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.
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.