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
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.
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.
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/.