Category Archives: My True Life

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/.

Why I Quit My Job (Blog Post Bonus)

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Today is my last day as a clerk in a fuel center! By this evening, I will be a free woman!

Photo of Car on Gas Station

I started working in the fuel center (aka gas station) at a supermarket in mid-June of 2019. It was the only job offer I’d gotten after a half-assed job search, so I took it. I immediately disliked the job, although I did find some good aspects of it. Reason after reason to hate the job piled up as the weeks went by; here are 13 reasons why I quit.

#1 Working the opening shift. The worst days on the job were the ones where I had to open the fuel center at 5:45am. I lived about 40 minutes from where I worked, so I had to leave around five o’clock to get there on time. I move super slow in the morning, so I had to get out of bed no later than 4:15 in order to leave the house on time.

I’m typically an early riser. I wake up around the time the sun rises, anywhere from 5:30 to 7:00 (if I sleep in), but getting out of bed in the dark is difficult for me. Also difficult? Making a 40 minute drive in the dark. There were many mornings I knew I was falling asleep at the wheel, but I kept driving.

To be fair, once I arrived at work and got into the swing of things, I was ok, especially if I had a cup of coffee on my way in. However, at the end of the day I was physically and mentally demolished, especially since I never got to bed early enough on the nights before opening shifts.

#2 Having to deal with fuel and the chemicals used to clean it.  I had to clean up fuel spills nearly every day. To clean up spilled fuel, I sprayed another chemical on top of it, scrubbed the chemical soup with a long-handled brush, then used super absorbent pads to soak up the whole mess. What kind of chemical neutralizes fuel? I have no idea. Is that chemical safe for long-term exposure to humans? I have no idea. I’m pretty sure gasoline fumes and car exhaust are no good for human people, even if the chemical used to clean the spills is harmless.

#3 Lack of hand-washing facilities. There was no sink and no soap in the

Person Wash Hands

fuel center kiosk. We were supplied with vinyl gloves and hand sanitizing gel, but those things are not as good as using soap and water (in my opinion). There was a water spigot at the far edge of the fuel center, and I suppose I could have brought my own soap, but such a hand-washing situation was inconvenient at best.

#4 Limited breaks.  If I worked less than 8 hours, I was allowed one 20 minute break. In that 20 minutes I had to walk across the parking lot and into the store to get to the break room, wash my (filthy) hands, use the restroom, wash my hands again, eat my lunch, then walk back through the store and across the parking lot. If someone was in the only employee restroom when I got there or if I had to heat my food in the microwave, I lost precious minutes.

If I worked an 8 hour shift, I got two 15 minute breaks. Two breaks are better than one, but getting everything done in 15 minutes was an even bigger challenge.

When I worked the morning shift, a cashier from the supermarket would come out to give me a break right around 9am. When I worked afternoons, I was supposed to get a break around 3pm, but good luck with that! A customer service manager (CSM) told me early in my fuel center career that I was out of sight/out of mind, and if I wanted a break, I’d have to remind the person in charge of scheduling. After I was given this bit of info, every afternoon I worked, I paged the CSM on duty to remind them about my break.

The CSM on duty might not have been prompt about giving me a break, but I sure as hell needed to be prompt about leaving and returning in my allotted amount of time.

U.s. Dollar Banknote Lot

One morning just as my relief showed up, the cash register prompted me to make a safe drop. I said I’d do it when I got back. My relief (a veteran cashier) pulled a long face and said the prompt would keep popping up the whole time I was gone. I knew he was right, so I stuck around for a few minutes to complete the safe drop. Then one of the big bosses arrived, and I had a couple of things to tell her. I was maybe five minutes late leaving.

When I returned to the kiosk, the person who had relieved me left immediately. I hadn’t been back two minutes when the phone rang. It was the CSM in charge of scheduling breaks calling to find out if her cashier had left. I said he had. She wanted to know why he was late returning to the supermarket. I explained I was late leaving because of the cash drop and having to talk to the store manager. She told me if I was late getting back from my break, it threw off the schedule of all the breaks that came after mine. She said if I was late leaving for a break, I’d have to take a shorter break so her schedule wasn’t messed up. I understood where she was coming from but her pissy attitude did not endear her to me.

I simply told her, I understand (which actually, I did) and made up my mind

Fireman Illustration

that I’d never be late leaving for a break again, no matter what was going on. Safe drop needed? Sorry. I’ll have to do it after my break. Irate customer? Sorry relief person, you’ll have to handle it because I have to go on my break. The fuel center is on fire? Could you go ahead and call the fire department and the management team because I have to take my break now?

The worst part about having only one break in a shift was that I only got to use the restroom once in 6 or 7 hours. I learned quickly that I needed to visit the restroom immediately before I started work, but some days I was desperate to see the toilet when my break rolled around.

One day I mentioned to one of the (female) store managers that three hours is a long time to go without a bathroom break. She said to just ask if I needed to visit the restroom during my shift, and they would get someone to the fuel center to cover for me. I appreciated her support but was skeptical of how asking for an extra break would work out. I could imagine the pissy CSM fussing at me for messing up her break schedule by having a bathroom emergency.

#5 Not knowing when my breaks would be. If I had known what time I was supposed to get my break, I’d have spent less time worrying I wasn’t going to get a break. I also wouldn’t have had to call the CSM to remind them I still needed a break. However, such a level of organization and communication was much too high of an expectation when dealing with the company I worked for.

#6 Being required to stand during my whole shift. Why do corporations think excellent customer service can only be provided while standing? I think I would have given better customer service if my feet and legs hadn’t hurt from standing for 6 or more hours. I guess the rule against sitting is part of the if you have time to lean, you have time to clean mentality, but I think morale would improve if cashiers were allowed to sit while ringing up sales.

#7 Having my availability ignored. When I applied for the job online, I had to provide my availability. I said I was available any time other than Tuesday mornings. When I was interviewed for the job, I told the assistant manager conducting the interview that I was not available on Tuesday mornings. The first several weeks I worked, I wasn’t scheduled to work before noon on Tuesdays (and often I got the entire day off), but suddenly I was scheduled to open on a Tuesday. No one asked me to do it as a special favor. No one apologized for scheduling during a time I said I couldn’t work. I strongly suspected that if I stayed at the job, I’d find myself scheduled on Tuesdays more and more often.

#8 I was working too much. When I was offered the job, I was told it was a part-time position. The assistant manager who hired me said the job offered no set number of hours. He said one week I might work 16 hours; the next, 23; another week I might work 35 hours. Since I was hired in June, I was consistently scheduled to work at least 32 hours each week. In reality, I never got out of there when I was scheduled to. I was lucky if I only worked 15 or 20 minutes extra at the end of a shift. Of course, I got paid for every extra minute I worked, but I’d rather have the time than the money.

Three shifts a week would have been ok, but five were too many.

#9 No sick leave with pay. When I was hired, the human resources person

Clinician Writing Medical Report

told me nothing about vacation time or sick leave. I found out later from a veteran worker in the supermarket that the state we worked in doesn’t require employers to provide sick pay. Guess what? Because they’re not required by the state to provide it, the company didn’t offer sick pay. This means anyone who is too sick to come into work doesn’t get paid for the shift.

I suspect workers who can’t afford to miss a day’s pay go to work no matter how sick they are. Most of the company’s employees work in a supermarket. Think about that for a moment. Those sick people are touching food. Even if they don’t touch the food directly, they’re putting their germy hands all over the packages containing food. Yuck! Now I understand why it sometimes seems like an illness is hitting everyone in town: germs are probably being spread through the supermarket.

#10 Selling tobacco products was a drag. From the day I started working

Close-up Photo of Red Cigarette Butt Lot

in the fuel center, I hated selling cigarettes, chew, and cheap cigars. I think using tobacco products is a bad idea, and I don’t like participating in people’s addictions in order to line someone’s pocket.(Every time I sold a pack of cigarettes, I ended the transaction by saying have a nice day, but I was thinking good luck with your lung cancer.)

I hated the hassle of checking IDs and entering birth dates in my POS (point-of-sale) system, but I hated even more the fear of getting busted for selling tobacco products to some underage kid. There just wasn’t enough time to do a thorough check of an ID when I had a line of customers, and I was worried someone was going to slip a fake one past me.

Selling tobacco products really slowed down my process. Although I’d learned the most popular brands and their varieties by the time I quit, searching for what the customer wanted took time. Then, unless the customer was obviously older than I was, I felt compelled to check the ID. All the while, the line behind the tobacco buyer grew.

I’ll be glad if I never have to sell a tobacco product again.

#11 Having too much responsibility. Not only did I feel responsible for not selling tobacco products to minors, I felt a huge amount of responsibility to make sure the fuel center did not go up in flames. The smallest fuel spill had me rushing outside to clean it up ASAP. I was constantly on the lookout for anyone smoking or doing any other stupid things that might lead to a fire.

Of course, I felt responsible for making correct change, helping each customer promptly, and being as polite as possible, but keeping the place from turning into the towering inferno was more than I had bargained for when looking for a summer job.

#12 The damned intercom system was driving everyone crazy. The intercom system was old and didn’t function very well. Often I’d press the button that was supposed to allow the person on the other side of the bulletproof glass to hear me speak, but something would go wrong with the system and the customer heard nothing. Sometimes the person on the other side of the glass spoke to me but no sound came through. Sometimes the sound that came through was garbled or crackly. Even on a good day, the poorly functioning intercom system was enough to irritate a saint. My customers and I were mere mortals and the misunderstandings caused by the crappy intercom system often led to frayed nerves and sharp tongues.

While I worked in the fuel center, a young man came out to repair the malfunctioning diesel pumps. (Spoiler alert: the diesel pumps were not repaired when he left.) When he was finished not fixing the diesel pumps, he worked on the intercom system.

He took a plate off the back of the intercom box and wiggled the wires hidden behind the plate. He said the intercom worked better now. Maybe it did, but not for long. I’m sure those wires wiggled right back out.

He said we could wiggle the wires back in ourselves if the intercom malfunctioned. Huh. I had neither a screwdriver to remove the plate, nor the time to remove it and futz around with wires. When people were in line to buy gas, they wanted to buy gas, not wait around for the clerk to repair the communication system.

I’m not surprised the company I worked for didn’t want to spend the money to get a modern, functioning intercom system in the fuel center. Why should the big bosses care if customers and workers alike are pissed off because communication is difficult? The big bosses don’t have to deal with it, and they’d rather save money instead of spend it to make the lives of workers easier.

#13 Dealing with grumpy people.  Oh lord. Grumpy customers. Grumpy coworkers. So many unhappy people, and they all seemed to want to bring me down to their level of agitation and dissatisfaction. I tried to be pleasant to everyone, but after being spoken to sharply several times in one shift, I was ready to pack it in. I will not miss the folks who wanted to take their troubles out on me.

Can you understand now why I quit the job? What would you have done? Would you have quit too or tried to stick it out until winter? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-car-on-gas-station-2440998/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wash-hands-1327213/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/abundance-bank-banking-banknotes-259027/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/accident-action-danger-emergency-260367/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/clinician-writing-medical-report-1919236/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/dirty-addiction-cigarette-unhealthy-46183/.

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.

Job Update

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Just a quick update on my job situation for my readers who are wondering.

I’m still working at the fuel center. I don’t much like working there, and I’m planning to give my two weeks notice as soon as I tie up some other loose ends in my life.

I may be applying for a temporary job in September or October that would keep me employed through the winter holiday season. I don’t know much about it yet, but will let you know more when I know more.

My current job keeps me too busy. When I’m not working, I am tired. I do sneak in some writing at work, so I have lots of blog posts to schedule when I get the chance to sit down with the internet.

Friends and fans have been asking my about my work life at the fuel center. I’ve written several blog posts on the topic and will be scheduling many of them for the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to learn about my life as a fuel clerk.

I took this photo.

Alright

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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 this morning?

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.

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

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.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/search/cigarettes/.

Frying Pan (Part 2)

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Blog bonus day! Today I’ll tell the rest of the story of my experience at a very strange interview for a job at a souvenir shop. As the saga continues, I’m about to get the details regarding the drug test I have to take.

You’ll have to pass a drug test, the manager told me, which I already knew from my friend who worked nearby. Can you pass one today? she asked in a lowered voice. I told her I could.

She handed me a thick stack of papers. In the stack I’d find the company handbook and forms to sign saying I accepted the cash register policy as well as the other policies in the handbook. There were other forms to sign granting permission for the drug test and the background check. She left me at the lunch counter to sign the forms.

Reading the company handbook made me privy to more policies.  Any employee parking too close to the store would be fired. Employees’ purses, backpacks, and lunch bags had to be made from clear plastic. If I lost my nametag, I’d be charged $25. If I lost my timecard, I’d be charged $25. If I forgot to punch in or out, I’d be docked 60 minute of pay. If I quit before I’d worked there 90 days, I’d be charged for my drug test and background check.

I’d never had an employer charge me for a lost nametag or time card, and a $25 fee seemed excessive. Also, losing an hour’s pay for not punching in or out seemed like a harsh way to teach a lesson. I wondered if these policies were even legal. Who were these people I was considering signing on with?

The manager came back, and I had a few questions for her. What hours was the store open? How much did the job pay?

Her answers gave me hope.

The store was typically open from 10am to 6pm; occasionally it was open a couple of hours later. She thought new hires started at $11 an hour, but she’d have to double check.

I gritted my teeth and thought I could deal with some weirdness for $11 an hour and a schedule that didn’t require a 4am wake up.

The manager wanted to know when I could start if I passed the drug test and the background check. She said an employee had quit and the store needed a new worker right away. I told her the new schedule for my current job had just come out, and I’d want to give notice and work the days I was expected there. The schedule was only for a week, so essentially I’d give five days notice. I also offered to come in to the souvenir shop for training a couple hours on the days I would be working at the fuel station.  I figured getting some training in before I started working at the souvenir shop full time would give me a head start when I was actually on the schedule.

The manager had a urine specimen cup in her hand. I’ve only been drug tested for work a couple of times—once for a temp job and once when I was trying to get hired for a work-at-home job with U-Haul. (I got the temp job, but was not hired by U-Haul because the internet was too slow where I was staying.) In both cases, I was sent to a business that specialized in urinalysis. I was handed a cup upon arrival and was sent to a bathroom stall where I provided my sample. The whole process was quite professional.

Now the manager handed me the cup and ushered me into the employees’ restroom. I carried my (small) purse in with me. The manager left me alone in the dark, damp room. If I’d need to provide a clean sample from someone who didn’t use drugs, I had ample opportunity.

The sample cup was unlike any I’d ever seen. It had some kind of protrusion on it, almost as tall as the cup and maybe 1½ inches wide. I think the protrusion was what showed the results of the test.

I peed in the cup, no problem. I wiped off the cup with toilet paper. I set it on the sink while I washed my hands and adjusted my clothing. Then I stood and stared at the container of urine. The manager hadn’t told me exactly what to do with it.

 In medical offices, there is sometimes a small metal door in the wall. The patient opens the little door and leaves the sample behind the door. A medical professional can open the door on the other side of the box and retrieve the sample when it is convenient. There was no small metal door in any of the restroom’s walls.

When I’ve given samples for jobs or drug studies, a professional wearing latex gloves had been just outside the door of the stall, ready to take the sample as soon as I walked out. But what to do today? Should I leave the sample in the restroom? Should I carry it out to the manager? I felt awkward in my uncertainty.

I decided to take the sample with me. I poked my head out of the restroom door. The manager was not standing there waiting for me. I walked over to the lunch counter. The manager was not waiting for me there either.

The young woman (perhaps still a teenager) working at the lunch counter indicated a napkin on the counter. She said to leave it there, the young woman said, so I set my cup of urine down a few feet from where tourists were enjoying hot dogs and Frito pies and milkshakes. Gross! I don’t know much about health codes, but setting a cup of urine on a lunch counter where people are eating has got to be against at least one of them.

When the manager returned, she peered at my urine sample, pulled up a photo on her phone, and compared my sample to the photo. Wait! What? The manager of the souvenir shop would by analyzing my urine? She would be the one to determine if I was drug-free? Was she trained for this?

This interview was growing increasingly weird.

The manager said this was going to take a while. Did I want to wait?

I really didn’t, so I said I thought I’d head out.

She said she’d call the company’s secretary and give her the information for my background check, but the results might not be ready until Monday since it was already almost 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon. She said if I hadn’t heard from her by Monday afternoon, I should call to check in.

I left feeling really weird about the entire situation. The manager talked as if I were already hired, but I still had the results of the drug test and background check hanging over my head. Was I in or was I out? I suppose I was officially in limbo.  

I spent the entire weekend going back and forth about the job. On the one hand, $11 an hour was more than I was currently earning, but on the other hand, I didn’t agree with having to cover drawer shortages that I didn’t cause. On yet another hand, the hours at the souvenir shop were much better than what I was currently working, but on the other hand (how many hands was I dealing with here?) there were the policies about being charged for losing things. Was I about to jump out of the frying pan and right into the fire?

On Monday afternoon, I called the manager of the souvenir shop. She hadn’t heard back about the background check, so she couldn’t offer me the job. She asked again when I could start if I was offered the job, and I again told her I felt like I needed to finish out the week I was already scheduled for.

The owner of the company is really on me to hire someone who can start immediately, she told me. Everyone I’ve tried to hire wants to give two weeks notice, she complained.

I felt she was pressuring me to walk out on my current job. I didn’t want to walk out for a number of reasons. First, I thought it was unethical to leave everyone working in the fuel center in a lurch. Second, I didn’t want to burn my bridges. The company I was working for is a huge corporation with stores across the country. Walking out without notice would probably mean I could never get a job with the corporation again. Third, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work for the souvenir people.

I’m sure the owner doesn’t like it when his employees quit without giving two weeks notice, I told the manager. Surely he can understand people wanting to give notice.

It happens all the time, the manager sighed, referring to people quitting without notice.

I wondered if because it happened to him all the time, the owner of the business had come to think of this behavior as normal. I also wondered why his employees walked out without notice all the time.

The manager and I agreed I’d check in the next day, but the conversation with her didn’t leave me feeling good. I discussed the situation with The Man and my sibling.  The conclusions I reached? I didn’t appreciate being pressured to do something I thought was not right. If the manager and owner of the company thought I was a good fit for their team and a good investment, they should be willing to wait five days for me. I did not feel good about several of the company policies. I decided I didn’t want to work in the souvenir shop after all.

I chose to text the manager. I didn’t really want to talk to her again. I didn’t want to discuss the situation or my concerns. I just wanted to be done.

Here’s what I texted to her: I understand your need to fill the position immediately. Since I am unable to do that, I am withdrawing my application. Thanks.

Several hours later she responded, I’m sorry to hear that, but thanks for applying.

It looked like I was staying in the frying pan for a while longer.

Frying Pan (Part 1)

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This story of a job interview gone weird turned out to be a long one, so I’ll only tell half the story today. I’ll make tomorrow a blog post bonus day and tell the rest of the story then.

After a couple months in town, I needed a job. I applied online at a dozen chain supermarkets, drug stores, and low-end department stores. I also handed my resume to a half dozen locally-owned businesses. Most of the local places weren’t even hiring, but took my resume anyway.

A large bear carved from wood sits next to a wooden chair and holds a sign that says "welcome."
I worked a seasonal job in this mercantile housed in a yurt.

My resume was not very impressive. In the last ten years, I’d only worked seasonal jobs for two companies. Sometimes I included my house and pet sitting experience on applications, but it’s not like I have a business; even my self-employment is casual. I worried my resume wouldn’t get my foot in the door, but didn’t know how to better my chances of getting an interview.

I got an email form a corporate supermarket. I was instructed to call a phone number, which I did. I had a pre-screening phone interview with a very friendly woman from the corporate human resources department. She told me the only job available at the local store was in the fuel center (aka gas station). I told her I’d take the job. I figured working in a gas station couldn’t be much different from working inside the main store. My conversation with the human resources lady went well, and she approved me for an interview in the local store.

An assistant manager conducted the in-person interview while the local human resources lady sat in. He told me the job would be part-time with no guaranteed number of hours each week. It was the only job offer I’d had, so I took it.

I got four days of training; other workers told me that was a lot more than most people got. My first five days of work started at 5:45 in the morning, which meant I had to get out of bed around 4am so I’d have time to dress, eat, and brush my teeth (all at my early morning snail’s pace) and then make the 40 minute drive to my workplace. It was not an easy work week.

The job turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. By the third day, I wanted out of there.

One of the places where I’d applied during my job search was a souvenir shop in the historic district. A friend of mine worked nearby and told me the manager was always hiring because of high employee turnover. My friend chalked it up to the fact that employees had to pass a drug test, but I wondered what else might be going on. Maybe the shop wasn’t such a great place to work. Despite my mild misgivings, when I decided I didn’t like working at the gas station, I called the manager of the souvenir shop to check in.

Can you come in Friday morning for an interview? the manager asked me right away.

I told her I had to work Friday morning but got off at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Can you come in at one? she asked.

I laughed a little and told her it would take me some time to get from my job to her shop. I wondered if she thought I’d teleport to her place, but kept my little joke to myself. I told her I could be there at 1:30.

On Friday my replacement was late, so I was late starting my task of getting merchandise from the main store to replace the items we’d sold at the fuel center. It was my first time doing the task alone, so it took longer than expected. Instead of getting off at 1pm, I didn’t punch out until 1:15. I hurried to my truck and changed out of my work clothes and into a skirt, nice shirt, and my red cowgirl boots. I looked nice but a bit frazzled.

 The interview was conducted not in an office or a break room, but out in the open in the store. There was an old-fashioned lunch counter in the store, where I perched on a little turquoise-colored stool while the manager stood on the other side of the counter. While the manager talked to me, a worker served hotdogs and Frito pies and milkshakes to customers sitting a few feet away.

It wasn’t an interview in the traditional sense. The manager didn’t ask me questions about my goals or my work experience or my strengths and weaknesses or what I could contribute to the team. Instead, she listed the things I needed to know about working in the store.

  • Wear comfortable shoes because there was no sitting down.
  • My significant other was not allowed to hang out in the store for hours at a time.
  • The store was open 365 days a year. It did not close for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving.
  • Workers did not get a lunch break. Workers were paid for the entire time they were at work, but no one took an hour or half an hour off for lunch. No one was allowed to leave the store for lunch. All eating was done in the store, between helping customers.
  • I’d have to be able to count money. I don’t know what they’re teaching at the high school, the manager said, but kids these days couldn’t count money.
  • There was always something to do at the store. If there were no customers, there was something to clean or t-shirts to fold.
  • The door to the store was open during business hours, even in the heat and even in a blizzard. I should dress accordingly.
  • If my cash register was short, I had to replace the missing money. If two people were on the register and the drawer came up short, each person put in half of the missing money.

Some of the policies were par for the course (most businesses don’t allow employees to sit during a shift and of course I’d have to know how to count money when working in a store), but others really surprised me. No lunch break and no leaving the store? Was I signing up for indentured servitude?

The short drawer policy really stopped me in my tracks. I’d never worked anywhere that required drawer shortages to be covered from the workers’ pockets. If drawer shortages got to be a recurring problem, a worker might get reprimanded or even fired, but no employer had ever stated replacement of missing money as a policy. Actually, I could understand being held accountable for my own cash register mistakes, but I wasn’t too keen on having to pay half of someone else’s mistakes (or thievery). Other places where I’ve worked had cashiers sign on and off the register so if someone was careless or stealing there was a hope of figuring out who was the responsible party.  This pay-out-of-pocket policy was a huge red flag to me, but I disliked my current job enough to sit there and continue to listen to what the manager had to say.

Stay tuned. The story will continue tomorrow with the strangest drug test circumstances I’ve ever encountered.

I took the photo in this post.

Don’t Touch

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This is a cautionary tale for anyone considering removing something from their rig before they know exactly what that something does.

I’d just gotten my van back from my mechanic. He’s replaced my fuel pump, and I was back in the business of vanlife.

I was house sitting for a friend, so I used the opportunity of having a parking spot to clean my van. I collected all the trash I’d let accumulate and dumped it into her garbage can. I was pleased to think how great my van was going to look after this cleanup.

While standing outside the van, I reached under the driver’s seat and felt around for any trash that had ended up hidden there. My hand connected with some sort of flat, plastic box. I wondered what it was. I didn’t remember tucking a box under the seat.

I pulled out the object, quickly realizing it was tethered by a cord to something else under the seat. I could hold the box in my hands, but couldn’t lift it more than a foot or so off the floor. If I hadn’t been standing outside the van, I probably couldn’t have pulled it out from under the seat at all. What was this thing?

I looked at the object closely. It was an inch or two thick, maybe eight inches wide, and ten inches long. It was constructed entirely of smooth black plastic, except for slightly raised letters on the top which spelled out “C-O-M-P-U-T-E-R.” Computer? What kind of computer could this possibly?

Chevy G20 van dusted with snow sits in front of a small, rocky mountain.
My 1992 Chevy G20 was not a hotbed of technology.

My van was a 1992 Chevy G20. While not a classic car, it was not a hotbed of technology either. Would something from 1992 really have a computer? Would something important to the operation of the vehicle really be stored under the seat? I didn’t think so! I decided (with no research and not much consideration) that this computer must operate no longer functioning power seat controls. Of course, neither of the seats had any buttons or knobs that might have been associated with power controls at some time in the past, but I didn’t let that detail influence my ideas about what the plastic box was for.

Anyone who’s lived in a vehicle (even a relatively roomy conversion van) knows that space is at a premium. Any little nook or cranny that can be emptied can provide a home for some more important item. I had visions of storing books under the driver’s seat if I could ditch this bulky, unnecessary (in my mind) “computer” box.

As I continued to examine the box, I found the cord was attached to the box by a plug. I simply unplugged the cord and the box was free. Easy! (I left the cord tucked under the seat, out of my way.)

Some guardian angel was looking over my shoulder that day because I didn’t throw the box into my friend’s garbage can. I can’t remember why. Maybe it was because I knew electronics aren’t supposed to end up in the landfill, and I’d decided to find an appropriate way to dispose of the thing. Maybe I had a sliver of good sense and realized it wasn’t a good idea to throw out a part when I didn’t know its function. In any case, the unplugged box stayed on the floor between the two front seats, and I wandered back into my friend’s house.

The next day I wanted to go somewhere, so I climbed into my van’s driver seat and started the engine. I immediately noticed the check engine light was on. Damn!

My first thought was that my mechanic must have caused the problem. Maybe he’d damaged something when he replaced the fuel pump. Maybe he hadn’t replaced something properly. I was going to have to call him and find out how he planned to rectify the situation.

Before I picked up the phone, I contemplated the situation further. Had the check engine light been on when I picked up the van at the repair shop? Had it come on as I drove from the shop to my friend’s house? I didn’t remember it being on. I’ve always been observant of my control panel, so I was confident I would have noticed the light had it been on previously.

I sat there and thought about what had changed since I’d parked the van at my friend’s place. Nothing really. I’d cleaned up, picked up trash, pulled the “computer” from under the driver’s seat…

Oh no! It began to dawn on me that maybe that “computer” controlled more than the movements of my chairs.

I shut off the van’s engine, then located the black box on the floor between the two front seats. Maybe this thing was more important than I’d thought.

I grabbed the plastic box and slid out of the van. I stood on the driver’s side of the van with the door open so I could reach under the seat. After some fumbling, I found the cord the box had been attached to and plugged it back in. I tucked the box under the seat, then climbed back into the van. When I turned the key in the ignition, I was relieved to see that the check engine light did not come on. Problem solved!

Apparently in 1992 vans did have computers, and they were stored under the driver’s seat!

For several years, I thought this was mostly a funny story of my stupidity that I would share on my blog someday. After all, no real damage was done, all’s well that end well, and surely I’m the only person who’d make such a mistake. Then my friend did something similar, and I knew I had to share my story as a cautionary tale.

Without sharing too much of my friend’s business, she cut some wires in her rig that she thought were unnecessary. It turned out that all of the components of her rig’s electrical system were connected and no one wire could be removed without affecting the entire system. Ooops!

My friend’s problem was more difficult and expensive to fix than mine was, but, thankfully, her rig is up and running again.

In any case, please learn a lesson from what my friend and I did wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, don’t remove anything from your rig, unplug anything, or sever any cords. Maybe check the manual, do some research online, or ask a mechanic or knowledgeable friend before you start making changes that could lead to tears and aggravation.

I took the photo in this post.

Ring

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I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot in a small mountain town. I heard someone say Ma’am? so I looked over. At first I thought the person talking to me was a young man. Based on appearance—shaved head, flat chest, shapeless athletic-style garments—I guessed the person was male. However, when the person spoke, there was a softness to the voice I didn’t expect. Was the person transgender? A butch lesbian? Neither the person’s gender no sexual orientation really mattered, but still, I was curious.

I’d seen the person earlier when I’d pulled into a parking space. The Man and I had sat in our vehicle for a few minutes discussing what we needed to buy in the store. In the parking row ahead of us, I’d seen this person emerge from the passenger side of a small, beat up car. They were carrying a purple case, the kind a child might use to transport a few sheets of paper and a handful of crayons. I’d wondered what was in the case. Now I’d have my chance to find out.

Ma’am? the person asked again. I stopped walking, and the person went on with their story. They were a miner and a jewelry maker. They lived in an even smaller town down the road, and their car was having problems. They were trying to sell some of the jewelry they’d made so they could pay for repairs on the car. Their higher end jewelry was for sale on Etsy, but that money could take a while to come through.

All of the preceding information was conveyed in a rapid-fire, highly enthusiastic manner.

I said I would take a look at what they were selling. They opened the case and started pointing to stones and rings and pendants. They had mined the stones and turned them into jewelry, they said. They were pointing out stones, telling me they names of the stones and where they had found them. They were talking very fast.

I hate to dis an artist, but I have to say, neither the jewelry nor the stones were impressive. The design and workmanship of the jewelry screamed absolute beginner without much talent. The stones were not cut well and barely showed a polish. Although I didn’t think the work was very good, I did want to help this person. They obviously needed money if they were hawking jewelry in Wal-Mart parking lot.

I should have just handed over five bucks and been done with it, but I like to encourage artists too. We were all beginners once. People bought my hemp jewelry when it wasn’t very good. I could do the same for another beginner.

A ring in the case caught my eye. I picked it up and the jewelry maker said they’d mined the stone. They told me where they’d found it. I tried on the ring and it fit. I’m a sucker for a ring that fits, so I asked the price. They said it was $20.

I should have handed over five bucks and left the ring, but I wanted to help. I wanted to encourage. I pulled a $20 bill from my wallet and handed it over. I had a new ring.

I introduced myself by way of parting. They told me the name they used when selling jewelry, then went on to give me their full, legal (feminine) name in order to explain their nickname. I asked if they had a card, but they didn’t. I gave them my card, although I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea at the time.

I really wanted to part ways now. The Man was waiting in the truck and was probably ready to head home.

I took a step away, and the person took a step toward me. They started telling me about spending the winter in Quartzsite.

My partner ripped me off, they said. (I don’t know if they meant a business partner or a romantic partner.)

I had a small problem with a warrant in New Mexico. When I got picked up, my partner took everything! Here they named a huge dollar amount of supposedly stolen inventory and ended with saying the partner even stole my dog!

Whether this was true or not, I don’t know. However, I do know that if one wants to generate sympathy, one might tell a story in which a partner does one wrong by stealing not only a huge amount of merchandise, but one’s beloved pet as well.

It was all TMI to me. I just wanted to get out of there.

Ok! See you later! I said brightly when there was the slightest pause in the monologue. I took off, found the truck where The Man was waiting, and got in.

Look at my new ring, I told The Man as I handed it over for his inspection. He looked at it more closely than I had.

Ring made from rusty metal and a small piece of pink stone worn on the middle finger
That’s the ring I paid $20 for.

I think it’s made of barbed wire, he said, handing it back to me. I examined it. I thought he was right. Great. I’d paid $20 for a ring that was likely to give me tetanus.

I told The Man about the encounter that had led me to buy the ring. I think that person was on meth, I said as I wrapped up the story. This idea hadn’t occurred to me while I was talking to them, but now it seemed perfectly clear. Trying to sell trinkets in a parking lot was the first potential sign. The pride in the poorly crafted goods was a red flag I had ignored. The rapid speech and over-excitement should have both been tip-offs. The oversharing was another sign. If the sad stories (broke down car, lowdown partner, theft of merchandise and dog) didn’t give it away, certainly the slightly sweaty look of their face even though it was a cool evening should have.

Backside of a ring made from rusty metal worn on the middle finger
Backside of the ring I paid $20 for.

I didn’t realize it then, but I realized it now: I’d been suckered.

You helped them get whatever they needed tonight, The Man comforted me.

I hoped they’d use the $20 I forked over to really turn their life around…but I knew $20 wasn’t enough to turn any life around. Twenty dollars is really so little.

In the end, I faced the fact that it wasn’t my job to save that person, and it wasn’t that person’s job to be saved. I remembered how when Mr. Carolina gave money to someone flying a sign or panhandling in a parking lot, he didn’t care what the person used the money for. He gave the money to help the person get whatever they needed in the moment, be it food, beer, or crack. It’s not our place to judge, Mr. Carolina taught me, and it’s not our place to tell other people what they do or don’t need. People make their own decisions, and when it comes down to it, we can help each other, but each of us has to decide to save ourselves (or not).

All that said, I hope I was wrong about the person I met in the parking lot of that small-town Wal-Mart that cool spring night. I hope there’s no meth habit holding them down. I hope their skills grow, and they can one day make the jewelry as they currently envision it. I hope their car gets fixed. I hope they find a trust-worthy partner and a new dog to love. I hope they soar.  

I took the photos in this post.