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
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.
This looks like a
really hard job, the woman on the other side of the bulletproof glass said
through the intercom.
I pushed the button to speak to her. Well, it’s my first day working alone, so I’m probably making it seem
harder than it really is, I told her.
No. I think it’s a
hard job, she said.
I was trying to be optimistic, she was right. It was a hard job.
I’d applied for a job at one of the town’s chain
supermarkets. It was the store I shopped at, and the workers all seemed fairly
cheerful, so I figured it would be a decent place to work. I’d used a cash
register before. Once I got the hang of this particular point-of-sale system,
how difficult could it be to ring up groceries for a few hours a day? If there
were no cashier positions open, maybe I could stock shelves or work behind the
customer service desk. In any case, I’d be working indoors, out of the sun and
the heat and the wind and the dust. A supermarket job would be ok.
When I went through the prescreening phone interview with someone from the corporate human resources department, I was told the only job available at that store was in the fuel center (aka the gas station). Sure, I told the woman. I’ll take that job. I figured it couldn’t be that much harder than working in the main store. Turns out I was wrong.
The first problem with working in the fuel center was that
while I was being trained the first week, I had to be there at 5:45 in the
morning. Ugh. Because my drive from home to the store took 40 minutes, I had to
back out of my driveway no later than a couple minutes after five o’clock. It
was still dark when I got out of bed between 4:00 and 4:15 to get dressed, eat
breakfast, brush my teeth, and gather everything I’d need for the day. I tried
to be quiet, but The Man is a light sleeper, and I always woke him up.
I can’t really blame the early morning start time on the fuel center. I could have worked an early shift in the main store too. Also, my schedule for the second week on the job was all over the place: two nights closing, one day mid shift, another morning shift, one more at midday. At least the rest of my work life wouldn’t require a 4am wake up, but having no set schedule can wreak havoc on a gal’s sleep patterns.
Learning the point-of-sale system wasn’t so difficult. I had
a handheld barcode scanner and a computer touch screen; all sales transactions
were made using those two devices. Once I learned how to do a void and a cash
drop and how to preauthorize cash and debit/credit card gas sales, I was golden.
After four days of training, I pretty much had the system down.
I think the part of the job the customer was observing as
hard was how busy it got out there. The first day I worked alone was a Friday,
and it seemed like half the town was stopping at the grocery store pumps to
fuel up. It also seemed like customers came in waves; the fuel center would be
empty, then half or more of the pumps would be in operation. Of course, people
have needs, and when there are a lot of people, there are a lot of needs. Everyone
with a declined credit or debit card came to me. Everyone who couldn’t get the
machine outside to register their reward points came to me. Everyone who
couldn’t get their pump to start or who thought their pump had shut off too
soon came to me. All of these people were in addition to the people who wanted
to pay cash or who didn’t want to use a card at the pump or who wanted to buy a
pack of gum, an energy drink, a bag or chips, or a pack of cigarettes.
Oh, the cigarettes! I’ve never been a smoker. I’ve never bought a pack of
cigarettes for myself in my life, and when I’ve bought one for another person, the smoker has been very explicit about what exactly I should get. I had no idea there were so many varieties of cigarettes in the world. We had soft packs and boxes, longs and wides, menthols and organics. In the fuel kiosk, we sold 30 varieties of Marlboros, probably 15 varieties of Camels, eight varieties of American Spirits!
How do people even
know what they like to smoke? I asked my coworker with bewilderment and
He just shrugged. They
buy different things until they find what they like, he explained.
When I was on my own and a customer asked for cigarettes,
I’d find the brand they’d requested, then point to the different varieties until
they’d nod or give me a thumbs-up through the bulletproof glass. American
Spirits were the easiest for me to sell, as their varieties came in different
colored boxes. Light blue was the best seller of American Spirits, although I
also sold a black, a yellow, and a light green. (Other varieties included
orange, dark blue and two other shades of green).
I was scared to death to sell tobacco products to someone under the age of 18 or to fail to check the ID of anyone under the age of 27. The training provided by the corporation I now worked for had taught me that doing either of those things could get me and the store into a lot of BIG BAD TROUBLE. During my first day in the kiosk, I asked to see the ID of a man who said, I haven’t been carded in 11 years. He went back to his car and got his driver’s license. Turns out he was only two years younger than I am, so solidly middle age.
Other hard parts of the job the lady who commiserated with my plight hadn’t even seen. Every morning the worker had to do a thorough check of all the pumps to make sure nothing was broken, cracked, dirty, or in any way less than perfect. The worker was also supposed to wipe down each pump every morning and use a special cleaning chemical on any gas or oil spill on the concrete as well as do maintenance cleaning on different parts of the concrete in the fuel center (in front of pumps 1 and 2 on Mondays, pumps 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, etc.) Several days a week, the worker was supposed to use a leaf blower on the ground all around the fuel center, and every morning lids in the ground near the where the tanker trucks pumped in the new fuel had to be lifted and checked for water, leakage, excessive dirt, and other problems. It was a lot to do between helping customers, and the entire experience took place with a background smell of gasoline.
The worst part of the job came at noon when the replacement worker
arrived. The morning worker had one hour to run a report that said what items needed to be transferred from the store to the fuel center. Once the report was printed, the morning worker went into the supermarket and ran around on a product scavenger hunt, working from a list that made little sense. Items were listed, then in the field that said how many to bring to the kiosk, I’d find a zero. I’d think I’d pulled all the necessary drinks, but then among the snacks I’d find another beverage listed. Some drinks were on aisles 20 in the large cooler, but others were warm on aisle 13. Still others could only be found in small coolers near the self-check lanes. Snacks were scattered around the store in at least three different places. Some items were nowhere to be found.
After all the food and drinks were pulled, it was time to
move to the huge, locked tobacco case at the front of the store. Yes, the store
sold even more varieties of smokes (and smokeless tobacco) than we did in the
kiosk. The tobacco scavenger hunt alone could easily take 30 minutes and leave
me blinking back tears.
I quickly learned that if I couldn’t find any given item
pretty quick, to mark it NF (Not Filled) on my list and move on. I didn’t have
the luxury of the time needed to fill the list.
Filling the list also involved the use of a handheld
scanning device and an enormous, difficult to steer blue cart. (Using a regular
shopping cart would have been infinitely easier.)
By my third day on the job (Tuesday), I wanted out. I called the manager of a souvenir shop I’d applied at during my initial job search and let her know I was still looking for a position. On Friday after work, I had an interview with the souvenir lady. I had the weekend (and Monday too!) off work from the fuel center. I spent all three days hoping I’d be able to give my notice on Tuesday.
As I’ve mentioned before, the forest I’m in is experiencing a very strict fire ban. One of the restrictions is that people are not allowed to smoke outside. Smoking is only allowed in a vehicle with the windows rolled up to within an inch or so of the top. (Although smoking is allowed in buildings, neither my campground or the parking lot has a building suitable for smoking.)
The ban on outside smoking was not my decision. It was not the decision of my boss or his boss. The Forest Service made this rule, and I’m just doing my job telling people what’s up.
I hate having to approach people in the process of smoking cigarettes. (It’s always cigarettes people are smoking, never pipes or cigars.) I know people are addicted to the things, and I know they’re not going to be happy when I tell them they can’t get their fix in the open air. (See http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/08/06/no-smoking/ to read about a woman who went from overly friendly to vicious when I told her she had to get into her car to smoke.) I approach smokers very, very cautiously when I’m about to tell them what they’re doing is against the rules.
I don’t yell across the parking lot at smokers. I get within speaking distance, but not close enough to get hit if the smoker gets violent. I am extra polite right before I thwart smokers. Usually I say, Excuse me, sir (or ma’am). I have to tell you (meaning, I certainly don’t want to tell you this, but I am required to), we are in a very strict fire ban right now (giving them the reason for the upcoming bad news.) You are only allowed to smoke in your vehicle with the windows rolled up. Then I try to get away from the smoker as quickly as possible.
Most smokers comply, probably because most of them think I’m a ranger or at least a Forest Service employee who can write a ticket. But no one has said, What wonderful news! I’ve been looking for a reason to quit.
On the second Saturday in August, I had to speak to two men puffing away.
The first guy was a senior citizen with white hair and a short white beard. He was wearing fancy hiking clothes, and looked sort of like Santa Claus on a forest vacation. I glanced over at the Santa man standing by his car and thought I saw smoke. (With the popularity of vaporizers, sometimes what I originally think is smoke turns out to be vapor. Asking a person vaping to quit smoking is embarrassing, so I try not to make that mistake.) I looked over again and was pretty sure it was a cigarette Santa man had going on over there.
I got out of my chair and walked toward the man. When I was within speaking range, I said, Excuse me, sir. I have to tell you, we’re in a very strict fire ban right now.
Before I could say anything else, he started walking toward me and said, I’m very cautious.
I’m sure any person smoking in a National Forest would tell me s/he is very cautious. Saying it–believing it–does not make it true. I didn’t see what–if anything–Santa man was using as an ashtray. I’m not sure he was letting his ashes fall to the ground, but I’m also not sure he was catching them in a container. He was standing on the asphalt while he smoked–maybe that was his idea of cautious.
As I went on to tell him he was only allowed to smoke in his car with the windows rolled up, he walked over to the trashcan and threw away his cigarette butt. Apparently, I’d noticed him at the end of his cigarette.
The second smoker was middle aged and completely bald. He was wearing what I can only describe as “dressy casual” clothing–long shorts and a shirt with a collar. Perhaps his clothing was suitable for golfing? He was standing on the asphalt too, but near the entrance gate, puffing away in front of God and everybody.
I walked up to him. Excuse me, sir. I have to tell you, we’re in the middle of a strict fire ban. You’re only allowed to smoke in your car with the windows rolled up.
I saw the look of unhappiness on his face as he stalked away from the gate. (I think he was heading back to his vehicle to finish the cigarette, since he didn’t stub it out.)
There should be a sign! he spat at me.
I thought about pointing out the press release about the fire ban posted on one of the information boards, but I couldn’t remember if it addressed smoking or just campfires. I didn’t really want to have a discussion with the guy; I just wanted him to stop smoking out in the open. So I said, Yes, you’re right, there should be.
Then he said, because you’re defying one’s privacy!
What? Defying one’s privacy? Defying his privacy? Ummm, how is it private to smoke a cigarette out in the open, in front of God and everybody? Did he mean I was defying his privacy by speaking to him? How is a sign telling him smoking is prohibited different from me telling him smoking is prohibited? Since I didn’t want to have a discussion with the man, I didn’t question him.
My boss came by later, and I told him about the interaction, told him the man had said we need a No Smoking sign. My boss laughed and said soon we’d have more signs than trees. He probably won’t get us a sign, and I’ll have to continue to defy people’s privacy.
When I was in college, my friend BH tried to teach me to smoke cigarettes. I was having trouble inhaling. He told me to imagine I’d seen a bear. He demonstrated the sharp, shallow intake of breath that seeing a bear would generated, then followed the inhalation of breath with the words, “I saw a bear!” I guess the “I saw a bear!” part was supposed to get me in the proper state of mind to breathe in the cigarette smoke correctly. I don’t know. I never did learn to smoke cigarettes (thank goodness!) but I did find out many years later that seeing a bear did indeed make me gasp.
Between Arroyo Seco and the Taos Ski Valley, there are several free camp grounds along the Rio Hondo.
I pulled into one of the camping spots late one afternoon. I had maybe a couple of hours of daylight left in which to prepare and eat dinner.
I’d managed to back my van into a spot so that in the morning (and by “morning,” I mean around 4am), I could pull straight out onto the gravel entrance/exit and then onto the highway.
Across the highway from where I was parked, trees had been removed to make room for a large electrical transformer. This configuration made for a break in the forest and a sort of flat open area around the transformer. I was standing near the front of my van, texting Nolagirl when movement across the highway caught my eye. I looked up and saw a very large creature lumbering past the electrical transformer and into the trees.
“That’s a weird fucking horse,” was my first thought. My second thought (after a quick inhalation of breath), was, “that was a BEAR!”
The bear didn’t actually look anything like a horse. “Horse” is just what my brain told me until it could make sense of what it had actually seen.
(Gasp!) I saw a bear!
My immediate first reaction was to want to follow it. It was so cool, so wild, so interesting. I wanted to know more about it.
My second reaction (which occurred about two seconds after thinking I wanted to follow it) was me asking myself, Are you out of your fucking mind?!?!? Following a bear is a REALLY bad idea, so I didn’t do it.
I wanted to watch the bear from a really safe distance, but it was already out of sight. The bear was not going to be my entertainment for the evening.
I grew up watching movies and TV shows like Gentle Ben and Grizzly Adams where bears and humans are pals. Some part of me wanted to believe that I too could befriend a bear. I’m glad my logical side prevailed and kept me on my side of the road.