine. She said she was flustered, had been getting repeated phone calls from a needy friend. She said she paid $20 for gas, got into her car, and drove away. When she realized what had happened she went back to the fuel center but found someone had already pumped her fuel. The person in the kiosk was not trusting and kind and told her she was out of luck; there was nothing he could do.

Moral of the story: If you forget to pump your gas, hope the person who rolls in after you is honest. 

What Do I Use?

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Many of the people I encountered when I worked at the fuel center seemed barely capable of taking care of themselves. Some people were old and feeble of mind, body, or both.

One elderly gentleman–the skinniest person I think I’ve ever seen–asked for $20 on pump 9. When I pulled the drawer into the kiosk, I found a $50 bill. The gentleman was already walking toward his vehicle. Luckily, he moved really slowly.

Sir, your change, I called through the intercom system.

He tried to wave me off. I think he didn’t know what I was saying. Maybe he didn’t hear very well.

Sir! I called with more force. You gave me fifty dollars!

He seemed to hear that and came back for his $30.

Weeks later, and elderly woman paid for her fuel at the kiosk, then walked ever so slowly to pump 4 where she’d left her car. Many minutes later, I saw her standing by her car. She wasn’t pumping gas, and my POS (point-of-sale) system showed pump 4 was still authorized for the full amount she’d paid. I was mystified, so I went outside to find out if she needed assistance.

When I asked her if she needed my help, she said she couldn’t get the car’s gas cap off. It wasn’t a locking gas cap, but I when I tried to get it off for her, I found it had to be pushed in and turned at the same time. The woman simply didn’t have the strength to push and turn all at once.

Photography of One US Dollar Banknotes

It wasn’t only elderly people who made me wonder how they were getting along in the world. Once a woman who looked to be in her 30s came up to the kiosk. She asked me for $58 on pump 4 and put a wad of bills in the drawer. When I counted the money, I only came up with $47. I counted the bills again and got the same result.

Ma’am there’s only $47 here, I told her through the intercom.

She looked at me blankly. I held the bills up the window and showed her each one as I counted. There was only $47 there. The customer didn’t argue with me, just accepted her mistake, then went off to pump her fuel.

Before long, the young woman was back for her change.

The POS system did all the work of figuring out change for me. I’d tell the computer how much money a customer gave me. The customer could then pump the equivalent in fuel into their tank. If the customer didn’t pump as much gas as they’d paid for, the POS system prompted me to refund the difference. The compuer never made a mistake.

When the young woman came back for her change, my screen told me just how much money to hand back. I told her the amount of her change and put the money into the drawer, which I slid out to her. She picked up the money, but said the amount was wrong. I realized right away that she was expecting the change from the amount she originally thought she was giving to me.

No ma’am, I said to her. You didn’t give me $58, remember? You only gave me $47. See, it says $47 on your receipt.

Oh, right, she agreed and went on her way.

I never felt as if she were trying to hustle or scam me. I think she was genuinely confused.

The person I felt most worried for was the elderly lady who didn’t know what kind of fuel to put in her car.

She’d pulled in while I was outside conditioning drinks in one of the coolers. She’d stopped at a pump that offered gasoline and flex fuel. I think it was the flex fuel that confused her.

She got out of her car, but I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to her. I

Assorted-color Soda Cans

was busy sorting out the dozen different sizes and varieties of Red Bull.

Suddenly I hard a voice yelling from across the fuel center. What gas do I use? What gas do I use?

I looked up. Was the lady yelling at me? She was staring at me, so I was pretty sure she was addressing me.

What’s that? I asked, confused. I couldn’t believe she aw actually asking me what fuel she should use in her vehicle. How would I know what fuel she should use?

What gas do I use? she asked again. Yep, she wanted me to tell her what fuel to put in her car.

Ma’am, I don’t know, I told her, truly perplexed. How in the world did she think I’d know what fuel went into her car.

I don’t know what to put in, she said, sounding increasingly panicked.

Do you usually use diesel or gasoline or flex fuel? I asked.

I don’t know, she wailed.

Well, the black handle on that pump is for gasoline and the yellow handle is for flex fuel, I explained. Which color do you usually use? I asked her.

She maintained that she didn’t know.

The last thing I wanted to do was tell some senior citizen to put the wrong type of fuel into her car, leading to damage she’d then want the company I worked for or (heaven forbid!) me to pay for. I didn’t recall being told in my training that I was responsible for knowing what fuel individual customers used.

Ma’am, I don’t know either, I told her. I honestly didn’t know how to help the woman.

What kind of fuel do you usually put in? I asked again, hoping to jog her memory.

Ethanol! I usually use ethanol! she screeched.

That didn’t tell me much. Maybe it told me she didn’t use diesel. Didn’t all gasoline have ethanol in it these days?

I don’t know, ma’am, I said apologetically and went back to sorting energy drinks.

I heard a friendly young woman who’d been pumping her own gas nearby talking to the older lady. I don’t know which one approached the other, but I heard the older lady explaining her situation. The young woman lifted the black handle for gasoline on the pump nearest the elderly lady’s car and told her this was the one she needed. I hoped she was right, but if she wasn’t… well, better her mistake than mine (at least from my perspective).

The two of them had trouble getting the elderly woman’s debit card to work, so I ended up going over to help, which was fine. I didn’t mind helping, but I certainly wasn’t going to make a fuel decision for a stranger.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-one-us-dollar-banknotes-545064/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drinks-supermarket-cans-beverage-3008/.

What Do You Mean?

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The elderly woman looked very sweet when she walked up to the fuel center kiosk where I was working. She was certainly old enough to be somebody’s grandma. Her hair was totally white and longish and curly. She wore eyeglasses and conservative clothes.

She had some questions about her reward points. She thought she’d get 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased, but she wasn’t sure.

I scanned her rewards card and pulled up the loyalty balances screen on my POS (point-of-sale) system. I showed her she’d already earned a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward this month, and she still had a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward from last month.

So I get 20 cents off per gallon? she asked.

Well, no. I explained she could use one 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward now and use the other 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward later. That wasn’t good enough for this customer. She wanted 20 cents off of each gallon of gas she bought today.

I explained to her that the rewards program didn’t work that way. The points don’t combine, I told her.

She was angry by then, even though I was working hard to remain calm and polite and even friendly.

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded.

Well, they don’t combine, I said again. I knew I was repeating myself, but I wasn’t quite sure what other words to use to explain the concept of “don’t combine.”

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded again. She was growing increasingly agitated.

I tried again to explain, this time using different words. I told her she could get 10 cents off each gallon of fuel she bought today and she could get 10 cents off per gallon of fuel she bought on another day, but she couldn’t get 20 cents off per gallon today by putting her rewards together.

She was still angry, and I could tell she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased. Obviously 10 + 10 = 20.

I refrained from telling her I didn’t make the rules around there. I refrained from telling her that the corporate office decided how to run the reward program with no input from me. I refrained from telling her that if there were some way—any way—to combine her rewards I would have done it in a heartbeat in order to end our interaction. I simply remained calm, polite, and firm that it was impossible to combine her rewards as she wanted to do.

She finally stepped away from the kiosk and went over to pump 8 to fill her tank and probably complain about me and my arbitrary rules.

Cones

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When I worked at the fuel center, we used safety cones whenever we needed to block a pump because it wasn’t working correctly or a fuel spill needed to be cleaned. Some of the cones were yellow with the word “caution” spelled out on the sides. The other cones were standard orange and had no words on them.

Whenever there was a fuel spill, the first thing I did was grab three cones and use them to block the area in front of the pump where the fuel was. This way, if I couldn’t clean the spill immediately, I could at least try to keep people from driving through the fuel and transferring it all over the concrete. 

Of course, our customers were an independent bunch. If some folks saw a pump blocked off but couldn’t see any problem, they’d simply move the cones so they could get to the pump. It’s true, I’d usually cleaned the fuel by that time, and the cones were there to keep people away while the cleaning solution dried, but I admit I got a wee bit pissy when customers moved those cones. Didn’t they know this was my fuel center? I was a fuel center professional. It was my job to decide when a pump was ready to be used again. Such a decision could not be left to mere amateurs.

Sometimes people wouldn’t even move the cones in front of a pump with a problem. If the cones were close to the pump, the customer could park on the side of them and stretch the hose to the opening of their fuel tank. I learned quickly to place cones about three feet from the problematic pump and use three of them to make an obvious barricade. A vehicle three feet from a pump was in the travel lane and in the way of other customers trying to get in or out of the fuel center. Most people were not going to risk the wrath of other customers by blocking them due to parking three feet from the pump.

I also learned quickly to put an “out of order” bag over the nozzle of any pump that was not working. While people often tried to ignore cones, I never saw anyone take an “out of order” bag off a nozzle and attempt to pump gas or diesel. Cones may not have been always taken seriously, but “out of order” bags were apparently gospel.

Sometimes a pump’s problem led to leaking fuel. In such a case, I had to shut the power off to the pump to stop the flow of fuel. Each fueling station had a pump on either side. Pumps 1 and 2 shared a fueling station, as did 3 and 4, 5 and 6, etc. Each pump had two nozzles; one provided gasoline, and the other provided diesel or flex fuel. The way the pumps were wired, it was impossible to cut the power to just one of them. If I shut off the power at the breaker box, the pumps on both sides of the fueling station were off.

At one point during my short fuel center career, pump 4 started leaking diesel. When I flipped the breaker to shut off power at pump 4, all four nozzles on pumps 3 and 4 stopped working. I took four “out of service” bags outside and placed them over all the nozzles on pumps 3 and 4. After the nozzles were bagged, I dragged over six cones and created blockades in front of both pumps.

Communicating the out-of-orderness of pumps 3 and 4 was for the convenience of the customers. No one wants to waste time pulling up to a pump, getting out of the vehicle, (and knowing my customers probably trying to shove a debit or credit card into a nonfunctioning machine) only to find the pump down. After discovering a pump was nonfunctional, the customer would have had to get back in the vehicle and drive to another pump and maybe have to wait in line. It was much more considerate to let people know right away which pumps were not working.

Pumps 3 and 4 were down for several days as we waited for a repair person to come out and fix the leaky diesel nozzle. After a couple of days, one of the cones in front of pump 3 was removed for use elsewhere in the fuel center. The two remaining cones had been pushed closer and closer to the pump. I should have recognized that the cones needed to be pulled away from the pump to make them more noticeable, but it was a busy afternoon, and the prominent display of safety cones was not at the forefront of my attention.

I saw the Jeep pull up next to pump 3, but I didn’t think much about it. Sometimes people parked next to closed pumps if they didn’t want fuel but wanted to buy cigarettes or a soda or snacks. Honestly, it was only way back in my mind that I remembered pump 3 was offline. The cones blocking the pump had faded into the fuel center scenery.

The woman who’d parked next to pump 3 approached the kiosk where I stood behind bulletproof glass. I hit the button on the intercom that allowed me to speak to the outside world.

Hi! How can I help you today? I greeted her.

I need $10 on pump 3, the woman answered.

I glanced over at my POS (point-of-sale) screen to check on the availability of pump 3. I’d gotten in the habit of checking the screen immediately after customers told me what pump they were on so I could insure there was no problem with the pump in question. I also checked to make sure no funds were already authorized on the pump. Of course, when I check on pump 3, the screen told me it and pump 4 were offline and unavailable.

I was momentarily confused since I’d mostly forgotten that pump 3 was not functioning. Why had this lady even chosen pump 3 if it was out of order? Were the “out of order” bags gone? Did cones no longer blocked off the pump?

I glanced over at pump 3. There was an “out of order” bag on each nozzle. Two tall yellow cones were in front of the pump, but pushed up close to it. The woman had parked her Jeep next to the cones which were between the vehicle and the pump.

Pump 3 is not working, I told the woman.

She looked at me blankly.

That’s why the cones are there, I told her. I was unable to keep the you are an idiot tone out of my voice.

The woman stared at me with a What am I going to do? look on her face.

You’ll have to go to another pump, I told her.

Maybe the woman didn’t notice the cones. As I said, they had been pushed over, so they were not directly in front of her vehicle as she drove up to the pump. However, they were definitely in front of the pump. They were yellow.  The word “caution” was printed on them. They were difficult to miss. Besides, if she didn’t see the cones, both fuel dispensing nozzles were marked “out of order.” How did she miss all the signs?

Classic Brown Vehicle Parked Beside Trees

When I drive into a gas station, I’m alert. I’m looking around to see what fueling stations are available, looking for other vehicles, cones, and bagged nozzles. If I end up at a pump with bagged nozzles, I notice before I get out of my truck and move to a different pump.

I believe these days this noticing of my surroundings is referred to as situational awareness. I am aware of my situation. My late father would have called this getting my head out of my ass.

Apparently many customers entered the fuel center where I worked with their heads firmly in their asses. I suppose they pulled in at any pump where there wasn’t an obstacle directly in their path and hoped for the best.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-red-and-white-traffic-cones-in-middle-on-road-1236723/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/broken-car-vehicle-vintage-2071/.

Marketing Fail

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According to the What National Day Is It website, tomorrow is National Marketing Day. In honor of this dubious holiday, I want to share with you a total marketing fail I witnessed when I was a fuel clerk.

Closed Soda Bottles

A frail, elderly man shuffled toward the fuel center kiosk where I was working. When he got close, I turned on the intercom and asked how I could help him. I could hardly hear him when he spoke, even with the intercom set to high volume. I barely made out him asking, Do you have a Pepsi Coke?

I’m pretty sure he did not ask if we had Pepsi and Coke. I’m pretty sure he asked for a Pepsi Coke. He did not seem to be inquiring about two beverages but about some single entity.

I think he was using “coke” in a generic sense. For some reason, in the

Assorted Beverage Bottles

Southern USA “coke” has come to mean “soft drink,” what people in other parts of the country might refer to as “soda” or “pop” (or maybe even “soda pop.”) As a kid, I remember hearing the story of a waitress who asked, What kind of coke would you like? and being surprised that root beer, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and even Coke were all appropriate responses.

I didn’t quite know how to answer the old man’s question. We had Pepsi

Person Holding Pepsi Can

products, and we had Coke products, but I thought he really wanted a Pepsi cola. I covered all the bases by pointing out the cooler where we kept all the Pepsi choices as well as the one cooler where we kept all the varieties of Coca-Cola.

The fellow studied one cooler, then the other. His final choice? A Diet Coke.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/closed-soda-bottles-1904262/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-beverage-bottles-1384039/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-pepsi-can-1292294/.

Don’t Send Granny

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The woman who stepped up to the window of the fuel center kiosk where I was working looked elderly, but not ancient. Her hair was light brown and curly, and she had some wrinkles, but she didn’t look as old as other people I’d helped there.

She asked for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes in a box. I didn’t understand

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

exactly what variety of Marlboros she wanted,so I grabbed the most popular type and showed it to her through the bulletproof glass.

Is that the right kind? I asked through the intercom.

The elderly woman looked like a deer in the headlights. She stared at the cigarettes for several long seconds.  Finally she said, That will be ok.

I thought she’d had a strange response. Most smokers seemed to be very particular about their cigarettes. They knew what they liked, and they didn’t want anything else. If those weren’t the cigarettes the lady wanted, I would have been happy to get what she did want. She might have had to guide me to the variety she wanted, but I would have gladly grabbed them for her. 

I didn’t ask to see the woman’s ID. She was obviously older than 17, obviously older than 27 or even 35.

I told her the total she owed for the smokes and said she could put her payment in the drawer. She looked at me blankly. She had no idea what I was talking about.

In the town where I worked, lots of people, especially older people, did not speak English as their first language. Perhaps that is what was going on with this customer. Maybe she really didn’t understand a word I said.

Lift the glass, ma’am, I instructed her. She continued to look absolutely blank.

The gentleman in line behind her took pity on us both (and himself, as he probably didn’t want to stand in line waiting to pay for gas for half an hour) and showed the elderly lady how to lift the Plexiglas and put her payment in the drawer.

I pulled the drawer into the kiosk and found a debit card in it. Ok. No problem. I could handle a debit card.

I swiped the card, and the computer prompted me to have the customer enter the PIN. I put the debit card in the drawer and slid it out to the customer. There was a PIN pad in the drawer too.

Person Holding Card and Terminal

Go ahead and enter the PIN using the PIN pad, followed by the green “enter” button, I said, giving my standard debit card speech.

I looked at the elderly woman and saw no sign of mental activity. The lights were on…no, actually, the lights were NOT on. The house was dark and no one was there. It was as if she had never before encountered the concepts of PIN, PIN pad, or payment. I felt really sorry for everyone involved.

Before I could hit the button to run the transaction as a credit card and be done with it, a car pulled in fast to my right. A well-dressed young woman jumped from the driver’s seat and rushed to the older woman’s side. The young woman entered a PIN, and a receipt shot out of my cash register. I slipped it in the drawer and thanked the women. They got into the car, and the young woman drove away.

Caltex Gasoline Station

It seemed to me that the younger woman had sent the older woman to buy cigarettes, but why? The younger woman looked old enough to legally buy cigarettes. Maybe she didn’t have her ID with her, so she sent her granny (or someone old enough to be her granny) to buy the smokes. The problem was the older woman didn’t seem capable of buying a pack of cigarettes. She didn’t seem to know what cigarettes to buy or what PIN went with the debit card she was using. I don’t know if the problem was related to a language barrier, a hearing loss, dementia, or a lack of knowledge about debit cards and PINs, but granny was not able to carry out her mission and had to be rescued.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/smoking-57528/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-card-and-terminal-1308747/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/caltex-gasoline-station-1173770/.