I was asked a lot of stupid questions when I worked at the supermarket fuel center (aka gas station). People wanted to know why only the diesel or flex fuel light came on. (Because you lifted the diesel/flex fuel nozzle. If you lift the gasoline nozzle, the lights indicating regular, midgrade, or premium will come on.) People wanted to know why the screen on the pump instructed them to see the cashier. (Because you’re trying to use a credit card we don’t accept. The sign on each pump clearly states what methods of payment you can use.) One lady even demanded I tell her what kind of fuel she was supposed to use in her car. (Ma’am, I have no earthly idea.)
The dumbest question I got (on more than occasion) went something like this:
Me: Hi! How can I help you today?
Customer: I need to get some gas.
Me [internal thought]: Duh! I figured as much, since we’re at a gas station.
Me [aloud]: What pump are you on?
Customer: Pump x.
Me: Great! How much do you want to put on pump x?
Customer [slowly]: Well…I don’t know…I’m paying cash…I don’t know how much it will take.
To be fair, these customers may have been thinking back to a day when they could tell the gas station attendant they wanted to fill up and the attendant would authorize the pump to spew fuel into the universe until the customer returned the nozzle to its cradle. I remember those days. I remember when gas station customers could pay for their fuel after it was in the vehicle. Of course, such a procedure could lead to the popular gas-n-go scam in which the driver filled up the vehicle’s tank and drove away without paying a penny.
(I worked in a gas station years ago, a customer told me. When people drove off without paying, that money came out of my paycheck, he said.)
At the fuel center where I worked, no open ended transactions took place through the kiosk. When customers used credit or debit cards at the pump, they could pump gas from here to eternity (or until they’d drained their debit account or maxed out their credit card). However, if customers brought the same debit or credit cards to me to run inside the kiosk, I couldn’t do anything until I was told the dollar amount the customer wanted to spend.
Could you turn on pump x? customers sometimes asked me.
Well, no, I couldn’t. The POS (point-of-sale) system was designed to make stealing gas without the participation of the fuel clerk virtually impossible. I couldn’t just turn on pumps and trust customers to come back and pay for the fuel they’d put into their vehicles. Any time I authorized a sale on a pump, I authorized it for a specific dollar amount after I had the money on my side of the bulletproof glass.
I suppose I could have participated in fuel theft by authorizing a pump for an amount of money I had not received. Say a friend came to the fuel center and wanted to get $10 on pump 4 but only had five bucks. It was possible for me to authorize pump 4 for $10 even though I’d only been given $5. However, such thievery certainly would have come back to bite me in the ass. If I’d authorized a pump for a dollar amount I failed to collect, my drawer would have been short. Eventually some bookkeeper would have noticed, and I would have suffered negative consequences.
I don’t know how other gas stations work, but my place of employment was strictly a pay-before-you-pump place. When customers wanted to pay cash, they had to tell me how much money they wanted to spend, which brings us back to the stupidest question I ever encountered on the job.
A customer wanted to pay cash to fill up a vehicle. The customer didn’t know how much money it would take to pay for a fill-up on the vehicle in question. I told the customer I couldn’t do an open ended transaction; I needed to put a specific dollar amount into the cash register.
What will happen if filling the tank doesn’t take as much money as I give you? more than one customer asked. Will you give me change?
I wanted to say, Oh, no! If you overpay, we keep your money. We don’t give change here.
I wanted to say, Of course we give you change, you idiot! Do you think we could get away with keeping your money?
I wanted to say, How is a gas station different from any other business when it comes to change? It’s not!! If you overpay, of course you get change!
Instead, I’d say something like, Oh, yes. I’ll give you change for whatever amount you don’t use. Just come back here when you’re done, and I’ll get cash for you right away.
To be fair, the change confusion was not a daily occurrence, but it happened more than once during the two months I worked at the fuel center. It was never a kid asking if they’d get their money back if they overpaid; the person confused about paying cash and getting change was always someone beyond middle age.
Have you never been to a gas station before? I sometimes wanted to ask customers. How do you not know how this works?
I had to remind myself that some people may have been buying and pumping fuel for the first time after many years of having a partner do it for them. I tried to remember that the confused folks may have been accustomed to paying with debit or credit cards and truly didn’t remember how paying with cash worked. Of course some of my customers were probably just dumb or possibly from another planet.