Tag Archives: work

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.

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.

Grumpy

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When the temperature climbs above 83 degrees in the mountain town where I work, locals and tourist alike get grumpy. I know we’re all here for the cool mountain air, and at the first hint of heat, people seem unhappy. I’m not even sure people understand the correlation between the temperature and their mood, but I see it clearly from behind the bulletproof glass that surrounds me in the fuel center kiosk where I work. As soon as I hear people complaining about the heat, I know other complaints are sure to follow.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on during the first really hot Saturday of the season. Customers seemed a little off, but I was ok in my climate-controlled kiosk with the a/c set to a cool 65 degrees. Sometimes customers felt a puff of cool air escape for the drawer through which we exchanged money and merchandise. Several commented that I must be nice and cool in there. Oh, yes I was! That air conditioner is one of the few perks of the job.

Early in the afternoon, the first person I noticed in a bad mood was a woman I’m friendly with outside of work. When I told her the amount of her loyalty card reward discount on fuel, she snapped, Aren’t our fuel points doubled on the weekend?

No one had given me any information on fuel point promotion, but I’d gleaned some info from being a customer of the store and from the loop of in-store advertisements projected over the public address system.

You don’t get double the discount out here, I explained to my friend. I think you earn double points on the things you buy in the store, but you might need a digital coupon.

I had a digital coupon, she said sharply. It expired in May!

Yeah, I shrugged. I had that coupon too.

Our transaction ended, and she stomped off.

Note to self: Get more information on fuel point promotions.

People continued to seem short-tempered throughout the afternoon, but the next major grumpiness occurred around 3:30 as I came back from my break. The woman covering the fuel center while I ate my lunch met me at the kiosk and told me the girl at pump 2 is trying to pump diesel and was having some trouble. I told her I don’t know anything about diesel, my relief said. I told her I’d go outside and try to help the woman.

Earlier in the day, there’d been a problem pumping diesel on pump 3.  I wondered if the problems were somehow related.

When I got to pump 2, I recognized the woman standing there as someone I’d sold fuel to several times in the last few weeks. She and I had always been calmly polite to each other, but she was neither calm nor polite on this afternoon. She demanded to know why pump 2 wasn’t giving up the diesel. She didn’t seem pleased when I told her I wasn’t sure. I mentioned we’d had the same problem with pump 3 earlier in the day, but she didn’t want to hear anything that wasn’t directly related to getting diesel into her car’s tank.

I tried pumping the diesel (thinking maybe she had made some mistake that kept the fuel from flowing), but had no more success than she had.

The woman was growing increasingly frantic. Was she just tired of being frustrated at the fuel center? Was she late for work? Was she anxious because she was on her way to a hot date? I don’t know. I didn’t ask, although her patience was decreasing by the second.

Diesel was working on pump 1 earlier…I mused. I was thinking about the bigger picture. First pump 3 wouldn’t disperse diesel and now pump 2 was having the same problem. Were the problems related? Would pump 1 develop the same problem? What if I told the woman to go to pump 1 and it wouldn’t give her diesel?

Just tell me where to go! she screeched. Just tell me where to go!

I figured I’d better send her to pump 1 and plan to deal with any fallout that resulted in its failure to deliver diesel. I directed her to pump 1 and scurried back into the kiosk. When I was safely in the kiosk, I looked out the window and saw the woman pumping her precious diesel. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief.

The next day I ended up in town a couple of hours before my work shift started. I went to a coffee shop to work on my blog during this precious free time. When I walked through the front door, there was the upset diesel lady calmly working on her laptop.

I wondered if there was anything I could say to chastise her for her behavior the previous day. I decided it was best to hold my tongue. Miss Manners says it’s improper to meet rudeness with more rudeness, and I’m sure the company I work for would not approve of me chastising customers, even on my own time.

What I wanted to whisper in her ear is a good reminder to me.

It’s a small town. Be careful who you’re rude to because you’re likely to see that person again, maybe even the next day.

We Do Our Best

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A tiny elderly woman came up the kiosk in the fuel center where I was working. Her face just peeked over the solid part of the wall so I could see her in the window. Her hair was totally white, and she wore glasses. When she began to speak, I could tell English was not her first language. Perhaps French was the language she’d first learned.

Communicating through bulletproof glass is a challenge. I use an intercom system to speak to the customers. When I want to talk, I press a button. When I need to listen, I let go of the button. Sometimes I let go of the button while I’m still talking. Ooops!

The intercom system is old and sometimes fades in and out while someone is talking. Often the customer and I look at each other in confusion. What did you say? I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?

Throw in a hearing loss, a thick accent, or a language barrier, and Houston, we have a problem.

The elderly French (or at least French accented) woman was trying to communicate her needs, but I’ll be damned if I could understand a word she said.

What pump are you on, ma’am? I asked several times.

Maybe she couldn’t understand a word I said.

Finally she was able to communicate that she was on pump 10.

We went through a similar fiasco to figure out how much fuel she wanted to pay for. After some back and forth, we nailed down an amount. Now came the time for her to put the payment in the sliding drawer so I could pull it into the kiosk.

Please put your payment in the drawer, I squawked over the intercom.

The woman looked at me dazed and confused.

Lift the glass, ma’am, I instructed. Put your payment in the drawer.

I heard fumbling around on the other side of the wall, but when I pulled the drawer in, there was no money in it. I pushed the drawer back out.

A line had formed behind the woman. Usually when a customer has trouble with the drawer, someone in line steps up to demonstrate lifting the Plexiglas so payment can be placed in the drawer. On this day, no one took pity on the woman; no one offered to help.

I’ll need you to put your payment in the drawer, I told the woman. Go ahead and lift the glass.

I heard more fumbling on the other side of the wall, but again, the drawer was empty when I pulled it in. I pushed it out again and wondered what to do.

A white-haired man stomped over from the direction of pump 10. He bypassed the line and stepped up to the window next to the elderly woman. He began speaking to her in what sounded like French to me. He was berating her; that much was obvious despite any language barrier. I heard loud shuffling on the other side of the wall, followed by the loud opening of the glass over the drawer, followed by a slamming of the glass strong enough to rattle the metal drawer.

The woman said something sharp to the white-haired man, but he never even looked at her. I gave the woman her receipt (this time she knew to lift the glass to get it from the drawer), and she was on her way.

I felt really embarrassed for the woman and sad for her too. That man (her husband, presumably) had been really mean to her in front of God and everybody. Those of us who witnessed the interaction didn’t need to understand French to know he he’d been ugly.

Before too long, the elderly lady was back at the kiosk for her change. I got it for her and sent it out through the drawer.

Have a nice day, I said at the end of our transaction. I wanted to offer her some small kindness.

I will try, she said. She rolled her eyes in the direction of pump 10. We do our best.

I smiled. I stayed silent, but in my head I agreed. We certainly do our best. Even when our strongest efforts are futile. Even when people stomp over to speak gruffly to us. We do our best. It’s all we can do.

Amazing

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Fuel Dispenser

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.

Some people would probably do just fine if they actually read the instructions on the screen.

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 fuel.

Sometimes the 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.)

Sometimes the problem I have to solve has nothing to do with the company I work for or the equipment it provides.

One Saturday 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.

She probably 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 help. 

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.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/fuel-dispenser-1563510/.

What I Appreciate About My Job

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The lady was right. Sometimes working as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center is a hard job. However, I was able to come up with ten things I appreciate about the place where I work and the work I do.

#1 The booth I’m in for most of my shift is air conditioned and heated. I even have control of the thermostat Although I’m not able to set the a/c below 65 degrees, I can pretty much keep it as cool or warm as I need it in my little domain.

#2 The booth also keeps me out of direct sunlight and away from the wind, rain, dust, and bugs.

#3 Uniforms are out!

The company I work for stopped requiring uniforms days before I started working for them. I can wear almost whatever I want as long as I look neat and professional. (In reality, I typically look dirty and rumpled. Working at a gas station does not lend itself to cleanliness, and for some reason I perpetually look like I’ve slept in my clothes.)

Employees can wear pants (but not jeggings, leggings, pajama bottoms, yoga pants, or sweats) and a shirt with sleeves, even a t-shirt or sweatshirt as long as any logo on it is small. Tank tops and revealing blouses are not allowed.

I have a pair of black men’s Wrangle business-casual style pants I paid full price (!) for because when I was hired, the uniform still required black pants. While I wasn’t keen on spending $15 (plus tax!) on a pair of pants, I owned nothing suitable for work and couldn’t find anything that fit at the thrift store.

A couple of weeks later, I did find pants that fit at the thrift store. Both pairs are from the Gap, and although the inside of the waistband says “khaki,” one pair is dark blue and the other is black. I found them at the same store, but on different days. The blue pair (bought first) has a fit that is surprisingly perfect for my short, fat body; the length is exactly right! I never find pants that are the right length for me, so the fact that these are makes me think diving intervention was involved. The black pants are just the tiniest bit too long, so I fold them up a little.

The greatest thing about the pants was the price. I don’t know why, and I didn’t ask, but the fellow at the cash register only charged me $2 for the blue pair, a shirt, a belt, and a Thermos jar. Score! I love me some 50 cent pants that fit as if they were sewn with me in mind. The black pants were a little more expensive. They cost a whole dollar! Ha!

As for my shirt, I usually wear one of several long-sleeved, light, 100% cotton shirts I own. It’s fine that I wear them untucked and loose. I make sure to keep my middle-age cleavage covered.

#4 Selling cigarettes is bad enough. I’m glad I don’t have to sell alcohol. Probably more underage people try to buy alcohol than cigarettes, and I can only image what a pain in the ass it would be to cut off a drunk person from their next beer. Ugh! The fuel center offers no beverage stronger than Pepsi, and I’m grateful for that.

#5 I don’t have to clean toilets. I have to pick up litter sometimes, but—oh sweet joy!—I don’t have to deal with the body waste of strangers on the clock. Knock wood.

There are no restrooms at the fuel center, so cleaning toilets does not fall within the realm of my job description. Of course, sometimes customers think I’m hiding a restroom in the kiosk. One day I was outside cleaning, and as I approached the kiosk’s (one) door, a man strode purposefully toward me.

Can I use your restroom, he asked.

I directed him to the supermarket across the parking lot. He looked skeptical, as if perhaps I simply didn’t want to share my gas station restroom with him. I unlocked the door and disappeared into the kiosk. I’m not sure if he went into the supermarket to use the facilities or if he decided to wait until his next stop. I do know I didn’t have to clean up after his restroom visit, and I’m glad for that.

#6 I get paid every week on Thursday. How cool is that? Nothing like getting paid this week for the shifts I worked last week.

#7 People don’t tend to linger at the fuel center and try to tell me personal stories I really don’t want to hear. Nothing says “move along” like bulletproof glass and a crackling, hissing intercom system.

#8 On a similar note, customers don’t come to my house when I’m off work and ask where they can camp, how far they are from the General Sherman, or where they can fill their water bottles. When I clock out at the end of my shift, my life belongs to me.

#9 The customers at the fuel center are generally nice. Sure, there are a few grumps, but I turn up the friendly charm with those folks. My kindness may not change their lives (maybe it will!) but they won’t be able to complain to my manager that I’m rude.

Most people don’t want to cause me trouble. Most people want to pay for their fuel and get on with their lives.

#10 I get to help people. This truly is my favorite part of the job. Maybe after I’ve done it a million times I’ll hate leaving the kiosk to help people follow the directions on the screens of the pumps. For now, it’s kind of fun. I’m convinced some folks would leave without fuel if I weren’t there to walk them through the steps.

So there you have it—ten things that I actually like about my job. As long as they don’t give me a whole week of opening shifts, I might be able to tolerate the job for a while.

You Must Be New

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It was my third week working at the supermarket fuel center. It was on ok job when I didn’t have to get out of bed at 4:15 in the morning to open the place at 5:45. The job required me to do some cleaning, which wasn’t so bad, and most of the customers were neutral if not friendly. At least the grumpy ones left soon enough.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and if I heard the honk, it didn’t register as a call for help. I only realized I’d heard it when a customer who’d just left my window returned. He told me the lady at pump 9 was disabled and needed assistance.

I thanked him for letting me know and asked him to tell her I’d be there as soon as I could. It took at least five minutes to clear the line that formed as soon as I knew someone needed my help. When I got to pump 9, the woman in the driver’s seat looked anxious. She probably thought I’d forgotten about her or decided I didn’t want to leave the safety of my climate-controlled booth.

I told her I was there to help, and she gave me her rewards card and her credit card. She stayed in her car while I followed the directions on the pump’s screen. I could see her folded wheelchair stashed in the backseat. She kept the passenger window down so we could communicate, and her cute fluffy white dog stuck its head out to sniff me and look adorable.

The woman and I chitchatted while I filled the tank.

She asked the price of gas, and I told her it was $2.57, minus the amount of her reward. She told me she could get gas for $2.09 in the big city. I didn’t point out that most things are more expensive in small mountain towns.

She thanked me profusely for pumping her gas. I assured her it was no problem. I told her helping people was my favorite part of the job.

I would hate this job if I couldn’t help people, I said.

She rolled her eyes, and said, You must be new.

I know what the woman was getting at. Working with the public can really wear a person down. Certainly working with the public has worn me down. (For example, see the many posts I’ve written about my two summers working at a mercantile in a national forest.) I know clerks get discouraged and jaded. It’s happened to me. It could happen to me again, but I’m working really hard to stay positive. I do like helping people, and I want to continue to help people.

I don’t want to be nice and friendly and helpful only because I’m new. I want to be nice and friendly and helpful because I’m a good person and that’s the way I should treat all people, not just customers.

Hard Job

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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.

Photo of Gas Station During Evening

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

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

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 frustration.

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.

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

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

Assorted Bottle And Cans

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.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gas-station-during-evening-2284164/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/smoking-57528/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-gasoline-nozzle-1537172/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-bottle-and-cans-811108/.

Elf

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It was the end of a long hot day of trying to sell hemp jewelry and shiny rocks on the side of the highway. (Total sales for the day: $36.) I was eating dinner and reading a copy of the David Sedaris collection Holidays on Ice I’d picked out of a free pile behind a thrift store.

[amazon template=image&asin=0316078913]The first story in the collection is “SantaLand Diaries,” a memoir of the pre-Christmas season Sedaris worked as an elf in NYC’s Macy’s store. Early in the essay, Sedaris recalls how he imagined his life in the Big Apple. Of course, his life didn’t go the way of his imagination, and he writes,

But instead I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.

Ouch. That hurt.

I had applied for a job as an elf some years ago. Like David Sedaris, I applied to be a Macy’s elf. Unlike Sedaris, I did not apply for elfhood in NYC.  I was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d recently moved to live with my boyfriend in an apartment his parents had paid a deposit and a month of rent on. The boyfriend didn’t seem to be concerned about finding work (I suppose he’d had a long history of mooching off his parents), but I was scrambling to find a job, any job.

First I called Manpower, the temp service I’d worked through for three years in the medium sized Midwestern town from whence I’d come. The Manpower employment specialist (or whatever they call themselves) who took my call seemed absolutely bored. I asked him if I should go into the office to meet with someone. No need for that, he assured me. There weren’t really any jobs anyway. (No jobs? I wondered. In a major U.S. city? No temp work at all?) He said I could email my resume if I wanted to. They’d keep it on file, but there were currently no jobs.

I dutifully emailed my resume to Manpower. I never heard another word from the Manpower office.

I dutifully spent hours looking at the online employment ads. I dutifully sent off my resume any time I found a position I was even marginally qualified for.

I discovered the bowling alley near my apartment was hiring but didn’t want anyone with visible tattoos. Since when was a bowling alley so concerned about the image of its employees? I could cover my tattoos (so I dutifully sent off my resume), but it seemed like every second person in the city had visible tattoos. Maybe I’d get hired by virtue of my undecorated skin. But no. No one from the bowling alley ever contacted me for an interview.

I discovered the regional chain of convenience stores was hiring, but planned to do a credit check on all applicants. I’d never heard of a potential employer doing a credit check on a job applicant. How could a person with poor credit pay the bills if s/he couldn’t get a job because of poor credit? The no visible tattoos bowling alley tipped me off that the job market was tight, but the credit check for folks applying to work not for a bank or an accounting firm or the freaking CIA  but for a convenience store really convinced me the job market was in the employer’s favor.

I continued to read the want ads, complete online applications, send out my resume, but my phone didn’t ring and my inbox was empty. I started to grow panicky.

Then I saw it: Macy’s was hiring elves. I’d read “SantaLand Diaries,” and thought, If David Sedaris can do it, I can do it to! In fact, I was qualified for the job.

Qualification #1 I am short. I’m under 5’5”. Sedaris recognized the importance of (lack of) height to a career as an elf. Despite being pretty sure he failed his drug test,

still they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short.

If Macy’s was looking for short, they were looking for me!

Qualification #2 I’ve worked with kids. I spent my first two summers out of high school working at a camp for kids with disabilities. Sure, that had been 20 years ago, but I’d done some babysitting since then. I didn’t think kids could have changed too much, even in 20 years.

Qualification #3 I knew a thing or two about taking photos. I’d worked as the assistant to the photographer my first summer at the camp for kids with disabilities. The second summer I’d been promoted to head photographer. I was sure I could handle whatever camera system Macy’s used to take souvenir photos of kids with Santa.

Qualification #4 I’d worked in high volume, high stress retail situations before. I’d been the cashier on multiple occasions during Mardi Gras and Jazz fest at a t-shirt shop on Bourbon Street. I doubted screaming, shrieking, bawling, pissing children and their bossy, rich parents could be any worse than drunk tourists.

I dutifully answered the questions on Macy’s online elf application. I took the application very seriously. I attached my resume. I did my best. It was only a seasonal job, but it could get me through until the next employment opportunity came along.

Macy’s never contacted me, not a phone call, not an email. Nothing. Of course, not hiring me was a good move on Macy’s part because during the first week of December, my boyfriend convinced me we should ditch the apartment and travel the world on foot and via Greyhound.

Still, I was devastated. I didn’t even make the first cut for a temp job as an elf, a job I was actually qualified for.

I’d felt like a failure then, and here was David Sedaris, eight years later confirming that indeed, I’d been right.

IRS

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I fell off the face of the earth for the first time in late 2009.

Up until then, I’d been a pretty good worker bee. I worked full-time jobs for most of my adult life. Even when I decided to work only part-time, I went through a temp agency. I filled out a tax return every year. I was in the system.

In 2010, I filed a tax return for the prior year and had my refund deposited to a debit card I bought at a supermarket.

I didn’t work a job in 2010 or 2011.

In late 2011, I ran away from my not very nice boyfriend. I lived with a family member in a major city, and I tried to find a job. I thought the only way to survive was to get back in the system.

In the spring of 2012, I had a job scoring student responses to standardized test prompts. I spent eight mind-numbing hours a day reading essays written by high school students and assigning each essay a score  based on a rubric provided by the state where the students were tested.

When that job was over, I fell off the face of the earth again. I was back on the streets, estranged from my family. I didn’t have a job for a long time.

In 2015 I had a van and was in contact with my family again. I was broke and remembered the job I’d worked in 2012. Taxes had been taken from my check. I’d probably overpaid. I’d probably get a refund if I filed a return.

I had to download the forms from the IRS website and print them out. I was able to get my W-2 online too, through my employer’s payroll system. I filled out the forms. Sure enough, the government owed me a refund. I mailed the forms to Texas and waited.

I’d asked the IRS to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. I checked my balance regularly, but nothing was added to it. Then the letter came.

The letter explained the IRS couldn’t verify my identity. I guess that’s what happens when a gal falls off the face of the earth for several years. Because the IRS couldn’t verify my identity, my funds would not be deposited into my checking account. The letter included a phone number to call so I could speak to someone about proving I was who I said I was.

I called the number immediately. I listened to a recording say all representatives were busy and no one could talk to me. The recording suggested I try again later; then the call was disconnected. I was not invited to remain on the line for the next available representative. I was told no lies about my call being important to the IRS. I was not thanked for my patience. Basically, I could call back later when the workers weren’t so busy, or I could go to hell as far as the IRS cared.

In the next few days, I called the IRS number multiple times. The only answer I ever received was the recording.

One morning, I decided to call the number as soon as the line opened, which was before normal business hours, at 7am, I think. Miracle of miracles, I was connected with a real live human person!

The IRS representative asked me many questions I couldn’t answer. What was my address when I lived in a collage town in the Midwest? What was my address when I lived in a big city in the Pacific Northwest? What was my address the last time I filed a tax return? The answers to those questions were at least five years and thousands of miles behind me. I’d quit thinking about those places long ago.

Because I couldn’t answer the questions to the IRS representative’s satisfaction, she said she couldn’t release my funds. She said I’d have to go to an IRS office and speak to someone in person. I asked her specifically what documents I’d need when I went into the office, and she listed them for me.

Luckily, I was in a major city with an IRS office downtown. I gathered my documents and my courage and headed to the office as soon as I could.

My first problem was parking. The building housing the IRS office had a parking garage, by my van was too tall to fit inside. I tried to nudge the van in, but I had to back up when my roof hit the bar demonstrating the height limit.

I drove around the block a couple of times until I found an empty line of metered spaces on the back side of the high-rise housing the IRS office. I had to turn around to get the van facing the proper direction, but finally I was parked. I was glad to find coins in my bag so I could feed the parking meter.

After walking around the building, I found the proper entrance. I walked through the door and was met by a guard and a metal detector. Nothing untoward was detected on my person, and I was allowed to proceed into the IRS office.

I walked into a small room with a counter. I was instructed (by sign or spoken word, I don’t remember) to get in line to take a number. I went to the end of a line stretching into a larger second room.

The second room was what I’d imagined an IRS office would look like. The walls were drab and unadorned, save for signs demanding all cell phones be turned OFF. The middle of the large room was filled with the sort of uncomfortable plastic chairs one finds in waiting rooms from doctors’ offices to the DMV. Cubicles lined the perimeter of the room; each had a sliding door in front in order to offer taxpayers the illusion of privacy.

The floor and the chairs were littered with yellow cards. I realized later they were survey cards. The IRS claimed to want to know if we were pleased with our visit, but we were all too suspicious to share our thoughts. What if the IRS didn’t like what we had to say and used our honesty against us? Most people there, it seemed, thought it better to leave the survey cards unanswered.

I got in line to take a number. While I waited, I turned off my cell phone.

Eight or ten people stood in the queue in front of me. One by one, they shifted to the front of the line where a woman behind the counter checked paperwork before issuing numbers.

Finally, it was my turn to step up. I fanned my paperwork out on the counter in front of the woman.

Where’s your W-2? she barked.

The woman I spoke to on the phone didn’t say I needed to bring my W-2, I said, panic setting in. What if the woman sent me away to get my W-2? Would all my time driving and parking and standing in line to take a number be wasted? Was my W-2 in the van? Would I have to drive all the way back to the house to get it? Why hadn’t the woman on the phone said to bring my W-2 when I specifically asked her what I’d need?

The woman at the counter said with disgust, I don’t know why people come here without their W-2s, but she handed me a number and one of those yellow survey cards.

I went back to the waiting area and sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. I’d forgotten to bring a book, and my phone was off, as instructed, so I sat nervous and bored until my number was called.

Upon hearing my number announced, I stepped into one of the cubicles on the perimeter of the large room and slid the door closed behind me. I sat in a slightly less uncomfortable chair. The IRS worker behind the desk was a decade or so older than I am and was dressed in clothes as drab as the walls. Her demeanor was no-nonsense, but she didn’t seem unkind or grouchy like the woman behind the front counter.

She looked at my driver’s license and social security card, then back at her computer screen. She clicked her mouse a time or two. She asked me questions, which I answered as best I could. She clicked my answers into her computer. Her attitude was neither discouraging nor encouraging. This woman was a master of neutrality.

Once she asked all her questions and entered my answers into her computer, she dismissed me. My case would be reviewed, she told me. I’d receive a letter…

I left feeling dejected. I thought this woman was authorized to make a decision about my case. I thought she would decide I was who I said I was and tell me my refund was on its way. Sadly, I’d have to wait for someone else to decide.

In a week or two, I received a letter from the IRS. They weren’t able to verify my identity to the extent they were able to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. However, they believed in me enough to issue a check for the amount of my refund.

That was good enough for me.