I could tell the woman was mad by the way she approached the
kiosk. She was short—probably not even 5 feet tall—but she swaggered like a
football player taking the field.
Her hair was totally white and cut short. She wore glasses
and a black t-shirt with chile peppers screen printed on it. (When she turned
around, I saw the back of the shirt read “Some like it hot.”)
She never smiled when I asked how I could help her this morning.
Only the light for the
flex fuel comes on! she complained.
I found out what pump she was on and said I’d come out and
try to help. Was the flex fuel going to give us problems now? Two diesel pumps
were out of order already. I didn’t really need another problem so early in the
I left the kiosk and found the woman waiting for me. I
followed her to the pump where her car was parked. As soon as she got there,
she grabbed the yellow handle of the flex fuel nozzle from under the yellow
sign that read “flex fuel this nozzle only.” When she lifted the nozzle, the
light on the flex fuel selector button lit up.
Only the light for
flex fuel comes on! she said as if she hated me, my ancestors, and my
I was trying really hard to understand what was going on. It
seemed to me that if one lifted the flex fuel handle, one should expect the
light for flex fuel to come on.
Do you want flex fuel?
Noooooooo! she wailed as if I were the dumbest dummy
she’d ever encountered. She was exceptionally frustrated.
Oh. Well, go ahead and
hang up the flex fuel nozzle, I told her.
She hung it up, and I grabbed the handle to the gasoline
nozzle. As soon as I lifted the gasoline handle, the lights on the selectors
for regular, midgrade, and premium lit up.
Oh, the woman said
flatly. I’m sorry.
She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded still pissed, but also
Don’t worry about,
I told her. It happens all the time,
I said, even though it hadn’t happened even once before in the month I’d worked
at the fuel center.
Aren’t hippies supposed to be about peace and love?
When I returned to the fuel center with the merchandise that
needed to be restocked, I saw a shirtless, white-haired person looking into one
of the beverage coolers. The person’s hair was longish and worn in low
pigtails, so my first impression was that we had a bare-chested older lady on
the premises. While I was still contemplating the person’s sex and gender, he
stood up and I realized I was looking at a man. He was wearing shorts which
combined with his long hair and shirtless condition led me to suspect he was on
He took a bottle of iced tea out of the cooler and to the
window of the kiosk where my coworker, a young Latino man, was staffing the
I was waiting for my coworker to finish with the customer
and open the door to the kiosk for me. I held a shopping basket full of tobacco
products and idly eavesdropped on the interaction between the coworker and the
The coworker told the customer the price of the bottle of
tea. The customer questioned the price. Wasn’t it only $2 a bottle?
The coworker told the customer
that was the price with the rewards card.
Why didn’t you ask me
for the rewards card? the old hipped challenged while digging in his pocket
for his card.
I’m sure I rolled my eyes, at least metaphorically. Anyone
who has a reward card knows how it works. Anyone who has a rewards card knows
you need to present the card in order to receive a sale price. No sale price is
automatic in a store with a rewards card program.
Perhaps the hippie had forgotten about the rewards card.
Some people do. If he had forgotten, he could have just pulled it out and
presented it, without talking like he was looking for a fight.
And yes, the coworker should have asked for the rewards card
right off. That’s what management would like for sure. However, sometimes we
forget or we’re tired of talking or we just want customers to take
responsibility for their own damn rewards card.
What I didn’t know until later was the hippie’s bottle of
tea was frozen. The cooler it came from had been having problems, and I guess
all the beverages on the bottom shelf had gotten too cold. My coworker pointed
out to the hippie that the tea was frozen and asked him if he was sure he
wanted it. The hippie said he wanted it, paid his money, and left.
My coworker opened the door for me and I gave him the basket
of tobacco products and the scanner so he could review and receive the
merchandise I’d just brought over. While he reviewed and received, I ran my
lunch bag and water bottle to my truck. As I returned to the kiosk, a car
pulled in and stopped between the booth and pump 3. The old hippie jumped from
the car waving the bottle of tea and already ranting. He went up to the kiosk
window, and I could hear him complaining but couldn’t understand what he was
My coworker told me when it was all over that the hippie was
mad because the tea had spilled on him. He said he said he was going to send
the dry cleaning bill to the company we work for. I snorted with laughter.
He wasn’t even wearing
a shirt, I said pointing out the obvious. I was pretty sure his shorts were
not made from some fancy dry-clean-only material. Besides, how was it the fault
of the store or my coworker if the hippie had spilled tea on himself? I spill
food and drink on myself all the time; it’s never anyone’s fault but my own.
I was still standing next to the door when my coworker came
flying out of the kiosk. I took the opportunity to go inside and sit on a
bucket and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort. I thought my coworker had gone
outside to fight the old man, and I wanted no part in that.
My coworker had actually gone outside to take photos of the
old hippie, his car, and its license plate. Apparently the hippie didn’t like
the bottle of tea that had spilled on him (maybe because it was frozen—I’m
unclear on that point), and wanted a different one. When my coworker told him
that he’d have to go to the customer service booth in the store to do an
exchange, the old hippie grabbed another bottle of tea from the cooler and said
he was taking it. That’s when my coworker grabbed his phone so he could get
As soon as the hippie saw my coworker taking photos, he said
he’d just as soon keep his original bottle of tea.
Are we square? Are we
square? he asked my coworker.
My coworker agreed they were square, but then decided to
mess with the irate hippie by smiling broadly and telling him to have a nice day! He then threw in a bye-bye and a God bless!
(What can I say?
my coworker said to me later. I’m a
The warm wishes incensed the already irate hippie, and he
started yelling, You’re a douchebag!
You’re a real douchebag!
Personally, I would have tried to diffuse the situation, but
my coworker is young and hotheaded. He probably has tons of testosterone
coursing through his veins.
I was waiting for him
to step up! my coworker said repeatedly when it was all over.
I was standing like
this, he demonstrated with his fist by his side.
You could have taken
him, I assured him. The hippie was not just old, but super skinny too.
My coworker thought the old hippie was on crack. I would have voted on
meth, but it doesn’t really matter. We both knew he wasn’t flying on love, peace, and weed. His mellow was really harshed, man. He probably should have done a little meditating before he drove to town.
It was Saturday afternoon and life at the fuel center was
humming along. We were fairly busy, but I had things under control.
I’d left the kiosk to condition the merchandise in the
outdoor display cases. “Conditioning” means making sure the shelves are stocked
and all items are pulled to the front with the brand name facing forward. The
fuel center sells mostly cold drinks and a small selection of snacks along with
motor oil, fuel additives, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. It didn’t take
long to get everything looking good.
While I was outside, a woman approached me with a question
about using her credit card. While trying to answer her question, I heard
shouting, honking, and whistling. I looked toward the source of the commotion
and saw a small white car trailing a gas pump handle, nozzle, and hose! Oh no!
Someone had driven off with the nozzle still in the tank.
I could see the driver was a woman, so I started shouting Ma’am! Ma’am! while waving my arms. Due
to my efforts or maybe those of the bystanders, the driver stopped the car.
After quickly excusing myself from my current conversation, I hustled toward
the small white car.
You left with the
nozzle still in your tank, I explained to the driver. She looked shocked. I
don’t think she quite believed me.
I went around to the passenger side of the car and retrieved
the nozzle, handle, and hose. You can bet she believed me then. I told her I
needed to get her license plate number and call a manager.
You are in trouble,
I thought but did not say out loud.
I asked her to pull around and park near the fuel center,
and she said she would. I ran into the kiosk and paged a manager. The manager
called back immediately, and I explained the situation. He told me to call the
company that services the pumps, and then he hung up.
I ran back out to find the driver had parked her car right
back at the scene of her big mistake. She was out of the car waiting for me.
She must have been in her 60s although her hair was dark black and she didn’t
seem feeble of body or mind.
I wrote down her license plate number. When I asked for her
name and phone number, she gave them without hesitation.
I ran back into the kiosk to help the people who had
accumulated in a line while I was outside. The next thing I knew, the driver of
the white car was back in line. When she reached the window, she said she
hadn’t gotten all the gas for which she had paid. I didn’t understand what she
was talking about, so I told her I’d meet her outside where the intercom and
bulletproof glass would not hinder our communication.
When I got outside, I found her sitting in the driver’s seat
of her car. She explained she always puts $10 worth of gas in her car, and $10
worth of gas always fills the tank. Since her tank was not currently full, she
was sure she had not gotten her full $10 worth of gas. She pointed to her gas
gauge several times, as if I only needed to look at the gauge to understand the
I was incredulous. She’d just damaged the gas pump, yet she was quibbling over (at most) a couple of bucks. Didn’t she know she was in a lot of trouble? Apparently she did not.
I told her I didn’t really know what to do in this situation
and asked if she wanted me to call a manager. She said she did.
If I had just ripped the hose and handle and nozzle from a
gas pump, I would have slunk away in shame and hoped I wouldn’t be charged for
the damage I’d done. Not this lady. She wanted every bit of gas to which she
thought she was entitled.
I went back to the kiosk and again paged a manager. Again a
manager called immediately.
I explained the lady who’d driven off with the nozzle and
hose thought we owed her more gas. I
don’t know what to do, I told the manager.
The manager chuckled and said he’d come out and talk to her.
Surely she’d realize she was in trouble when the manager arrived. Surely he’d
set her straight.
In a few minutes the manager used his key to enter the kiosk. I almost shit my pants. It was the big boss, the store manager himself. Up until that moment, I had not met him; I only knew who he was because I read his name tag.
I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then I briefly went
over the situation with the driver of the white car. He said he’d go out and
talk to her.I stayed in the kiosk and continued to help customers. I
couldn’t hear how the conversation between the driver of the white car and the
manager went, but I was convinced the woman was in trouble now.
The manager was out there for at least 10 minutes. When he
came back in, he looked defeated.
I couldn’t make her
understand, he said. He told me the driver was going to pull the white car
to pump 9. He said I should authorize the pump for $10. You register is going to be short.
I guess the driver of the white car wasn’t in any trouble
I found out later that the hose is constructed to detach the
way it did if a driver pulls off with the nozzle still in the tank. However,
there was a problem with the separation point on this one and it leaked gas.
Instead of being able to simply click the two connectors back into place like
it was designed to do, a repair person had to come out on Monday to fix the
problem. A coworker told me the repair cost the company I work for $500. No one
ever asked me for the culprit’s name, phone number, or license plate number, so
I suspect she’s not going to have to pay for her mistake.
Part of my job at the fuel center is helping people who are having trouble at the pump. If customers can’t make their pumps work, I leave the kiosk and assist.
would probably do just fine if they actually read the instructions on the
Pump one won’t let me pump
gas, the lady said to me
through the intercom.
When I got
outside, we determined she hadn’t selected the fuel grade as the screen was
prompting. As soon as she hit the button for unleaded, the screen showing the numbers
of gallons pumped and the dollar amount zeroed out and she was able to pump her
problem is the store’s rewards card. The pumping process begins with a screen
that reads “Do you have a rewards card?” If the customer doesn’t push the blue
“yes” button on the PIN pad, the transaction will go all to hell, and I’ll have
to go outside to help.
Other times I go
outside and trust the customer has done everything right, and still the pump is
not working. In those cases I hang up the handle and patiently go through the
steps again. Usually the pump works after I take it through the process. After
I get the pump going, I make a joke about how computers are supposed to make
our lives easier or that the pump just needed my magic touch. I try not to make
people feel bad if they’re having a difficult time out there. I understand that
every gas station seems to work differently and technology can be intimidating,
especially to older folks who seem to be the ones who have problems. (I’ve
never had to help anyone under the age of 50 pump their gas.)
problem I have to solve has nothing to do with the company I work for or the
equipment it provides.
afternoon a woman who looked to be in her 50s approached me the kiosk. When I asked
her through the intercom how I could help her, she asked me if I knew how to
unlock a locking gas cap.
Oh for goodness sake! I grumbled internally, but I smiled and
told her I’d come out and try to help her.
How did the
woman end up driving a truck with a gas cap she didn’t know how to unlock? I
didn’t ask, but I figured it was the vehicle her husband usually drives or it
was her kid’s truck or she had borrowed it from a friend. However this woman had
ended up with it, she was now tasked with putting gas in it, but she couldn’t
get to the gas tank.
could have called the owner of the truck and asked for assistance, but maybe
she would have felt humiliated had she done so. Maybe her husband or her kid or
her friend would have teased her or called her an idiot or been exasperated by
her helplessness, and she couldn’t face it today. Perhaps it was easier to show
vulnerability to the middle age gas station attendant than to a member of her
own family. Who knows? I’m just making up stories, but I went outside to
This is the key, she said indicating a small key on a
ring with about 20 other keys of various sizes.
I tried using
the key, but the other keys got in the way, and I couldn’t turn the small one.
Maybe it would work better if I took it
off the key ring, the
lady said, and I agreed.
Once the small
key was isolated I could be sure it fit all the way into the lock. I turned the
key, then turned the cap. The cap moved, but no matter what way I turned it,
there was a clicking noise that said it wasn’t properly engaged.
I was beginning
to wonder if I’d be able to help the woman when I had the idea to push the key
into the lock while turning it. I’d hit upon the magic combination of moves
because now I could turn the cap effectively and (finally!) remove it.
As I handed the
cap and the key to the woman, she smiled hugely at me and said, You’re amazing!
Her appreciation made me feel good, but being able to help her made me feel good too. It was so clear that I’d really made her day. I was glad I hadn’t given her attitude or treated her like a dummy. I was glad I’d given her my attention and done my best to assist her. Sometimes I am rather amazing.
When I work at the fuel center, I spend most of my time in a
booth where the customers can’t touch me. The booth has windows on three sides;
the windows are allegedly bulletproof. (I don’t need to see evidence of this
with my own eyes, thank you.) Conversing is done through an intercom. Money,
credit cards, and tobacco products are passed through a sliding drawer in the
wall. The company I work for calls the booth “the kiosk.”
One afternoon I was outside the kiosk conditioning. Conditioning just means making sure the product displays look good. I pull items to the front of the display cases, turn items so the fronts are facing forward, and fill any empty slots. It’s an easy task, improves the look of the sales area, and gets me out of the kiosk. While I’m outside, I also look around for trash on the ground, empty paper towel dispensers, and problems with the pumps.
While I’m outside conditioning, I keep an eye out for customers who have approached the kiosk. When someone walks up to the kiosk, I have to stop what I’m doing, walk to the kiosk, unlock the door, go inside, make sure the door closes behind me, approach the window, and use the intercom to find out how I can help the customer. It would be a lot easier if I could do my outside work without customer interruption, but that’s never the way it works.
On the day in question, I glanced over to the kiosk and saw
that a customer had approached the kiosk. This customer was very tall and
hyper-feminine. At first I thought she was a drag queen. Maybe she was.
(While I’m not sure of this person’s biological sex—and it
doesn’t matter to me anyway—I will use feminine pronouns because this person
was definitely presenting in a way that our society reads as female.)
The customer was wearing high heels, jeggings printed to
look like red snakeskin, and a pink bustier. Her long, thick, dark hair
cascaded down her bare back. I wondered where this person was going dressed
this way on a weekday afternoon. It didn’t much matter because her fashion
choices were none of my business.
I returned to my kiosk sanctuary and approached my base of
operations at the window where the drawer is. I used the intercom to say, Hi! How can I help you today?
She said she needed $20 on pump 6. She had a few crumpled bills in her hand, but after looking at them she seemed to realize they wouldn’t be enough. That’s when she started digging in her cleavage. I don’t mean she reached daintily between her breasts and gently extracted a bill. No, she was rooting around in there, digging under her left breast, having a hard time finding what she needed. I honestly thought she might pop her boob out completely. Thankfully she did not.
She finally found the twenty dollar bill she wanted and put it in the drawer. I wasn’t disgusted so much as astounded. I had no real reason to be disgusted. Her boobs were probably cleaner than mine. Hers were probably lotioned, perfumed, and powdered. However, I have to admit I felt a little weird about touching money that had been stashed in such an intimate place.
I’m not saying I’ve never carried money in my bra. Ladies’
dressy clothes often lack pockets and a gal doesn’t always want to carry a
The difference is that when I’ve carried money in my bra, I discretely removed the cash before I was ready to pay. I can attest to the fact that store clerks DO NOT want to know where your money has been. My customer could have counter her money in the car and when she realized she didn’t have enough for $20 on pump six, she could have gotten out her boob money before she approached the kiosk. I didn’t really need—or want—to see her pull her money out from under her breast.
I swear some of the people who come to the fuel center where
I work must be space aliens. I constantly want to ask people if they’ve never
in their whole lives been to a gas station before today. I’m not talking about
15 year old kids, either. I’m talking about grown-ass adults of middle age or
Many confused space aliens, (aka my customers) have no idea
what pump they’ve parked at when they come to the kiosk to pay. It seems to me
it’s basic gas station procedure to be able to tell the cashier what pump to
authorize. I know some percentage of my customers are illiterate or don’t speak
English as their first language, which accounts for some of the confusion.
However, these situations don’t account for all the people who come up to my
window (or make it part of the way there) then have to turn around and look for
the number of their pump so they can tell it to me. Space aliens, I tell you!
Another thing people who seem to have never been to a gas
station do is come up to my window with no idea how much money they plan to
spend. Folks constantly come up, open their wallets, and start counting their
money. Once they determine the amount of their funds, then they decide how much
gas to buy. Don’t they realize they’re going to have to give me money in order
to make their purchase? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to count the money and
decide how much to spend before approaching the kiosk? Apparently space aliens
don’t think that way.
Space aliens often don’t understand how our loyalty rewards
work either. Folks are often mad at me when I check their reward balance and
tell them they’re not getting any discount today. I shop here all the time! one man/extraterrestrial said in anger
before he stomped away. I tried to explain he had to earn 100 points (which
typically means spending $100, although there are ways—bringing reusable
shopping bags to pack groceries in, completing surveys, buying girt cards—to
bump up one’s points) to receive a reward of 10 cents off the regular price per
gallon of fuel. He was gone before I could help him reach an
Often customers don’t know they have to lift the pump’s
nozzle before they can select the fuel grade. This is somewhat understandable
because at the other gas station chain in town, prepay customers tell the cashier
what grade of gasoline they want. However, even there, if one is paying at the
pump, one lifts the nozzle, then hits the button for the fuel grade desired. If
the procedure isn’t obvious (and believe me, it must not be) the screen on the
pump gives step-by-step instructions for pumping fuel. Perhaps space aliens
should up their game on reading comprehension of American English before they
try to pump gas in the USA.
The strangest that-person-must-be-an-alien encounter I had
at the fuel center involved an (apparent) elderly man who didn’t understand
There’s a big merchandiser in the middle of the fuel center.
It looks like a cooler; maybe once it was a cooler, but now it holds
nonperishable items. One side is all snacks: chips, nuts, cookies, crackers,
popcorn, energy bars, and cereal in single serving cups. The other side holds
automotive supplies (fuel injector cleaner, motor oil, windshield washer fluid,
etc.); a few big bags of chips; and an array of beef jerky.
I’d been outside when the man/alien pulled in. I’d told him
good morning, and he attempted to chit chat with me. (He was probably trying to
study human behavior). It was early in the morning—I’d opened the fuel center
at 5:45—so I wasn’t very talkative.
Sure, I was polite, but I kept the interaction to a minimum. I was tired
and wanted to expend as little energy as possible.
I didn’t get away with my silence for long.
Your cooler’s not
working, I heard the man/alien say. He was standing by the merchandiser
that looks like a cooler but isn’t a cooler. He must have opened the door and
not felt the gust of chilled air he expected.
It’s not a cooler,
sir, I told him.
But there’s meat in
there! he said frantically.
It’s jerky, sir, I
How did he look in there and see meat but not realize it was
jerky? The meat in the cooler/not a cooler was in bags hanging from hooks not
in trays lying flat like in a grocery store meat department. Also, if he had
really looked at the meat, he would have seen it was brown and dry, not red and
moist like raw meat. If those clues didn’t lead him to understand this meat was
not perishable, perhaps the word “jerky” on the packaging would have offered
him the information he needed. Besides, what gas station sells raw meat as
It’s meat! he insisted. He wasn’t wrong, but he was confused.
Jerky doesn’t have to
be refrigerated, sir, I explained.
How does he not know
that? I wondered. How could anyone over the age of 25 not know that jerky
doesn’t need to be refrigerated?
The only answer I could come up with? Space alien!
She walked up to the gas station kiosk in which I was
working. She held her phone to her ear.
She was older than I, probably in her late 50s or maybe
early 60s. Her long grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a
tan baseball cap. She walked over from a long white passenger van which held no
passengers. She’d parked the van next to the kiosk, not next to a gas pump, and
left the driver’s side door open.
When she stepped up to the window, I pressed the button on
the intercom so I could communicate with her through the bulletproof glass. I
gave her my standard greeting.
Hi. How can I help you
She didn’t lower her phone from her ear.
I released the button on the intercom so I could hear what
she had to say.
Give me a pack of
Marlboro Ultra-Light 72s, she said.
I noticed the lack of the word “please” turning what could
have been a request into a command. Her cell phone was still next to her ear.
I turned around to look at the vast array of cigarettes offered for sale. I found the Marlboros but got hung up trying to figure out which of the 30 (I’m not exaggerating!) varieties of that brand the woman actually desired. Luckily I was still in training, and my coworker knew exactly where to find what the customer wanted.
I rang up the sale. The woman was clearly over 18 (and 27 and 35 and 42)—definitely old enough to buy cigarettes—so I didn’t ask to see her ID. I bypassed entering her birth date into the register. I told her the total of the sale, which was over $9. (Cigarettes are expensive!) Her phone stayed next to her ear.
She put a ten dollar bill in the drawer through which the
customers and I passed items. I slid the drawer into the kiosk and reached for
her money. I got her change, which I slid out along with her receipt and the
box of cigarettes.
I pressed the intercom button and said, Thank you! Have a nice day!
I let go of the intercom button in time to hear her say, Alright.
She didn’t smile, and her phone never left her ear.
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.