Tag Archives: fuel center

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.

You Fishing?

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Tackle Box With Fishing Lures and Rods

According to the National Today website, yesterday was National Go Fishing Day. I didn’t go fishing yesterday, but in honor of the missed “holiday,” today I’ll tell you a story about fishing of a different kind.

Have you ever been to a gas station and seen colored circles in the concrete? Those colored circles are lids to the spill buckets. I don’t know exactly what role the spill buckets play in the fuel center system, but I do know water should not be allowed to sit in them. If water sits in them, the water can (somehow) get into the fuel, a huge no-no.

At the fuel center where I worked briefly, water ended up in at least half of the spill buckets when it rained more than a drizzle Some would only have a bit of water in them, while others would end up with a couple inches of liquid in them. It was the job of the fuel clerk on duty to use absorbent pads to soak up the liquid.

Checking the spill buckets was on the list of duties for both the opening and closing clerks. When I opened (often) or closed (hardly ever), I made sure to act accordingly where the spill buckets were concerned.

One day my shift started at noon. The midday worked did not have “check spill buckets” on the list of duties, so I did not check the spill buckets. After the opening clerk had left to get items to restock the fuel center, one of the assistant store managers showed up at the fuel center and checked the spill buckets. She found about two inches of water in most of them and sent me out with absorbent pads to soak up the water.

Soaking up the liquid in the spill buckets was one of my least favorite

Man Wearing White Tank Top

duties. For one thing, it was dirty work. Just lifting the lids left dust and grease on my hands. When I had to stick my hands down down down into the spill bucket to put the absorbent pads in place, I’d usually end up with dirt, grease, and mud (and sometimes dirty, muddy grease) all over my forearms.

Another reason I hated dealing with the spill buckets was because doing so was dangerous. I had to get on my knees in order to reach down into the spill buckets. Although I am not an insubstantial person, I felt invisible while so low to the ground. Also, the spill buckets were located in an area drivers often zipped through as a shortcut out of the parking lot. Every time I was on the ground trying to dry out those spill buckets, I felt like the living ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Once when I was putting pads in a spill bucket, a small SUV came too close for comfort. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was heading to pump 10, but for some reason the driver started backing it up. To say it almost hit me is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly scared me. It wasn’t there, then suddenly it was.

Hey! Hey! Hey!  I started yelling. I can’t remember if I jumped up or crouched there paralyzed with fear.

The driver stopped the vehicle and stuck his head out the rolled-down window. His eyes were big. Are you ok? he asked me.

I’m ok, I told him. You didn’t hit me, but you did scare me.

You scared me, he said, but he wasn’t the one who’d come close to bodily harm. Then he rolled up his window and left without fueling up.

I guess he was so scared by almost hitting you that he decided to go get gas somewhere else, another customer joked.

On the day the manager found inches of water in the spill buckets and had me handle the situation, I asked the morning fuel clerk about it when he came back with the items for the restock. He said he had put absorbent pads into the spill buckets early in the day, but the fuel delivery guy must have pulled them out when he came over later. At best, my coworker had done half his job. It wasn’t enough to put pads in there and never check on them again. He should have gone back to pull the soggy pads out, at which point he would have seen the delivery driver had pulled them out already and that there was still water that needed to be absorbed.

After that day, if I came in at noon on a day after it had rained, I checked the spill buckets even though doing so wasn’t on my list of responsibilities. Whenever I asked my coworker about the condition of the spill buckets after a rain, he always thought I was talking about the buckets with squeegees and fluid for cleaning windshields. When I point in the direction of the spill buckets and said, no, those, he always assured me they were fine. They were never fine. Finally I quit asking him and just handled the problem.

One morning I opened the fuel center and checked the spill buckets as I was supposed to. To my chagrin, I found water in more than half of them. I went back to the kiosk and grabbed several absorbent pads. I also grabbed two orange safety cones and put those down on either side of me. I hoped drivers would see the orange cones even if they missed my big butt and fluorescent pink safety vest.

While I was down on my knees, I saw a small pickup truck pull in next to the air pump. I knew the air pump wasn’t working and was glad there was an “out of order” sign on it. A few minutes later, I noticed a man walking across the fuel center toward me.

Is the air pump really out of order? he asked me.

It took everything I had not to say something sarcastic to the guy. Why would we put an “out of order” sign on an air pump that was functioning normally? If we were lying about the air pump being out of order, why did he think I would be honest with him and tell him it was really working?

I held my tongue except to say, Yes, sir. It’s really out of order.

Oh, that’s too bad, he said as if he were hoping I’d change my story about the functionality of the air pump.

I exercised my right to remain silent while I continued to shove absorbent pads down into the wet spill bucket.

Are you fishing? the fellow asked me, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I know the guy thought he was making a good joke, but for a joke to work, the recipient of it has to think it’s funny too. I didn’t think it was one bit funny. Annoying? Yes. Ridiculous? For sure. Funny? Not a bit.

The fellow reminded me of my grandmother’s second husband who insisted on calling me “blondie” even though I had dark hair. Neither man really cared about making me laugh; both men just wanted a reaction out of me, and if that reaction was irritation or anger, well, that was better than nothing.

I didn’t give this asshat the satisfaction of my anger, but he probably could

Selective Focus of Brown Fishing Reel

tell I was irritated. Of course I wasn’t fishing. I obviously wasn’t fishing. I didn’t even have a fishing pole. Did he think I was noodling for catfish living in a concrete hole?

No, I’m not fishing, I said, and I’m sure he could tell I thought he was being an idiot. I’m getting water out of here so it doesn’t mix with the fuel.

Then I turned my attention back to the wet spill bucket and the absorbent pads. When I looked up again, the fellow was heading back to his truck. I was glad to be done with his foolish questions. 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/tackle-box-with-fishing-lures-and-rods-1430123/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-white-tank-top-1325619/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-brown-fishing-reel-1687242/.

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.

She Didn’t Want to See Me

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The woman strode briskly across the fuel center toward the kiosk where I was stationed. I already knew she was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. My POS (point-of-sale) system had told me so.

The woman was older than I am and had dirty blond hair. Her shorts and blouse were color-coordinated, and she wore fashionable sunglasses.

Hi! How can I help you today? I asked through the intercom. I typically waited for customers to tell me their problems, even when I was pretty sure I knew what was going on.

It told me to see cashier, she said referring to the screen on the gas pump. But I don’t want to see you, she whined. I want to do it out there.

I have to admit her saying she didn’t want to see me was a blow to my ego. It was a small blow, but a blow nonetheless. Like Sally Field, I want to know people like me. I’m very likeable. Well, I can be very likeable, when I’m trying.

I let her finish talking (and hurting my feelings) before I asked, Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take]?

She said she was.

I’m sorry, I said. We quit taking [the card in question] in April.

But I didn’t live here then, she pouted. She looked so much like an unhappy child I thought she might drop to the ground and roll around in a tantrum. I don’t know why she thought the date of her arrival in town would possibly matter.

I’m sorry, I repeated, although by this point I was only sorry she was still standing in front of me.

She scrunched up her face as if she were furious and stomped back to her vehicle. I don’t know if she used another card to pay of if she simply left. I’d stopped caring about what she did when she said she didn’t want to see me.

Stolen Sprayer

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When I worked at the supermarket fuel center briefly in the summer of 2019, one of my duties was cleaning fuel spills. When fuel ended up on the concrete during my shift (and this happened daily and sometimes more than once a day), I applied a special chemical to the fuel. The chemical somehow neutralized the fuel and alleviated the possibility of it catching fire. I’d soak up the whole mess with big pads make from a superabsorbent material.

This is the type of sprayer we used to dispense the neutralizing chemical.

The neutralizing chemical was liquid and came in large jugs. My fellow clerks and I had to pour the liquid from the jugs into a two-gallon sprayer, the type of device landscapers use to apply herbicides to weeds.

The sprayer was already falling apart when I started the job. One day during my first week at work, I needed to spray some of the neutralizer onto spilled gasoline. I couldn’t get the chemical to shoot out of the sprayer’s nozzle. I paged a manager to ask for help. The person who returned my page (but did not identify himself) told me to just turn the container over and pour some onto the spilled fuel. I was pretty sure that was not the way things were supposed to be done. If we were meant to pour the chemical, we would just pour it from one of the large jugs and not put it in the apparatus designed for spraying. But what did I know? I was the new kid, so I did what the manager told me to do.

A few days later the store manager came out to the fuel center kiosk to do the daily walk through (which did not happen daily, trust me). I told him the sprayer did not spray properly. He started looking at all of the components and found the tube that was supposed to connect to the hose was detached. He reconnected the tube to the hose. Success! Now the neutralizing chemical could be sprayed properly.

Sometimes the blue, slightly oily liquid pooled at the top of the sprayer near the handle that did double duty as the pump that worked to pressurize the contents of the container. I’d use the absorbent pads to soak up the liquid, but was never really sure how it had gotten there.

One afternoon right before my coworker showed up to relieve me, I discovered diesel was flowing slowly but steadily from pump 2. Even after I turned off power to the entire pumping station, diesel continued to flow from the nozzle. I grabbed the last of the absorbent pads from the supply area in the back of the kiosk, wrapped a couple around the malfunctioning nozzle and used the rest to soak up the spilled fuel. When I went into the supermarket to pull merchandise to restock the fuel center, I looked for more absorbent pads, but there were none. One of the managers told me to use cat litter to absorb the diesel on the concrete in front of pump 2. I gave my coworker the cat litter instructions and left the cleanup to him.

When I returned to work the next day, there was diesel all over the lane in front of and leading to pump 2. My coworkers had not used the cat litter to absorb the still flowing fuel. After nearly 24 hours, what had pooled in front of pump 2 eventually flowed over to the next pump. It was a real mess.

When I asked what was going on at pump 2, my coworker seemed completely unconcerned. There were no absorbent pads, he shrugged. He seemed to think there was absolutely nothing he could do to improve the situation if there were no absorbent pads.

He went into the supermarket to get merchandise to restock, and I got busy cleaning the mess he’d successfully ignored all morning. I spent the better part of the next five hours cleaning the spilled fuel.

The first thing I did was drag out the sprayer with the neutralizing liquid. I wanted to spray down all the diesel on the concrete so at least the fuel center wouldn’t go up in flames if someone created a spark. I had just sprayed everything down and used the short-handled scrub broom to make sure the fuel and the neutralizer were mixed thoroughly when I looked up and saw a customer standing in front of the kiosk waiting for me to assist him with his cash purchase. Dang! I hated abandoning my cleaning project, but the customer came first and all that jazz. I carried the scrub broom with me into the kiosk, but left the sprayer behind. I’d use it again momentarily; no need to carry it in and back out again.

By the time I helped the fellow waiting at the kiosk, two people had taken his place. By the time I helped them, three or four other folks had gotten in line. I was stuck behind the cash register for five or ten minutes. When I finally cleared out the line, I headed back outside to finish the cleanup. I looked around. Something was missing. Where was the sprayer? Had I brought it into the kiosk?

I went back inside the kiosk. No sprayer. Some low-down dirty thief had stolen the sprayer. How was I ever going to be able to clean the mess if I couldn’t spray the neutralizing chemical?

I paged a manager so I could alert someone in charge to the latest turn of events. When I told the manager who answered my page that the sprayer had been stolen, he laughed bitterly, as if he wasn’t even surprised.

After getting off the phone with management, I grabbed one of the jugs of the neutralizing liquid from the storage rack in the back of the kiosk and took it outside. I sloshed some of the liquid from the jug onto the diesel slick concrete. The application wasn’t as neat as it would have been from the sprayer, but the effect was the same. Once I had the fuel and the neutralizing liquid thoroughly mixed, I laid down a thin layer of cat litter. I figured I’d let the litter sit for a while and absorb the chemical stew before I swept up the whole mess.

I went back into the kiosk and enjoyed the air conditioned coolness. I’d have to go back out there eventually, but for now I’d relax a bit, if you call talking to customers, taking money, making change, and authorizing gas pumps relaxing.

I don’t know how much time passed before I had a moment to look up and gaze out of the window and across the fuel center. There…by the air pressure machine…was the sprayer. What? The thief had returned our sprayer!!!

I had to laugh to myself as I hustled over to scoop up the sprayer. The thing was such a piece of junk that the thief had decided it wasn’t worth stealing. I just imagined the chemical in it bubbling up to the top of the container, then sloshing around all over the thief’s vehicle. I bet that was a surprise. What really astonished me was that the thief returned the sprayer instead of just chucking it into a dumpster. The thief had probably not even made it out of the parking lot before realizing the sprayer wasn’t worth keeping.

I took the photo in this post.

Contrary

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Perhaps the most frustrating customers I encountered during my two months working at the supermarket fuel center were the ones who needed help but got pissy when I tried to remedy their situations.

The intercom that was supposed to allow me to communicate with the world on the other side of the bulletproof glass was a piece of crap. The sound cut in and out; sometimes there was no sound at all. The fuel center definitely needed new communication equipment.

One morning I pushed the button on the intercom and began speaking to a man on the other side of the window.

I can’t hear you, he smirked.

I put my mouth right next to the part of the intercom box that picked up sound. I kept my voice low, but since it was right next to the amplifier, it must have been loud outside.

What pump are you on?  I asked the fellow.

You don’t have to yell, he chastised me.

I guess there was just no pleasing him.

Customers often had trouble getting the pay-at-the-pump feature to work. Strange, because 98% of the time when I went outside to help, I could get the pump to accept the troublesome debit and credit cards. Maybe I had the magic touch, or maybe I have the attention span, patience, and mental capacity to follow the step-by-step directions given on the pump’s computer screen. Customers often acted as if our pumps were the cause of their hardships, but if the pumps were at fault, I don’t think my success rate would have been so outstanding.

People are funny. I thought folks would be happy when I got the pump to accept their credit/debit cards so they could get their fuel. However, over the course of two months, more than one person (more than twenty people) seemed to get angrier when I got the pump going. Of course, these people couldn’t very well complain when they were able to pump their fuel, but I could tell when people got angrier after I’d gotten the pump to accept their card. I think those people wanted to be upset and they’d decided (subconsciously, probably) to be upset whether they got what they wanted or not. 

Of course, some people were so invested in their anger, they didn’t even want me to try to help.

I do this all the time, customers said to dismiss me on more than one occasion after I’d gone outside and was trying to talk them through the steps necessary to get the pump to give up fuel. I knew the customers were having trouble because they’d come up to the kiosk and told me so, but when I went outside to help, I obviously wasn’t wanted.

I do this all the time, I was told, and I wanted to say, So what usually happens? Do you always fuck it up and have to ask for help, or can you usually muddle through?

Of course I kept those thoughts to myself. I also refrained from demanding to know why someone came up to the kiosk and reported a problem if they didn’t want my help. Do you just want to complain, or do you actually want to put gas in your car? I often wondered.

Sometimes when I was outside trying to help, the customer decided they’d had enough of my chipper personality. (Really, I was chipper when I went outside to offer assistance. I dare say I was friendly too, and pleasant.)

I’ve got it now, customers sometimes said pointedly, trying to get rid of me.

Uh, no, I’d say in my head while politely refusing to leave. I wasn’t going to walk back to the kiosk, unlock the door, and go inside only to have the same person up at the window again, complaining through the intercom that something was wrong with the pump. We were in this together now, and we’d see it through to the end, side-by-side, until the nozzle was in the gas tank and fuel flowed freely.

Forgot to Pump

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It was early in my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center (aka gas station), and the day had started early. (I’d crawled out of bed at 4am and clocked in to work before 5:45.) The place had been busy since the sun came up, and my brain was already on overload when the woman stepped up to the kiosk window. I asked how I could help her, and she told me pump 6 was authorized to pump $60 worth of gas.

At first I thought she was reading the numbers above the pump’s communication screen. The very top number told how much money the previous customer had spent at the pump. The second number showed how many gallons of fuel the previous customer had pumped. Many, many customers thought the presence of those numbers meant there was a problem with the pump and they wouldn’t be able to get their fuel there. They didn’t realize that once a payment had been made to me in the kiosk or a card inserted at the pump and the fuel nozzle lifted, those numbers would zero out and the pumping could begin.

I assumed the woman had been looking at the very top number, the amount the previous customer had spent. (When you assume, my late father would have said, you make an ass of u and me.) I told her when she lifted the nozzle, the $60 would zero out and she could begin pumping.

She shook her head at me. When she got out of her car, the screen said $60. She didn’t put in $60. She was going to pay with her credit card, but she didn’t want to put her card in if someone else’s money was already on the pump.

Slowly it dawned on my poor tired brain that the woman wasn’t talking about the uppermost number on the pump. She was talking about the communication screen. The communication screen said that someone had paid $60 on pump 6.

I looked over at my POS (point-of-sale) system. The screen showed me the activity on every pump in the fuel center. I could tell who had prepaid by giving me cash or letting me run a credit or debit card. I could tell who had paid at the pump. I could see who was pumping gas and who had yet to start pumping. Sure enough, pump 6 had been authorized for $60.

You didn’t pay me $60? I asked the woman. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if I had ever seen her before, much less if she had stood before me a few minutes ago and handed me $60. She shook her head no.

You didn’t already use your card on pump 6?  I asked her. I certainly didn’t want her coming back in five minutes telling me she had paid twice and wanting money back.

She shook her head no again. She repeated that she hadn’t put her card into the pump because she thought someone else had already paid $60 for that pump and she didn’t want to mess anything up.

I thanked her for being honest. It would have been so easy for her to simply put that $60 worth of gas in her tank. No one would have known…but her.

I’ll clear that out for you, I told her. I reached over and went through the procedure to refund the $60 on pump 6. I didn’t take any money out of the drawer because I didn’t know exactly what procedure to follow in such a situation. I figured I would come up with something before my shift was over.

When my screen showed pump 6 was available, I told the woman she was all set to go and thanked her again for her honesty.

The customers continued to line up and hand me money and credit cards. I authorized pumps and sold cigarettes and told people how many reward points they had. I’d forgotten about the $60 on pump 6 until a frantic-looking man stood before me.

I was here about half an hour ago, he told me. He was all but panting. I gave you $60 for pump 6, then went out there and put the nozzle in my truck. I thought it had pumped, but it didn’t pump, and I left without my gas.

I totally believed his story. He seemed genuinely upset and out of breath, and he knew what pump the money had been left on and how much money it was. I didn’t see how it could be a scam of some kind.

You’re really lucky, I told the guy. An honest woman told me about the $60 still on the pump. She could have just used the money, and I would have never known, but she told me about it. Then I told him to pull into whatever pump he wanted, then to let me know what pump he was on so I could authorize it for $60.

I don’t know if he realized how lucky he was. If that lady had used his $60 then he had come in later with some sob story about how he had forgotten to pump his gas, I would have thought, sure, right and sent him on his way. If he had insisted, I probably would have called a manager to handle the situation.

Who forgets to pump their gas? I wondered aloud when I related this story. Apparently it happens. It happened to this guy, and it happened to a friend of mine. She said she was flustered, had been getting repeated phone calls from a needy friend. She said she paid $20 for gas, got into her car, and drove away. When she realized what had happened she went back to the fuel center but found someone had already pumped her fuel. The person in the kiosk was not trusting and kind and told her she was out of luck; there was nothing he could do.

Moral of the story: If you forget to pump your gas, hope the person who rolls in after you is honest. 

What Do I Use?

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Many of the people I encountered when I worked at the fuel center seemed barely capable of taking care of themselves. Some people were old and feeble of mind, body, or both.

One elderly gentleman–the skinniest person I think I’ve ever seen–asked for $20 on pump 9. When I pulled the drawer into the kiosk, I found a $50 bill. The gentleman was already walking toward his vehicle. Luckily, he moved really slowly.

Sir, your change, I called through the intercom system.

He tried to wave me off. I think he didn’t know what I was saying. Maybe he didn’t hear very well.

Sir! I called with more force. You gave me fifty dollars!

He seemed to hear that and came back for his $30.

Weeks later, and elderly woman paid for her fuel at the kiosk, then walked ever so slowly to pump 4 where she’d left her car. Many minutes later, I saw her standing by her car. She wasn’t pumping gas, and my POS (point-of-sale) system showed pump 4 was still authorized for the full amount she’d paid. I was mystified, so I went outside to find out if she needed assistance.

When I asked her if she needed my help, she said she couldn’t get the car’s gas cap off. It wasn’t a locking gas cap, but I when I tried to get it off for her, I found it had to be pushed in and turned at the same time. The woman simply didn’t have the strength to push and turn all at once.

Photography of One US Dollar Banknotes

It wasn’t only elderly people who made me wonder how they were getting along in the world. Once a woman who looked to be in her 30s came up to the kiosk. She asked me for $58 on pump 4 and put a wad of bills in the drawer. When I counted the money, I only came up with $47. I counted the bills again and got the same result.

Ma’am there’s only $47 here, I told her through the intercom.

She looked at me blankly. I held the bills up the window and showed her each one as I counted. There was only $47 there. The customer didn’t argue with me, just accepted her mistake, then went off to pump her fuel.

Before long, the young woman was back for her change.

The POS system did all the work of figuring out change for me. I’d tell the computer how much money a customer gave me. The customer could then pump the equivalent in fuel into their tank. If the customer didn’t pump as much gas as they’d paid for, the POS system prompted me to refund the difference. The compuer never made a mistake.

When the young woman came back for her change, my screen told me just how much money to hand back. I told her the amount of her change and put the money into the drawer, which I slid out to her. She picked up the money, but said the amount was wrong. I realized right away that she was expecting the change from the amount she originally thought she was giving to me.

No ma’am, I said to her. You didn’t give me $58, remember? You only gave me $47. See, it says $47 on your receipt.

Oh, right, she agreed and went on her way.

I never felt as if she were trying to hustle or scam me. I think she was genuinely confused.

The person I felt most worried for was the elderly lady who didn’t know what kind of fuel to put in her car.

She’d pulled in while I was outside conditioning drinks in one of the coolers. She’d stopped at a pump that offered gasoline and flex fuel. I think it was the flex fuel that confused her.

She got out of her car, but I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to her. I

Assorted-color Soda Cans

was busy sorting out the dozen different sizes and varieties of Red Bull.

Suddenly I hard a voice yelling from across the fuel center. What gas do I use? What gas do I use?

I looked up. Was the lady yelling at me? She was staring at me, so I was pretty sure she was addressing me.

What’s that? I asked, confused. I couldn’t believe she aw actually asking me what fuel she should use in her vehicle. How would I know what fuel she should use?

What gas do I use? she asked again. Yep, she wanted me to tell her what fuel to put in her car.

Ma’am, I don’t know, I told her, truly perplexed. How in the world did she think I’d know what fuel went into her car.

I don’t know what to put in, she said, sounding increasingly panicked.

Do you usually use diesel or gasoline or flex fuel? I asked.

I don’t know, she wailed.

Well, the black handle on that pump is for gasoline and the yellow handle is for flex fuel, I explained. Which color do you usually use? I asked her.

She maintained that she didn’t know.

The last thing I wanted to do was tell some senior citizen to put the wrong type of fuel into her car, leading to damage she’d then want the company I worked for or (heaven forbid!) me to pay for. I didn’t recall being told in my training that I was responsible for knowing what fuel individual customers used.

Ma’am, I don’t know either, I told her. I honestly didn’t know how to help the woman.

What kind of fuel do you usually put in? I asked again, hoping to jog her memory.

Ethanol! I usually use ethanol! she screeched.

That didn’t tell me much. Maybe it told me she didn’t use diesel. Didn’t all gasoline have ethanol in it these days?

I don’t know, ma’am, I said apologetically and went back to sorting energy drinks.

I heard a friendly young woman who’d been pumping her own gas nearby talking to the older lady. I don’t know which one approached the other, but I heard the older lady explaining her situation. The young woman lifted the black handle for gasoline on the pump nearest the elderly lady’s car and told her this was the one she needed. I hoped she was right, but if she wasn’t… well, better her mistake than mine (at least from my perspective).

The two of them had trouble getting the elderly woman’s debit card to work, so I ended up going over to help, which was fine. I didn’t mind helping, but I certainly wasn’t going to make a fuel decision for a stranger.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-one-us-dollar-banknotes-545064/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drinks-supermarket-cans-beverage-3008/.