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.