Tag Archives: fuel center clerk

Will I Get Change?

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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.

Forgotten Change

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When I worked at the fuel center (aka gas station) of a supermarket briefly during the summer of 2019, my POS (point-of-sale) system kept me updated on the monetary situations occurring at the pumps. I could look at my screen and tell who had paid at the kiosk and who had paid at the pump. I could see which customers had not yet begun to pump fuel and which ones had finished up. Most conveniently, I could see who was owed change.

The POS system kept track of how much money had been paid on each pump. If the customer overpaid, the POS system told me exactly how much change that customer was owed. When the customer came back to the kiosk for change, I only had to touch a few buttons then look on my screen to find out how much cash to hand back. If I was really at the top of my game, I would have a customer’s change waiting by the time the person walked up to the window.

Some people were so dead set on getting their change, they never even walked away from the kiosk. Of course, this only worked when a companion stayed at the car to pump the fuel. I wondered what went through the heads of people who stood right next to the kiosk while the companion pumped the fuel. Maybe the person who stayed was too tired to walk 15 feet back to the car, another 15 feet to return to the kiosk to collect the change, then 15 feet again to get to the car in preparation for departure. Maybe they were afraid I was going to take off with their $23.76 (or $11.43 or $4.98 or whatever), and run off to Mexico to start a new life. I don’t know how those people felt, but I felt awkward as hell when they hung around the kiosk waiting for the moment I could hand over their money. 

Other people were so seemingly unconcerned with money that they left without their change. This didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was usually only a few cents left behind. When I noticed the screen showing a dollar (or cents) amount in parentheses, I knew that money was owed to the customer. When I looked out the big kiosk windows and saw the pump where the change was owed was empty, I knew the customer had absentmindedly taken off without it or was too embarrassed to come back for a few pennies.

One day a man stepped up to the kiosk and gave me a large bill to pay for gas on pump 8. He mentioned his truck probably wouldn’t take all the gas the big bill would buy. I told him to just come back for his change. No problem.

Minutes passed, and I forgot about the fellow getting fuel on pump 8. When I next looked at my POS screen, I saw $12.53 was owed to the customer who’d used pump 8. However, when I looked over at pump 8, it was empty.  The man who’d given me the big bill was gone.

Twelve dollars is a pretty substantial amount of money. I could imagine some people (not me, I’m a frugal gal) leaving a few pennies behind, but I couldn’t imagine anyone abandoning more than a dollar. I figured the guy wanted his change, but had forgotten it.

I went through the steps on the POS system to make the change. I left the money in the cash drawer, but on the receipt I wrote a little note about what had happened. I left the receipt on top of the cash register, thinking the customer would return soon and I’d know just how much money to give him.

The customer didn’t come back. Hours passed. The customer didn’t return. The next time I dropped cash into the safe, I included the receipt with the note on it.

Of course, not long after I dropped the receipt into the safe, the phone rang. It was the customer who’d forgotten his $12.53. He seemed surprised but pleased that I remembered him. No problem, I told him. Just come back by and pick up your change.

He was home by then, about 30 miles away. He thought he’d be back in town probably Monday.   I told him if he wouldn’t be back before my shift was over, he should go directly to customer service when he did come in. I explained I’d written a note and included it with a safe drop so the situation had been documented. I said if he explained the circumstances to the person working at the customer service booth when he came in, there should be no problem getting his change.

The fellow thanked me profusely. I think he’d expected to get the run around, but he was so grateful when I remembered him and admitted to knowing he had left his change. Perhaps an unscrupulous cashier would have pocketed his $12.53, but not me. No way was I going to take something I knew didn’t belong to me.

Is This America? (Blog Post Bonus)

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Since today is American Independence Day, I thought I’d share an American story with you as a blog post bonus.

A couple of months before I started working at the fuel center (aka gas station), the corporation that owns it decided to stop accepting a major credit card. According to a flier given to customers before the major credit card was blackballed, the company I worked for

is charged excessive bank fees when customers use [the major credit card in question] at the checkout. To help keep your grocery price low, we’ve decided not to accept [this particular major credit card].

At the time I worked there, the fuel center accepted three other major credit cards, as well as debit cards, including debit cards with the name of the credit card we didn’t accept on them.  Confused? So were the customers.

The folks who lived in town and got fuel regularly where I worked were slowly growing accustomed to the change, but I worked in a tourist town, and the tourists who stopped in for fuel were in a perpetual state of WTF. Every day at least five visitors ran their card two or three times before the screen on the pump instructed the person pumping fuel to see the cashier. (Of course, when I was at work, the cashier was me.) Nine out of ten of the customers sent to see me were already pissed off. I could see it in their faces and their body language. When I told them the problem was that the store quit accepting their credit card of choice months earlier, they were usually incredulous. Some of them wanted to discuss the situation with me (What card CAN I use? or Can I use my debit card?) but some simply walked away without speaking, looks of anger and/or disgust on their faces.

You must be the only gas station in the country that doesn’t take [the credit card he wanted to use], one visitor spat at me during my last week of work.

Maybe, I said noncommittally to him. I wasn’t going to argue with him because for all I knew, he was right.

Many of the locals who knew they couldn’t use the particular credit card where I worked were not too happy about the situation. One elderly lady gave me an earful. Neither the bulletproof glass between us nor the scratchy intercom deterred her.

I know it’s not your fault, but it is ridiculous you don’t take [the credit card in question]. And it’s a shame they make you say it’s to keep prices low. Every time I go into the supermarket, everything is so expensive! My friends don’t even come here anymore.

I cut in to offer my apologies, but she didn’t want to hear them. She just wanted to rant.

I know it’s not your fault, she repeated, then started back in with her tirade.

I wanted to ask her why she was making me listen to her complaints if she knew the situation was not my fault and I could do nothing to remedy it, but instead I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear sympathetic. I didn’t understand why she continued to spend money where I worked if she thought the prices were too high and she hated the payment options.

The fellow in line behind her must have been tired of listening to her too. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, and he probably weighted upwards of 200 pounds. While he didn’t physically push the little old lady away, he used his size to intimidate her, so she stepped off to the side of the drawer I used to collect payment and deliver cigarettes, candy, and change. While the lady was still complaining, the large customer drowned out her voice by demanding, $25 on 6!

The elderly lady looked startled, then scurried away.

On the one hand, I thought the male customer had behaved very rudely.

What’s wrong with you? I wanted to ask him. That woman was old enough to be your mother. Would you want someone to treat your mother that way?

On the other hand, God bless him. If he hadn’t stepped up, that lady might have gone on for another five minutes.

Of course, each pump had a sticker saying we only took the debit version of the card. Of course, most customers don’t read the words on gas pumps.

One afternoon an elderly man approached the kiosk while a manager was in there with me. She happened to be closest to the intercom when the fellow walked up, so she asked how she could help him.

He said the screen on the pump had told him to see the cashier. The manager asked him if he was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. He confirmed that he was. The manager told him we’d stopped taking that card several months prior. He was obviously livid.

The customer stomped off, and the manager went to the back of the kiosk, out of sight. I thought she’d left.

Maybe two minutes later, I looked out of the bulletproof glass to see the already angry customer booking it back to the kiosk. When he reached the window, I switched on the intercom and asked how I could help him.

You don’t take [card we didn’t take], right? he asked me.

That’s right, I told him.

Then why does every pump have a sticker saying you take it? he wanted to know. He really thought he had me now.

Oh, sir, I said nicely, those stickers say ‘debit only.”

He spun on his heels and took off without a word.

I thought his head was going to explode, my manager said.

I thought you’d left, I said to her.

I saw him coming back, so I ducked out of sight.

I’m really glad you saw that, I told her. It happens all the time.

A few days later a youngish woman came up to the kiosk. She was holding two red two-gallon gas cans. She seemed a little frantic.

The pump told me to see the cashier, she said to me.

Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take], I asked her. She was.

I’m sorry. We quit taking those in April.

Now I’ve lost my place in line, she screeched. There should be a sign! There should be a sign!

I tried to tell her about the stickers on the pumps, but she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. She was already crossing the fuel center to negotiate with the woman who had pulled her truck up to the pump the woman with the gas cans had been trying to use.

My favorite response from a frustrated credit card user came one busy afternoon. The line was about five deep when a man stepped up the window and told me the screen on the pump had instructed him to see the cashier.

I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept. He said he was. I told him we didn’t accept it.

He busted out with, Is this America?

I almost busted out laughing, but managed to keep a straight face. I don’t know if the guy was referencing the free enterprise system or the Rah! Rah! Rah! U!S!A! freedoms certain segments of the population tend to celebrate. All I knew was it didn’t matter what country we were in—I couldn’t process the card he wanted to use.

I took the photo in this post.

Communication Breakdown

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The customer seemed quite confused when he approached the kiosk at the supermarket fuel center.

It was during the early days of my brief career as a clerk at the fuel center (aka gas station). I was stationed inside a kiosk and communicated with customers through a poorly functioning intercom system.

The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re confused for one another.

I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier. I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.

He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay me instead of trying to pay at the pump.

I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.

He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes, I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump 2.

I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know, Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.

So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11 worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.

It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.

Oh goodness. What now?  I thought.

How can I help you? I asked and forced a smile.

He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS (point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2 had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.

Yes, sir, I said through the intercom. I authorized the pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.

Eleven dollars? he asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11 gallons!

I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.

Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily, I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake. Would you like me to run your card for another amount?

He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.

Up On the Roof

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I’d seen the van around town several times before. It was difficult to miss. It was a blue Chevy G20 conversion van with black plastic covering one of the back windows. In addition to the creative window treatment, the van was absolutely loaded down with items strapped to the exterior. There were at least four spare tires attached to various points on the van. What appeared to be a microwave oven sat atop two of the spares on a platform linked to the front bumper. A yellow generator was somehow held on the roof, and ratchet tie downs kept a water tank that looked like it could hold at least 100 gallons up there too. I hoped the water container was empty because 800 pounds traveling on the roof of a G20 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.

I will confess, I’ve driven overloaded vans. The inside of my last Chevy G20 was packed to the gills on several occasions, but the only thing strapped to the outside was a 5-gallon gas can. I’m sure we each think our own material possessions are of the utmost importance, but why in the world was someone driving around with four spare tires, a 100 gallon water tank, and a microwave oven (!) strapped to the outside of a van? Certainly the water tank on the roof made driving in the wind more difficult and the extra weight of all the extra things decreased gas mileage.

One day while I was working at the supermarket fuel center, the overloaded van pulled up to pump 4. The driver–a man in his 60s with a white comb over–came up to the kiosk to pay cash for his fuel. He was soft-spoken and polite.

Several minutes after the van driver paid for his fuel, I left the kiosk to do my hourly conditioning of the merchandise for sale. I heard a soft voice calling Ma’am? Ma’am? Was someone talking to me? Where was the voice coming from?

Ma’am? Ma’am? I heard again.

I looked over to the blue van. The voice seemed to be coming from that direction, but I didn’t see anyone who might have been talking to me. No one looked at me expectantly or waved to get my attention. Was I hearing things? The job had me stressed out, but if it was causing auditory hallucinations, I was in big trouble.

Ma’am? Ma’am?

I looked up. That’s where the voice was coming from. A voice from on high was calling for me.

The man with the white comb over was on the roof of his van, crouched next to the generator. He’d stretched the gasoline hose from pump 4 up to the roof where he was pumping fuel into the generator. The whole setup seemed dangerous to me.

I need another $5, the comb-over man said to me while waving a $5 bill in my direction. I guess he’d misjudged how much fuel it would take to fill all his tanks.

I’m not supposed to take money outside of the kiosk, I told him. No one in authority had explicitly told me not to accept money outside of the kiosk, but it was a policy I’d set for myself. I figured only accepting money through the drawer would help keep every transaction on the up and up.

Please? the man on the roof of his van asked. I don’t want to have to climb down.

He sounded so pitiful, and I certainly wanted to minimize his chances of falling. An extra climb down followed by an additional climb up would increase the chances of a catastrophe I neither wanted to witness nor clean up after. I reached up and took his five dollars.

As I entered the kiosk, I realized the white-haired man was going to have to hang up the nozzle before I could authorize the pump to give him his additional $5 worth of fuel. He must have gotten the attention of a kindhearted stranger who hung up the nozzle for him because when I looked at my POS (point-of-sale) system, the screen showed pump 4 was available. I authorized the pump for $5 worth of fuel and put the money in the cash drawer. Then I stood back and watched the fellow on the top of the overloaded van pump the gas into his generator. I was pretty sure no fuel center spectacle could top this one.

At least the van owner was no longer part of this parade when he showed up at the fuel center.

I took the photos in this post.

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/.

Risky Behavior

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I didn’t see many children during my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center. I suppose most of the youngsters who visited the gas station stayed in the car during the fueling process.

Once I did see a tween boy remove the nozzle from the pump and place it in the family car. He held the nozzle in place during the pumping process. Technically no one too young to legally drive was supposed to pump gas, but I didn’t run out of the kiosk to stop the boy. He wasn’t horsing around, and an adult woman was right there with him to help if anything went wrong. I figured the boy was probably as bright as the least savvy customers I’d encountered in that fuel center.

Occasionally adults sent children up to the kiosk to pay for fuel or buy snacks. Usually it was obvious the adult had not coached the child before sending it up to complete the transaction. Kids typically didn’t know what pump they were putting money on or how to lift the lid on the drawer through which I accepted money and returned change. Of course, plenty of adults didn’t know those things either, so I cut the kids some slack. At least children had the excuses of their tender age and inexperience.

During the last Friday I worked at the fuel center, I witnessed a child in a situation I could barely believe, especially since the adult guardians enabled the surprising behavior.

I’d returned from the supermarket where I had pulled merchandise to restock what we’d recently sold at the fuel center. I was standing outside the kiosk, waiting for my coworker to open the door for me. Outside the kiosk, standing on the other side of the bulletproof glass from my coworker were two adult women and two kids. Neither woman looked more than 35 years old. The older kid was 12 or 13 and the little kid was probably 6. The little kid was bouncing around begging for something. I was only partially paying attention to the interaction between the little kid and the woman. I was mostly thinking about getting off work in a few minutes and going home to cook dinner. 

At some point, I realized the little kid was begging for a Bang® energy drink.

The Bang® energy drinks were in a tall (probably 3 feet high) round cooler decorated to look like a can of the beverage. The cooler was on wheels and was brought out of the kiosk and plugged in each morning. At night the cooler had to be unplugged and rolled back into the kiosk. We didn’t sell many of the drinks (Red Bull® and Monster® were probably the two most popular brands of energy drink we sold) and for some reason no variety of Bang® ever showed up on our replenishment list. I don’t know who kept the Bang® cooler stocked. No one told me anything about it, so I didn’t worry my pretty little head.

Occasionally I opened the Bang® cooler to return to the upright position any of the cans that had fallen on their sides during the daily taking out and bringing in. A can must have burst in the cooler at some time in the past because the walls and sides harbored sticky residue and an overpowering scent of (fake) cotton candy. I like sweets, but the intense aroma of artificial candy flavor nearly made me sick to my stomach.

According to the Bang® website,

BANG® is not your stereotypical high sugar, life-sucking soda masquerading as an energy drink! Power up with BANG’s potent brain & body-rocking fuel: Creatine, Caffeine, & BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids).

Under the “WARNINGS” section on the same website, I found this disclaimer:

Not recommended for use by children under 18 years of age.

Strange, the product’s own website says it’s not for children, but the list of available flavors include kid-appealing yummies like Birthday Cake Bash, Cotton Candy, Rainbow Unicorn, Sour Heads, and Root Beer. Sure, sure, adults can and do like those flavors too, but it seems a little strange to go with such sweetness while trying to appeal to a market that “consists principally of fitness enthusiasts” (according to Wikipedia.)

Also under the “WARNINGS” section of the Bang® website is the admission that

one serving [a 16 ounce can] of BANG provides 300mg of caffeine which is more than three cups of coffee.

For further comparison, 16 ounces of Red Bull has about 160mg of caffeine, a Starbucks Grande Caffe Americano contains 225mg of caffeine per 16 ounce cup, and 16 ounces of Mountain Dew contains about 73mg of caffeine.  Coke Classic offers only a paltry 45mg of caffeine per 16 ounce serving. I think we can all admit that consumers of Bang® get an awfully big caffeine bang for their buck.

So why shouldn’t kids enjoy a Bang® energy drink and its 300mg of caffeine? According to the February 2015 article “Why Energy Drinks and Your Children Don’t Mix” on the Cleveland Clinic website,

Energy drinks won’t only cause your young children to bounce off the walls—they may cause an irregular heartbeat, too.

The article goes on to say that a study presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting showed that kids younger than 6 made up more than 40% of emergency calls related to energy drinks.

The effects the energy drinks had on the children included heart arrhythmia and seizures.

The AHA said this was

because many energy drinks contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources…These combined sources of caffeine may cause the heart to race and blood pressure to increase.

According to the article,

The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.

While the possible health effects of high levels of caffeine on children are disturbing, that bouncing off the walls thing would be enough to keep me from giving an energy drink to a child. Most kids I’ve known have had plenty of energy without introducing 300mg (or even 100mg or 50mg) of caffeine into the equation. Apparently the woman the little kid was begging for a Bang® had no such concerns, because she agreed to buy him one!

I couldn’t even believe it! Does that seem like a good idea? I wanted to call out to her. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me! I wanted to tell her. But who am I to tell someone what to feed her child? I am no one. I kept my mouth shut.

Once the woman agreed to buy the Bang® for the little kid, both women urged the older kid to get an energy drink too. The older kid picked a Monster with a more manageable 160mg of caffeine in the 16 ounce can.

My coworker rang up the two energy drinks and whatever else the group had decided to buy for their Friday night fun. Once he collected payment and gave them change, he opened the back door for me.

I wonder how that’s going to work out for her, he was muttering as he let me in. I knew he was talking about the woman who’d just provided a very large amount of a stimulant to a very small child.

I shrugged. Maybe this would be the night the woman learned that children and caffeine simply shouldn’t mix.