Category Archives: My True Life

Inside Out

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I was selling at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. I’d brought a bunch of new rocks from Quartzsite, and they were practically flying off my table. It was turning out to be a lucrative day.

It was late in the morning when the woman walked up to my table. She was probably in her late 50s. Her hair was died a tasteful dark red, and her makeup was understated by apparent. She was wearing a flowy, cream colored blouse, and she held a little dog in her arms.

These stones are septarian concretions, also known as dragon stones or dragon eggs.

I told her about the septarian concretions on my table and the $3 hearts cut from agate, carnelian, labradorite, and rose quartz. The woman was polite, but seemed distracted. She gave my wares a cursory look, but didn’t seem interested in anything I was selling.

As she moved toward the end of my table, I thought I saw a white tag on the side seam of her blouse. I thought it was strange to see a tag on the outside of her blouse. Had this woman put her shirt on inside out and was now wearing it that way around town?

I was concerned for the woman because I put on my own shirt inside out much too often. Especially when I’m living in my van, especially if I get dressed before the sun’s fully out, especially if I’m rewearing a sweatshirt I hurriedly pulled over my head and tossed into a corner before I fell asleep, I might find myself wearing a shirt with the wrong side out. Sometimes I wear the shirt with the seams and tag showing for hours before I realize what’s up. I’m always a little sheepish when I realize that at nearly 50 years old, I still can’t successfully dress myself on a consistent basis.

I wanted to spare this woman embarrassment, but I also didn’t want to insult her. Maybe this was a fancy designer blouse and the tag had been purposefully placed on the outside of the side seam. I certainly wouldn’t know if this was some sort of new style.

I surveyed the woman’s shirt as she moved along my table. I didn’t see obvious seams, but there was certainly a tag on the side where two pieces of fabric usually come together. Should I say something?

As she turned to walk away, I saw another tag on the back of the shirt’s neckline, right in the spot where shirt manufacturers typically put tags. Now the shirt really appeared to be inside out. It was now or never!

Ma’am? I called out. She turned right around and looked at me.

I took three steps over and stood close to her. I leaned in and said in a low voice, I think your shirt is on inside out. I was striving to present no judgement, just to state my perceptions of the circumstances at hand.

Oh! I did that when I got dressed! she exclaimed. Apparently she’d realized she’d put on her shirt inside out, meant to switch it, but had moved on to other activities and had forgotten her fashion mistake.

Now I’m going to have to go back to my camper to change it, she told me.

I don’t care if you don’t care, I said, trying to reassure her.

But I do care! she said.

She headed toward the parking lot, and I went back to my table. About ten minutes later, the woman came by again to tell me she’d flipped her shirt. There was not a tag in sight.

I took the photo in this post.

World Suicide Prevention Day

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2019 World Suicide Prevention Day banner in English

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Suicide Prevention Day website,

Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.

The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.

Oh no!  I said. Someone must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably trying to spot a body.

Do you think so? The Man asked.

Unfortunately, I had to say yes.

When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.

Even with the call boxes offering a direct line to a suicide prevention hotline placed on and around the Bridge, people still jump. Some people have given up, and no hotline can save them. Of course, I’m glad the call boxes are there. I’m glad they’re available to help the people who can be reached, the people who are undecided, the people who may be swayed by the kind voice of a stranger coming out of a speaker.

About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked “State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of them had lights or sirens on.

Something is definitely going on, I told The Man. Did you see all those State Police cars?

He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.

On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.

I was listening to the local community radio station while I washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been right.

The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.

The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.

The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.

When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion, even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered. When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves, and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone. 

Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.

Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next person.

If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.

Sick Dog

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Jerico the Dog! (Photo by The Man)

The Man says Jerico the dog has suffered from acid reflux since he was a puppy. I don’t remember the first time I woke up in the night to find Jerico swallowing rapidly and repeatedly, but this situation became a running theme in our lives. When the swallowing began, a hunt for grass was on. Jerico would eat the grass (with gusto, obsessively) and eventually puke it up. The puking seemed to settle his stomach and let him rest.

There was grass for Jerico to eat in this meadow. (I took this photo.)

Finding grass was no problem if we were camped near a river or a meadow, but it was harder to come by if we were in a desert. I remember once waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Santa Fe, NM at 4am to the sound of the swallowing dog. The parking lot landscape did not include nonnative grass growing like a lawn (Good for you, Santa Fe Wal-Mart!), so there was nothing for Jerico to eat to induce vomiting. We had to drive off into the dark to find another business (a school, actually) that did landscape with grass.

I worried about Jerico eating grass, especially from an area where it might have been sprayed with chemicals. Who knew what sort of pesticides grass in or around a parking lot might be subjected to? Even if the grass wasn’t sprayed with poisons, was it safe for Jerico to eat so much of it? The Man maintained that dogs naturally eat grass, and since eating grass was the only thing that made Jerico feel better, it was ok for him to do so.

The Man experimented with other remedies. I drove to a supermarket late one night to buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to cure Jerico’s ills. The Man poured a dose of the pink stuff down Jerico’s gullet, and it did seem to relieve his stomach woes. Baking soda dissolved in water seemed to work even better. Of course, Jerico didn’t enjoy having anything poured down his throat, so we often had a dried crust (either pink or white, depending on the remedy) on the floor on the morning after one of his attacks. 

If no humans were around when an attack happened and Jerico couldn’t get to grass, he would eat anything he thought might help. Unfortunately, what his dog brain thought might help never did. Once I left a long, thin strip of sheet hanging in the bathroom of the fifth wheel. (I was sure I’d find a use for it eventually.)  The Man came home to find Jerico had eaten it (then puked it back up) in a fit of acid reflux. Another time when we went on a hike that lasted waaay longer than we thought it would, Jerico chewed the portion of the plastic garbage bag that hung over the edge of the trash can. Luckily, he puked that up too. The Man lived in fear that Jerico would eat a plastic grocery store bag (or something equally dangerous) if he were to have an attack while we were away. Jerico didn’t stay home alone much.

We tried planting grass near the fifth wheel in the Sonoran Desert. I bought special organic “cat grass,” and The Man planted it, but it didn’t grow. I think it might have done better in a planter instead of going directly into the ground.

In retrospect, I see how Jerico’s bouts of acid reflux were getting more frequent. The Man must have recognized it too, even if only on a subconscious level. He did some research on diet and acid reflux and found that beef can exacerbate the condition. Jerico didn’t know it, but he’d had his last can of wet dogfood as a treat. He did get canned mackerel sometimes, when The Man could find a brand with no added salt or oil. The Man also switched Jerico to a dry food with salmon as the first ingredient. Jerico’s stomach seemed to do better for a while.

We’d gone into town early one day to take showers and do other errands. When I went to the parking lot after my shower, I saw The Man pulling the truck behind the building. I met him in the back where he’d let Jerico out to eat grass. I knew this meant Jerico was suffering from an attack. Throughout our day, we had to stop several times to let Jerico out to eat more grass. No matter how much he ate, it didn’t seem to help.

At home, he was no better. He kept trying to find something, anything he could eat to help relieve his discomfort. Unfortunately, there was no grass growing anywhere on our property. Finally, The Man (who was working to get our solar power system up and running) asked me to drive Jerico somewhere with grass he could eat.  I ended up driving about three miles before I found some actual grass growing.

I parked the truck on the edge of the road, and Jerico and I crept through the barbed wire fence to get to the patches of deep green grass. I felt like the father of the unborn Rapunzel stealing arugula from the witch to satisfy his wife’s cravings, but what else could I do? I didn’t want to send Jerico to the other side of the fence alone. What if he saw a rabbit and bolted? What if a coyote or a half-wild dog came along and wanted to fight? I felt safer trespassing with him.

I let him eat to his heart’s (stomach’s) content, then loaded him back into the truck. I hoped it was safe to take him home now.

At home he continued to swallow excessively. His stomach still hurt. He wanted more grass.

The Man mixed up some baking soda with water and poured the concoction down Jerico’s throat. We tried to keep the pup calm while we gave the remedy time to work. He was obviously uncomfortable and wanted to pace.

I wonder if dogs can have Zantac, The Man muttered, reaching for the phone to ask Google.

Turns out dogs can have Zantac. I got in the truck and made a trek to town to get the medication. Nearly two hours later, I got home with my precious cargo. The Man cut on of the tablets in half and pushed it down Jerico’s throat. We again tried to keep him calm, and this time after about half an hour, the medication actually worked. We were all able to get some rest that night.

About a week later, Jerico was at it again. We got home from another day of errands. Jerico jumped from the truck and started eating from clumps of grass The Man had recently transplanted. Thus began 18 hours of hell.

First he ate more grass than I’d ever seen him ingest. He literally ate the newly transplanted grass to death.     

When we brought him inside, he stayed in front of the door and paced. When we let him go outside again, he headed straight to the grass and started chomping on it again. This pattern was repeated throughout the evening.

At a quarter to six, the Man gave Jerico half a Zantac. Again, we tried to keep him calm while the medication did its magic. He never calmed down. He continued to swallow and pace. The medicine did no magic.

Around six o’clock, The Man wondered if we should make an emergency visit to a vet. He called the after-hours number of one of the veterinary offices in town. He didn’t specifically say his dog was in an emergency situation, so the woman who answered the phone made an appointment for us to go in the next day.

The only thing other than eating grass that seemed to ease Jerico’s distress was going outside and walking. We weren’t sure if he was soothed by the distraction of the change of scenery or the motion of movement or by the fact that he was in an upright position (or some combination of the three factors), but he was calmer when we took him outside. We spent a lot of time that evening taking Jerico outside, thinking (hoping, praying) he was better, taking him inside, then realizing he wasn’t better at all.

At ten o’clock The Man decided to give Jerico another half a Zantac. I was afraid it was too soon to give him more, but The Man said obviously the first dose hadn’t done anything to solve the problem. He thought a second dose might make things better for Jerico so we could all get some sleep.

The second dose of Zantac did not allow anyone to get any sleep. Jerico continued to move around and swallow. When we took him outside for the last pee of the night, he headed directly to the transplanted clumps of grass and tried to eat some more.

Around midnight I had Jerico on his leash, walking with him around our property when he barfed up a wad of grass that had the approximate look (size, shape, color) of an unshucked cob of corn. Gross! The grass had come back up, but that didn’t solve the problem.

We continued to walk around past 1am, when I grew too tired to stand. Jerico and I went into the trailer and got in the bed with The Man who’d had the pleasure or an hour of sleep.

Jerico never settled down, never stopped swallowing. I got a few hours of fitful sleep, but Jerico’s distress kept me from resting. Around 5am I took him outside again. Sunrise seemed to bring him some relief, although he was by no means well. We were glad he had an appointment with a vet for that day. None of us wanted to spend another night like the one we’d just had.

We arrived at the appointment right on time. Everyone working at the office was friendly and kind. We were brought into an exam room with a vet tech; the doctor came in shortly after. The Man explained everything that had been happening, and the doctor agreed with the diagnosis of acid reflux. He recommended The Man give Jerico 10 mg of Prilosec every day as a preventative measure.

What about eating grass? I asked the vet.

He said grass is really hard on a dog’s throat, mouth, and stomach and we should keep Jerico from eating it if we could.

After nearly two weeks on Prilosec and the special food we bought at the vet’s office, Jerico hadn’t had a single episode. He hadn’t tried to eat grass even once, and he only swallowed in a normal manner. I was glad he was feeling better, and I was glad we were all able to get some sleep.

Drive Off

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It was Saturday afternoon and life at the fuel center was humming along. We were fairly busy, but I had things under control.

I’d left the kiosk to condition the merchandise in the outdoor display cases. “Conditioning” means making sure the shelves are stocked and all items are pulled to the front with the brand name facing forward. The fuel center sells mostly cold drinks and a small selection of snacks along with motor oil, fuel additives, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. It didn’t take long to get everything looking good.

While I was outside, a woman approached me with a question about using her credit card. While trying to answer her question, I heard shouting, honking, and whistling. I looked toward the source of the commotion and saw a small white car trailing a gas pump handle, nozzle, and hose! Oh no! Someone had driven off with the nozzle still in the tank.

I could see the driver was a woman, so I started shouting Ma’am! Ma’am! while waving my arms. Due to my efforts or maybe those of the bystanders, the driver stopped the car. After quickly excusing myself from my current conversation, I hustled toward the small white car.

You left with the nozzle still in your tank, I explained to the driver. She looked shocked. I don’t think she quite believed me.

I went around to the passenger side of the car and retrieved the nozzle, handle, and hose. You can bet she believed me then. I told her I needed to get her license plate number and call a manager.

You are in trouble, I thought but did not say out loud.

I asked her to pull around and park near the fuel center, and she said she would. I ran into the kiosk and paged a manager. The manager called back immediately, and I explained the situation. He told me to call the company that services the pumps, and then he hung up.

I ran back out to find the driver had parked her car right back at the scene of her big mistake. She was out of the car waiting for me. She must have been in her 60s although her hair was dark black and she didn’t seem feeble of body or mind. 

I wrote down her license plate number. When I asked for her name and phone number, she gave them without hesitation.

I ran back into the kiosk to help the people who had accumulated in a line while I was outside. The next thing I knew, the driver of the white car was back in line. When she reached the window, she said she hadn’t gotten all the gas for which she had paid. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, so I told her I’d meet her outside where the intercom and bulletproof glass would not hinder our communication.

When I got outside, I found her sitting in the driver’s seat of her car. She explained she always puts $10 worth of gas in her car, and $10 worth of gas always fills the tank. Since her tank was not currently full, she was sure she had not gotten her full $10 worth of gas. She pointed to her gas gauge several times, as if I only needed to look at the gauge to understand the problem.

I was incredulous. She’d just damaged the gas pump, yet she was quibbling over (at most) a couple of bucks. Didn’t she know she was in a lot of trouble? Apparently she did not.

I told her I didn’t really know what to do in this situation and asked if she wanted me to call a manager. She said she did.

If I had just ripped the hose and handle and nozzle from a gas pump, I would have slunk away in shame and hoped I wouldn’t be charged for the damage I’d done. Not this lady. She wanted every bit of gas to which she thought she was entitled.

I went back to the kiosk and again paged a manager. Again a manager called immediately.

I explained the lady who’d driven off with the nozzle and hose thought we owed her more gas. I don’t know what to do, I told the manager.

The manager chuckled and said he’d come out and talk to her. Surely she’d realize she was in trouble when the manager arrived. Surely he’d set her straight.

In a few minutes the manager used his key to enter the kiosk. I almost shit my pants. It was the big boss, the store manager himself. Up until that moment, I had not met him; I only knew who he was because I read his name tag.

I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then I briefly went over the situation with the driver of the white car. He said he’d go out and talk to her.I stayed in the kiosk and continued to help customers. I couldn’t hear how the conversation between the driver of the white car and the manager went, but I was convinced the woman was in trouble now.

The manager was out there for at least 10 minutes. When he came back in, he looked defeated.

I couldn’t make her understand, he said. He told me the driver was going to pull the white car to pump 9. He said I should authorize the pump for $10. You register is going to be short.

I guess the driver of the white car wasn’t in any trouble after all.

I found out later that the hose is constructed to detach the way it did if a driver pulls off with the nozzle still in the tank. However, there was a problem with the separation point on this one and it leaked gas. Instead of being able to simply click the two connectors back into place like it was designed to do, a repair person had to come out on Monday to fix the problem. A coworker told me the repair cost the company I work for $500. No one ever asked me for the culprit’s name, phone number, or license plate number, so I suspect she’s not going to have to pay for her mistake.

Amazing

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Fuel Dispenser

Part of my job at the fuel center is helping people who are having trouble at the pump. If customers can’t make their pumps work, I leave the kiosk and assist.

Some people would probably do just fine if they actually read the instructions on the screen.

Pump one won’t let me pump gas, the lady said to me through the intercom.                        

When I got outside, we determined she hadn’t selected the fuel grade as the screen was prompting. As soon as she hit the button for unleaded, the screen showing the numbers of gallons pumped and the dollar amount zeroed out and she was able to pump her fuel.

Sometimes the problem is the store’s rewards card. The pumping process begins with a screen that reads “Do you have a rewards card?” If the customer doesn’t push the blue “yes” button on the PIN pad, the transaction will go all to hell, and I’ll have to go outside to help.

Other times I go outside and trust the customer has done everything right, and still the pump is not working. In those cases I hang up the handle and patiently go through the steps again. Usually the pump works after I take it through the process. After I get the pump going, I make a joke about how computers are supposed to make our lives easier or that the pump just needed my magic touch. I try not to make people feel bad if they’re having a difficult time out there. I understand that every gas station seems to work differently and technology can be intimidating, especially to older folks who seem to be the ones who have problems. (I’ve never had to help anyone under the age of 50 pump their gas.)

Sometimes the problem I have to solve has nothing to do with the company I work for or the equipment it provides.

One Saturday afternoon a woman who looked to be in her 50s approached me the kiosk. When I asked her through the intercom how I could help her, she asked me if I knew how to unlock a locking gas cap.

Oh for goodness sake! I grumbled internally, but I smiled and told her I’d come out and try to help her.

How did the woman end up driving a truck with a gas cap she didn’t know how to unlock? I didn’t ask, but I figured it was the vehicle her husband usually drives or it was her kid’s truck or she had borrowed it from a friend. However this woman had ended up with it, she was now tasked with putting gas in it, but she couldn’t get to the gas tank.

She probably could have called the owner of the truck and asked for assistance, but maybe she would have felt humiliated had she done so. Maybe her husband or her kid or her friend would have teased her or called her an idiot or been exasperated by her helplessness, and she couldn’t face it today. Perhaps it was easier to show vulnerability to the middle age gas station attendant than to a member of her own family. Who knows? I’m just making up stories, but I went outside to help. 

This is the key, she said indicating a small key on a ring with about 20 other keys of various sizes.

I tried using the key, but the other keys got in the way, and I couldn’t turn the small one.

Maybe it would work better if I took it off the key ring, the lady said, and I agreed.

Once the small key was isolated I could be sure it fit all the way into the lock. I turned the key, then turned the cap. The cap moved, but no matter what way I turned it, there was a clicking noise that said it wasn’t properly engaged.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d be able to help the woman when I had the idea to push the key into the lock while turning it. I’d hit upon the magic combination of moves because now I could turn the cap effectively and (finally!) remove it.

As I handed the cap and the key to the woman, she smiled hugely at me and said, You’re amazing!

Her appreciation made me feel good, but being able to help her made me feel good too. It was so clear that I’d really made her day. I was glad I hadn’t given her attitude or treated her like a dummy. I was glad I’d given her my attention and done my best to assist her. Sometimes I am rather amazing.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/fuel-dispenser-1563510/.

Why I Quit My Job (Blog Post Bonus)

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Today is my last day as a clerk in a fuel center! By this evening, I will be a free woman!

Photo of Car on Gas Station

I started working in the fuel center (aka gas station) at a supermarket in mid-June of 2019. It was the only job offer I’d gotten after a half-assed job search, so I took it. I immediately disliked the job, although I did find some good aspects of it. Reason after reason to hate the job piled up as the weeks went by; here are 13 reasons why I quit.

#1 Working the opening shift. The worst days on the job were the ones where I had to open the fuel center at 5:45am. I lived about 40 minutes from where I worked, so I had to leave around five o’clock to get there on time. I move super slow in the morning, so I had to get out of bed no later than 4:15 in order to leave the house on time.

I’m typically an early riser. I wake up around the time the sun rises, anywhere from 5:30 to 7:00 (if I sleep in), but getting out of bed in the dark is difficult for me. Also difficult? Making a 40 minute drive in the dark. There were many mornings I knew I was falling asleep at the wheel, but I kept driving.

To be fair, once I arrived at work and got into the swing of things, I was ok, especially if I had a cup of coffee on my way in. However, at the end of the day I was physically and mentally demolished, especially since I never got to bed early enough on the nights before opening shifts.

#2 Having to deal with fuel and the chemicals used to clean it.  I had to clean up fuel spills nearly every day. To clean up spilled fuel, I sprayed another chemical on top of it, scrubbed the chemical soup with a long-handled brush, then used super absorbent pads to soak up the whole mess. What kind of chemical neutralizes fuel? I have no idea. Is that chemical safe for long-term exposure to humans? I have no idea. I’m pretty sure gasoline fumes and car exhaust are no good for human people, even if the chemical used to clean the spills is harmless.

#3 Lack of hand-washing facilities. There was no sink and no soap in the

Person Wash Hands

fuel center kiosk. We were supplied with vinyl gloves and hand sanitizing gel, but those things are not as good as using soap and water (in my opinion). There was a water spigot at the far edge of the fuel center, and I suppose I could have brought my own soap, but such a hand-washing situation was inconvenient at best.

#4 Limited breaks.  If I worked less than 8 hours, I was allowed one 20 minute break. In that 20 minutes I had to walk across the parking lot and into the store to get to the break room, wash my (filthy) hands, use the restroom, wash my hands again, eat my lunch, then walk back through the store and across the parking lot. If someone was in the only employee restroom when I got there or if I had to heat my food in the microwave, I lost precious minutes.

If I worked an 8 hour shift, I got two 15 minute breaks. Two breaks are better than one, but getting everything done in 15 minutes was an even bigger challenge.

When I worked the morning shift, a cashier from the supermarket would come out to give me a break right around 9am. When I worked afternoons, I was supposed to get a break around 3pm, but good luck with that! A customer service manager (CSM) told me early in my fuel center career that I was out of sight/out of mind, and if I wanted a break, I’d have to remind the person in charge of scheduling. After I was given this bit of info, every afternoon I worked, I paged the CSM on duty to remind them about my break.

The CSM on duty might not have been prompt about giving me a break, but I sure as hell needed to be prompt about leaving and returning in my allotted amount of time.

U.s. Dollar Banknote Lot

One morning just as my relief showed up, the cash register prompted me to make a safe drop. I said I’d do it when I got back. My relief (a veteran cashier) pulled a long face and said the prompt would keep popping up the whole time I was gone. I knew he was right, so I stuck around for a few minutes to complete the safe drop. Then one of the big bosses arrived, and I had a couple of things to tell her. I was maybe five minutes late leaving.

When I returned to the kiosk, the person who had relieved me left immediately. I hadn’t been back two minutes when the phone rang. It was the CSM in charge of scheduling breaks calling to find out if her cashier had left. I said he had. She wanted to know why he was late returning to the supermarket. I explained I was late leaving because of the cash drop and having to talk to the store manager. She told me if I was late getting back from my break, it threw off the schedule of all the breaks that came after mine. She said if I was late leaving for a break, I’d have to take a shorter break so her schedule wasn’t messed up. I understood where she was coming from but her pissy attitude did not endear her to me.

I simply told her, I understand (which actually, I did) and made up my mind

Fireman Illustration

that I’d never be late leaving for a break again, no matter what was going on. Safe drop needed? Sorry. I’ll have to do it after my break. Irate customer? Sorry relief person, you’ll have to handle it because I have to go on my break. The fuel center is on fire? Could you go ahead and call the fire department and the management team because I have to take my break now?

The worst part about having only one break in a shift was that I only got to use the restroom once in 6 or 7 hours. I learned quickly that I needed to visit the restroom immediately before I started work, but some days I was desperate to see the toilet when my break rolled around.

One day I mentioned to one of the (female) store managers that three hours is a long time to go without a bathroom break. She said to just ask if I needed to visit the restroom during my shift, and they would get someone to the fuel center to cover for me. I appreciated her support but was skeptical of how asking for an extra break would work out. I could imagine the pissy CSM fussing at me for messing up her break schedule by having a bathroom emergency.

#5 Not knowing when my breaks would be. If I had known what time I was supposed to get my break, I’d have spent less time worrying I wasn’t going to get a break. I also wouldn’t have had to call the CSM to remind them I still needed a break. However, such a level of organization and communication was much too high of an expectation when dealing with the company I worked for.

#6 Being required to stand during my whole shift. Why do corporations think excellent customer service can only be provided while standing? I think I would have given better customer service if my feet and legs hadn’t hurt from standing for 6 or more hours. I guess the rule against sitting is part of the if you have time to lean, you have time to clean mentality, but I think morale would improve if cashiers were allowed to sit while ringing up sales.

#7 Having my availability ignored. When I applied for the job online, I had to provide my availability. I said I was available any time other than Tuesday mornings. When I was interviewed for the job, I told the assistant manager conducting the interview that I was not available on Tuesday mornings. The first several weeks I worked, I wasn’t scheduled to work before noon on Tuesdays (and often I got the entire day off), but suddenly I was scheduled to open on a Tuesday. No one asked me to do it as a special favor. No one apologized for scheduling during a time I said I couldn’t work. I strongly suspected that if I stayed at the job, I’d find myself scheduled on Tuesdays more and more often.

#8 I was working too much. When I was offered the job, I was told it was a part-time position. The assistant manager who hired me said the job offered no set number of hours. He said one week I might work 16 hours; the next, 23; another week I might work 35 hours. Since I was hired in June, I was consistently scheduled to work at least 32 hours each week. In reality, I never got out of there when I was scheduled to. I was lucky if I only worked 15 or 20 minutes extra at the end of a shift. Of course, I got paid for every extra minute I worked, but I’d rather have the time than the money.

Three shifts a week would have been ok, but five were too many.

#9 No sick leave with pay. When I was hired, the human resources person

Clinician Writing Medical Report

told me nothing about vacation time or sick leave. I found out later from a veteran worker in the supermarket that the state we worked in doesn’t require employers to provide sick pay. Guess what? Because they’re not required by the state to provide it, the company didn’t offer sick pay. This means anyone who is too sick to come into work doesn’t get paid for the shift.

I suspect workers who can’t afford to miss a day’s pay go to work no matter how sick they are. Most of the company’s employees work in a supermarket. Think about that for a moment. Those sick people are touching food. Even if they don’t touch the food directly, they’re putting their germy hands all over the packages containing food. Yuck! Now I understand why it sometimes seems like an illness is hitting everyone in town: germs are probably being spread through the supermarket.

#10 Selling tobacco products was a drag. From the day I started working

Close-up Photo of Red Cigarette Butt Lot

in the fuel center, I hated selling cigarettes, chew, and cheap cigars. I think using tobacco products is a bad idea, and I don’t like participating in people’s addictions in order to line someone’s pocket.(Every time I sold a pack of cigarettes, I ended the transaction by saying have a nice day, but I was thinking good luck with your lung cancer.)

I hated the hassle of checking IDs and entering birth dates in my POS (point-of-sale) system, but I hated even more the fear of getting busted for selling tobacco products to some underage kid. There just wasn’t enough time to do a thorough check of an ID when I had a line of customers, and I was worried someone was going to slip a fake one past me.

Selling tobacco products really slowed down my process. Although I’d learned the most popular brands and their varieties by the time I quit, searching for what the customer wanted took time. Then, unless the customer was obviously older than I was, I felt compelled to check the ID. All the while, the line behind the tobacco buyer grew.

I’ll be glad if I never have to sell a tobacco product again.

#11 Having too much responsibility. Not only did I feel responsible for not selling tobacco products to minors, I felt a huge amount of responsibility to make sure the fuel center did not go up in flames. The smallest fuel spill had me rushing outside to clean it up ASAP. I was constantly on the lookout for anyone smoking or doing any other stupid things that might lead to a fire.

Of course, I felt responsible for making correct change, helping each customer promptly, and being as polite as possible, but keeping the place from turning into the towering inferno was more than I had bargained for when looking for a summer job.

#12 The damned intercom system was driving everyone crazy. The intercom system was old and didn’t function very well. Often I’d press the button that was supposed to allow the person on the other side of the bulletproof glass to hear me speak, but something would go wrong with the system and the customer heard nothing. Sometimes the person on the other side of the glass spoke to me but no sound came through. Sometimes the sound that came through was garbled or crackly. Even on a good day, the poorly functioning intercom system was enough to irritate a saint. My customers and I were mere mortals and the misunderstandings caused by the crappy intercom system often led to frayed nerves and sharp tongues.

While I worked in the fuel center, a young man came out to repair the malfunctioning diesel pumps. (Spoiler alert: the diesel pumps were not repaired when he left.) When he was finished not fixing the diesel pumps, he worked on the intercom system.

He took a plate off the back of the intercom box and wiggled the wires hidden behind the plate. He said the intercom worked better now. Maybe it did, but not for long. I’m sure those wires wiggled right back out.

He said we could wiggle the wires back in ourselves if the intercom malfunctioned. Huh. I had neither a screwdriver to remove the plate, nor the time to remove it and futz around with wires. When people were in line to buy gas, they wanted to buy gas, not wait around for the clerk to repair the communication system.

I’m not surprised the company I worked for didn’t want to spend the money to get a modern, functioning intercom system in the fuel center. Why should the big bosses care if customers and workers alike are pissed off because communication is difficult? The big bosses don’t have to deal with it, and they’d rather save money instead of spend it to make the lives of workers easier.

#13 Dealing with grumpy people.  Oh lord. Grumpy customers. Grumpy coworkers. So many unhappy people, and they all seemed to want to bring me down to their level of agitation and dissatisfaction. I tried to be pleasant to everyone, but after being spoken to sharply several times in one shift, I was ready to pack it in. I will not miss the folks who wanted to take their troubles out on me.

Can you understand now why I quit the job? What would you have done? Would you have quit too or tried to stick it out until winter? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-car-on-gas-station-2440998/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wash-hands-1327213/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/abundance-bank-banking-banknotes-259027/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/accident-action-danger-emergency-260367/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/clinician-writing-medical-report-1919236/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/dirty-addiction-cigarette-unhealthy-46183/.

What I Appreciate About My Job

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The lady was right. Sometimes working as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center is a hard job. However, I was able to come up with ten things I appreciate about the place where I work and the work I do.

#1 The booth I’m in for most of my shift is air conditioned and heated. I even have control of the thermostat Although I’m not able to set the a/c below 65 degrees, I can pretty much keep it as cool or warm as I need it in my little domain.

#2 The booth also keeps me out of direct sunlight and away from the wind, rain, dust, and bugs.

#3 Uniforms are out!

The company I work for stopped requiring uniforms days before I started working for them. I can wear almost whatever I want as long as I look neat and professional. (In reality, I typically look dirty and rumpled. Working at a gas station does not lend itself to cleanliness, and for some reason I perpetually look like I’ve slept in my clothes.)

Employees can wear pants (but not jeggings, leggings, pajama bottoms, yoga pants, or sweats) and a shirt with sleeves, even a t-shirt or sweatshirt as long as any logo on it is small. Tank tops and revealing blouses are not allowed.

I have a pair of black men’s Wrangle business-casual style pants I paid full price (!) for because when I was hired, the uniform still required black pants. While I wasn’t keen on spending $15 (plus tax!) on a pair of pants, I owned nothing suitable for work and couldn’t find anything that fit at the thrift store.

A couple of weeks later, I did find pants that fit at the thrift store. Both pairs are from the Gap, and although the inside of the waistband says “khaki,” one pair is dark blue and the other is black. I found them at the same store, but on different days. The blue pair (bought first) has a fit that is surprisingly perfect for my short, fat body; the length is exactly right! I never find pants that are the right length for me, so the fact that these are makes me think diving intervention was involved. The black pants are just the tiniest bit too long, so I fold them up a little.

The greatest thing about the pants was the price. I don’t know why, and I didn’t ask, but the fellow at the cash register only charged me $2 for the blue pair, a shirt, a belt, and a Thermos jar. Score! I love me some 50 cent pants that fit as if they were sewn with me in mind. The black pants were a little more expensive. They cost a whole dollar! Ha!

As for my shirt, I usually wear one of several long-sleeved, light, 100% cotton shirts I own. It’s fine that I wear them untucked and loose. I make sure to keep my middle-age cleavage covered.

#4 Selling cigarettes is bad enough. I’m glad I don’t have to sell alcohol. Probably more underage people try to buy alcohol than cigarettes, and I can only image what a pain in the ass it would be to cut off a drunk person from their next beer. Ugh! The fuel center offers no beverage stronger than Pepsi, and I’m grateful for that.

#5 I don’t have to clean toilets. I have to pick up litter sometimes, but—oh sweet joy!—I don’t have to deal with the body waste of strangers on the clock. Knock wood.

There are no restrooms at the fuel center, so cleaning toilets does not fall within the realm of my job description. Of course, sometimes customers think I’m hiding a restroom in the kiosk. One day I was outside cleaning, and as I approached the kiosk’s (one) door, a man strode purposefully toward me.

Can I use your restroom, he asked.

I directed him to the supermarket across the parking lot. He looked skeptical, as if perhaps I simply didn’t want to share my gas station restroom with him. I unlocked the door and disappeared into the kiosk. I’m not sure if he went into the supermarket to use the facilities or if he decided to wait until his next stop. I do know I didn’t have to clean up after his restroom visit, and I’m glad for that.

#6 I get paid every week on Thursday. How cool is that? Nothing like getting paid this week for the shifts I worked last week.

#7 People don’t tend to linger at the fuel center and try to tell me personal stories I really don’t want to hear. Nothing says “move along” like bulletproof glass and a crackling, hissing intercom system.

#8 On a similar note, customers don’t come to my house when I’m off work and ask where they can camp, how far they are from the General Sherman, or where they can fill their water bottles. When I clock out at the end of my shift, my life belongs to me.

#9 The customers at the fuel center are generally nice. Sure, there are a few grumps, but I turn up the friendly charm with those folks. My kindness may not change their lives (maybe it will!) but they won’t be able to complain to my manager that I’m rude.

Most people don’t want to cause me trouble. Most people want to pay for their fuel and get on with their lives.

#10 I get to help people. This truly is my favorite part of the job. Maybe after I’ve done it a million times I’ll hate leaving the kiosk to help people follow the directions on the screens of the pumps. For now, it’s kind of fun. I’m convinced some folks would leave without fuel if I weren’t there to walk them through the steps.

So there you have it—ten things that I actually like about my job. As long as they don’t give me a whole week of opening shifts, I might be able to tolerate the job for a while.

You Must Be New

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It was my third week working at the supermarket fuel center. It was on ok job when I didn’t have to get out of bed at 4:15 in the morning to open the place at 5:45. The job required me to do some cleaning, which wasn’t so bad, and most of the customers were neutral if not friendly. At least the grumpy ones left soon enough.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and if I heard the honk, it didn’t register as a call for help. I only realized I’d heard it when a customer who’d just left my window returned. He told me the lady at pump 9 was disabled and needed assistance.

I thanked him for letting me know and asked him to tell her I’d be there as soon as I could. It took at least five minutes to clear the line that formed as soon as I knew someone needed my help. When I got to pump 9, the woman in the driver’s seat looked anxious. She probably thought I’d forgotten about her or decided I didn’t want to leave the safety of my climate-controlled booth.

I told her I was there to help, and she gave me her rewards card and her credit card. She stayed in her car while I followed the directions on the pump’s screen. I could see her folded wheelchair stashed in the backseat. She kept the passenger window down so we could communicate, and her cute fluffy white dog stuck its head out to sniff me and look adorable.

The woman and I chitchatted while I filled the tank.

She asked the price of gas, and I told her it was $2.57, minus the amount of her reward. She told me she could get gas for $2.09 in the big city. I didn’t point out that most things are more expensive in small mountain towns.

She thanked me profusely for pumping her gas. I assured her it was no problem. I told her helping people was my favorite part of the job.

I would hate this job if I couldn’t help people, I said.

She rolled her eyes, and said, You must be new.

I know what the woman was getting at. Working with the public can really wear a person down. Certainly working with the public has worn me down. (For example, see the many posts I’ve written about my two summers working at a mercantile in a national forest.) I know clerks get discouraged and jaded. It’s happened to me. It could happen to me again, but I’m working really hard to stay positive. I do like helping people, and I want to continue to help people.

I don’t want to be nice and friendly and helpful only because I’m new. I want to be nice and friendly and helpful because I’m a good person and that’s the way I should treat all people, not just customers.

Job Update

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Just a quick update on my job situation for my readers who are wondering.

I’m still working at the fuel center. I don’t much like working there, and I’m planning to give my two weeks notice as soon as I tie up some other loose ends in my life.

I may be applying for a temporary job in September or October that would keep me employed through the winter holiday season. I don’t know much about it yet, but will let you know more when I know more.

My current job keeps me too busy. When I’m not working, I am tired. I do sneak in some writing at work, so I have lots of blog posts to schedule when I get the chance to sit down with the internet.

Friends and fans have been asking my about my work life at the fuel center. I’ve written several blog posts on the topic and will be scheduling many of them for the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to learn about my life as a fuel clerk.

I took this photo.

Alright

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She walked up to the gas station kiosk in which I was working. She held her phone to her ear.

She was older than I, probably in her late 50s or maybe early 60s. Her long grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a tan baseball cap. She walked over from a long white passenger van which held no passengers. She’d parked the van next to the kiosk, not next to a gas pump, and left the driver’s side door open.

When she stepped up to the window, I pressed the button on the intercom so I could communicate with her through the bulletproof glass. I gave her my standard greeting.

Hi. How can I help you this morning?

She didn’t lower her phone from her ear.

I released the button on the intercom so I could hear what she had to say.

Give me a pack of Marlboro Ultra-Light 72s, she said.

I noticed the lack of the word “please” turning what could have been a request into a command. Her cell phone was still next to her ear.

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

I turned around to look at the vast array of cigarettes offered for sale. I found the Marlboros but got hung up trying to figure out which of the 30 (I’m not exaggerating!) varieties of that brand the woman actually desired. Luckily I was still in training, and my coworker knew exactly where to find what the customer wanted.

I rang up the sale. The woman was clearly over 18 (and 27 and 35 and 42)—definitely old enough to buy cigarettes—so I didn’t ask to see her ID. I bypassed entering her birth date into the register. I told her the total of the sale, which was over $9. (Cigarettes are expensive!) Her phone stayed next to her ear.

She put a ten dollar bill in the drawer through which the customers and I passed items. I slid the drawer into the kiosk and reached for her money. I got her change, which I slid out along with her receipt and the box of cigarettes.

I pressed the intercom button and said, Thank you! Have a nice day!

I let go of the intercom button in time to hear her say, Alright.

She didn’t smile, and her phone never left her ear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/search/cigarettes/.