Tag Archives: fuel clerk

She Didn’t Want to See Me

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The woman strode briskly across the fuel center toward the kiosk where I was stationed. I already knew she was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. My POS (point-of-sale) system had told me so.

The woman was older than I am and had dirty blond hair. Her shorts and blouse were color-coordinated, and she wore fashionable sunglasses.

Hi! How can I help you today? I asked through the intercom. I typically waited for customers to tell me their problems, even when I was pretty sure I knew what was going on.

It told me to see cashier, she said referring to the screen on the gas pump. But I don’t want to see you, she whined. I want to do it out there.

I have to admit her saying she didn’t want to see me was a blow to my ego. It was a small blow, but a blow nonetheless. Like Sally Field, I want to know people like me. I’m very likeable. Well, I can be very likeable, when I’m trying.

I let her finish talking (and hurting my feelings) before I asked, Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take]?

She said she was.

I’m sorry, I said. We quit taking [the card in question] in April.

But I didn’t live here then, she pouted. She looked so much like an unhappy child I thought she might drop to the ground and roll around in a tantrum. I don’t know why she thought the date of her arrival in town would possibly matter.

I’m sorry, I repeated, although by this point I was only sorry she was still standing in front of me.

She scrunched up her face as if she were furious and stomped back to her vehicle. I don’t know if she used another card to pay of if she simply left. I’d stopped caring about what she did when she said she didn’t want to see me.

Forgot to Pump

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It was early in my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center (aka gas station), and the day had started early. (I’d crawled out of bed at 4am and clocked in to work before 5:45.) The place had been busy since the sun came up, and my brain was already on overload when the woman stepped up to the kiosk window. I asked how I could help her, and she told me pump 6 was authorized to pump $60 worth of gas.

At first I thought she was reading the numbers above the pump’s communication screen. The very top number told how much money the previous customer had spent at the pump. The second number showed how many gallons of fuel the previous customer had pumped. Many, many customers thought the presence of those numbers meant there was a problem with the pump and they wouldn’t be able to get their fuel there. They didn’t realize that once a payment had been made to me in the kiosk or a card inserted at the pump and the fuel nozzle lifted, those numbers would zero out and the pumping could begin.

I assumed the woman had been looking at the very top number, the amount the previous customer had spent. (When you assume, my late father would have said, you make an ass of u and me.) I told her when she lifted the nozzle, the $60 would zero out and she could begin pumping.

She shook her head at me. When she got out of her car, the screen said $60. She didn’t put in $60. She was going to pay with her credit card, but she didn’t want to put her card in if someone else’s money was already on the pump.

Slowly it dawned on my poor tired brain that the woman wasn’t talking about the uppermost number on the pump. She was talking about the communication screen. The communication screen said that someone had paid $60 on pump 6.

I looked over at my POS (point-of-sale) system. The screen showed me the activity on every pump in the fuel center. I could tell who had prepaid by giving me cash or letting me run a credit or debit card. I could tell who had paid at the pump. I could see who was pumping gas and who had yet to start pumping. Sure enough, pump 6 had been authorized for $60.

You didn’t pay me $60? I asked the woman. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if I had ever seen her before, much less if she had stood before me a few minutes ago and handed me $60. She shook her head no.

You didn’t already use your card on pump 6?  I asked her. I certainly didn’t want her coming back in five minutes telling me she had paid twice and wanting money back.

She shook her head no again. She repeated that she hadn’t put her card into the pump because she thought someone else had already paid $60 for that pump and she didn’t want to mess anything up.

I thanked her for being honest. It would have been so easy for her to simply put that $60 worth of gas in her tank. No one would have known…but her.

I’ll clear that out for you, I told her. I reached over and went through the procedure to refund the $60 on pump 6. I didn’t take any money out of the drawer because I didn’t know exactly what procedure to follow in such a situation. I figured I would come up with something before my shift was over.

When my screen showed pump 6 was available, I told the woman she was all set to go and thanked her again for her honesty.

The customers continued to line up and hand me money and credit cards. I authorized pumps and sold cigarettes and told people how many reward points they had. I’d forgotten about the $60 on pump 6 until a frantic-looking man stood before me.

I was here about half an hour ago, he told me. He was all but panting. I gave you $60 for pump 6, then went out there and put the nozzle in my truck. I thought it had pumped, but it didn’t pump, and I left without my gas.

I totally believed his story. He seemed genuinely upset and out of breath, and he knew what pump the money had been left on and how much money it was. I didn’t see how it could be a scam of some kind.

You’re really lucky, I told the guy. An honest woman told me about the $60 still on the pump. She could have just used the money, and I would have never known, but she told me about it. Then I told him to pull into whatever pump he wanted, then to let me know what pump he was on so I could authorize it for $60.

I don’t know if he realized how lucky he was. If that lady had used his $60 then he had come in later with some sob story about how he had forgotten to pump his gas, I would have thought, sure, right and sent him on his way. If he had insisted, I probably would have called a manager to handle the situation.

Who forgets to pump their gas? I wondered aloud when I related this story. Apparently it happens. It happened to this guy, and it happened to a friend of mine. She said she was flustered, had been getting repeated phone calls from a needy friend. She said she paid $20 for gas, got into her car, and drove away. When she realized what had happened she went back to the fuel center but found someone had already pumped her fuel. The person in the kiosk was not trusting and kind and told her she was out of luck; there was nothing he could do.

Moral of the story: If you forget to pump your gas, hope the person who rolls in after you is honest. 

What Do I Use?

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Many of the people I encountered when I worked at the fuel center seemed barely capable of taking care of themselves. Some people were old and feeble of mind, body, or both.

One elderly gentleman–the skinniest person I think I’ve ever seen–asked for $20 on pump 9. When I pulled the drawer into the kiosk, I found a $50 bill. The gentleman was already walking toward his vehicle. Luckily, he moved really slowly.

Sir, your change, I called through the intercom system.

He tried to wave me off. I think he didn’t know what I was saying. Maybe he didn’t hear very well.

Sir! I called with more force. You gave me fifty dollars!

He seemed to hear that and came back for his $30.

Weeks later, and elderly woman paid for her fuel at the kiosk, then walked ever so slowly to pump 4 where she’d left her car. Many minutes later, I saw her standing by her car. She wasn’t pumping gas, and my POS (point-of-sale) system showed pump 4 was still authorized for the full amount she’d paid. I was mystified, so I went outside to find out if she needed assistance.

When I asked her if she needed my help, she said she couldn’t get the car’s gas cap off. It wasn’t a locking gas cap, but I when I tried to get it off for her, I found it had to be pushed in and turned at the same time. The woman simply didn’t have the strength to push and turn all at once.

Photography of One US Dollar Banknotes

It wasn’t only elderly people who made me wonder how they were getting along in the world. Once a woman who looked to be in her 30s came up to the kiosk. She asked me for $58 on pump 4 and put a wad of bills in the drawer. When I counted the money, I only came up with $47. I counted the bills again and got the same result.

Ma’am there’s only $47 here, I told her through the intercom.

She looked at me blankly. I held the bills up the window and showed her each one as I counted. There was only $47 there. The customer didn’t argue with me, just accepted her mistake, then went off to pump her fuel.

Before long, the young woman was back for her change.

The POS system did all the work of figuring out change for me. I’d tell the computer how much money a customer gave me. The customer could then pump the equivalent in fuel into their tank. If the customer didn’t pump as much gas as they’d paid for, the POS system prompted me to refund the difference. The compuer never made a mistake.

When the young woman came back for her change, my screen told me just how much money to hand back. I told her the amount of her change and put the money into the drawer, which I slid out to her. She picked up the money, but said the amount was wrong. I realized right away that she was expecting the change from the amount she originally thought she was giving to me.

No ma’am, I said to her. You didn’t give me $58, remember? You only gave me $47. See, it says $47 on your receipt.

Oh, right, she agreed and went on her way.

I never felt as if she were trying to hustle or scam me. I think she was genuinely confused.

The person I felt most worried for was the elderly lady who didn’t know what kind of fuel to put in her car.

She’d pulled in while I was outside conditioning drinks in one of the coolers. She’d stopped at a pump that offered gasoline and flex fuel. I think it was the flex fuel that confused her.

She got out of her car, but I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to her. I

Assorted-color Soda Cans

was busy sorting out the dozen different sizes and varieties of Red Bull.

Suddenly I hard a voice yelling from across the fuel center. What gas do I use? What gas do I use?

I looked up. Was the lady yelling at me? She was staring at me, so I was pretty sure she was addressing me.

What’s that? I asked, confused. I couldn’t believe she aw actually asking me what fuel she should use in her vehicle. How would I know what fuel she should use?

What gas do I use? she asked again. Yep, she wanted me to tell her what fuel to put in her car.

Ma’am, I don’t know, I told her, truly perplexed. How in the world did she think I’d know what fuel went into her car.

I don’t know what to put in, she said, sounding increasingly panicked.

Do you usually use diesel or gasoline or flex fuel? I asked.

I don’t know, she wailed.

Well, the black handle on that pump is for gasoline and the yellow handle is for flex fuel, I explained. Which color do you usually use? I asked her.

She maintained that she didn’t know.

The last thing I wanted to do was tell some senior citizen to put the wrong type of fuel into her car, leading to damage she’d then want the company I worked for or (heaven forbid!) me to pay for. I didn’t recall being told in my training that I was responsible for knowing what fuel individual customers used.

Ma’am, I don’t know either, I told her. I honestly didn’t know how to help the woman.

What kind of fuel do you usually put in? I asked again, hoping to jog her memory.

Ethanol! I usually use ethanol! she screeched.

That didn’t tell me much. Maybe it told me she didn’t use diesel. Didn’t all gasoline have ethanol in it these days?

I don’t know, ma’am, I said apologetically and went back to sorting energy drinks.

I heard a friendly young woman who’d been pumping her own gas nearby talking to the older lady. I don’t know which one approached the other, but I heard the older lady explaining her situation. The young woman lifted the black handle for gasoline on the pump nearest the elderly lady’s car and told her this was the one she needed. I hoped she was right, but if she wasn’t… well, better her mistake than mine (at least from my perspective).

The two of them had trouble getting the elderly woman’s debit card to work, so I ended up going over to help, which was fine. I didn’t mind helping, but I certainly wasn’t going to make a fuel decision for a stranger.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-one-us-dollar-banknotes-545064/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drinks-supermarket-cans-beverage-3008/.

What Do You Mean?

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The elderly woman looked very sweet when she walked up to the fuel center kiosk where I was working. She was certainly old enough to be somebody’s grandma. Her hair was totally white and longish and curly. She wore eyeglasses and conservative clothes.

She had some questions about her reward points. She thought she’d get 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased, but she wasn’t sure.

I scanned her rewards card and pulled up the loyalty balances screen on my POS (point-of-sale) system. I showed her she’d already earned a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward this month, and she still had a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward from last month.

So I get 20 cents off per gallon? she asked.

Well, no. I explained she could use one 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward now and use the other 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward later. That wasn’t good enough for this customer. She wanted 20 cents off of each gallon of gas she bought today.

I explained to her that the rewards program didn’t work that way. The points don’t combine, I told her.

She was angry by then, even though I was working hard to remain calm and polite and even friendly.

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded.

Well, they don’t combine, I said again. I knew I was repeating myself, but I wasn’t quite sure what other words to use to explain the concept of “don’t combine.”

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded again. She was growing increasingly agitated.

I tried again to explain, this time using different words. I told her she could get 10 cents off each gallon of fuel she bought today and she could get 10 cents off per gallon of fuel she bought on another day, but she couldn’t get 20 cents off per gallon today by putting her rewards together.

She was still angry, and I could tell she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased. Obviously 10 + 10 = 20.

I refrained from telling her I didn’t make the rules around there. I refrained from telling her that the corporate office decided how to run the reward program with no input from me. I refrained from telling her that if there were some way—any way—to combine her rewards I would have done it in a heartbeat in order to end our interaction. I simply remained calm, polite, and firm that it was impossible to combine her rewards as she wanted to do.

She finally stepped away from the kiosk and went over to pump 8 to fill her tank and probably complain about me and my arbitrary rules.

Nice Customers

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As I’ve said before, I tend to write about people who are rude or hostile or strange or interesting. Those people make for better stories although perhaps not for a better day. However, not all customers I encountered at the supermarket fuel center where I worked (briefly) were rude or hostile. I had unremarkable encounters with most customers and some interactions that were actually pleasant.

You give great customer service, one woman said to me through the intercom. She liked the chitchat she told me, although I was actually keeping it to a minimum because the intercom system was such a piece of crap.

Thanks for confirming how much gas I want and what pump I’m on, another lady told me. The others don’t do that. I didn’t tell her I repeated the information in hopes of stopping mistakes before I made them, but I was glad she appreciated the effort.

They should clone you, an older woman with a Southern drawl said one afternoon as I was loading sodas into the cooler. I guess she’d seen me hustling around the fuel center on previous visits and thought I was doing a good job.

(I told one of the assistant store managers about the cloning remark during my last week on the job and she said, I know. We’re really going to be hurting without you here.)

I like your hair, a gal told me shyly at the end of our transaction. I thanked her even though I thought it probably looked weird. I’d hacked off the bottom to chin length a few weeks earlier, and I knew it was choppy and uneven. I thanked her anyway, and she said, The color is really nice. That sweet person really made my day.

Most of the people I went outside to help use the pumps were really grateful and thanked me for my assistance. Of course, some folks seemed to become angrier when I got their debit and credit cards to work, but most customers were glad for my help even if they were embarrassed by their own mistakes.

One day a man came up to the kiosk, and I said (as I did to most customers), Hi! How can I help you today? I found out what pump he was on and how much money he wanted to spend on fuel. I gave him his receipt and his change and thanked him.

Thank you, he said. Thank you for being here.

 I suspect he liked paying cash, so he was glad I was there to receive his payment, but I also like to think he was happy see my smile and to have someone pay a little positive attention to him.

Angry Old Man

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According to The British Association of Anger Management, National Anger Awareness Week begins this coming Sunday (December 1) and runs through December 7.The aforementioned website says,

The aim of Anger Awareness Week is to identify anger as a disturbing social issue which needs to be brought out into the open and addressed effectively. Anger Awareness Week will help people befriend anger by using the right tools to calm themselves down and to deal effectively with this emotion, be it of their own or that of others.

In honor of National Anger Awareness Week, I will share the story of a very angry man I met during my time as a fuel clerk. This guy really needed to befriend his anger, but since I was a fuel clerk and not a psychologist, I concentrated on getting gas in his car’s tank so he could take his unhappy self as far away from my workplace as possible.

When I worked at the supermarket fuel center, customers sometimes had problems using credit and debit cards at the pump. Sometimes the problem was trying to use a credit card we didn’t accept, but other times the nature of the problem was mysterious.

I usually knew when someone was having a problem because my POS (point-of-sale) system began beeping. When I looked over, I saw a yellow exclamation point flashing near the credit card icon. If I touched the credit card icon, a new screen popped up. The new screen showed what pump was having trouble and what kind of trouble it was. Whenever I heard the beeping, I tried to see who was having the trouble so I’d know what to say when the customer showed up at the kiosk. On busy days customers with trouble often made it to the kiosk before I could check the POS system.

One day an older man stepped up to the window in front of me. He was tall,

Sailboat Sailing on Water Near Island

and his grey hair was cut conservatively short. He wore shorts that hit just above his knees and a pink plaid shirt with a collar, short sleeves, and buttons. He was dressed the way I imagine rich people dress to play golf or go sailing. The guy obviously had money.

The guy was obviously angry too. I could tell he was upset by the look on his face and the way he carried himself. I did not look forward to hearing what he had to say.

Hi! I said brightly through the intercom. How can I help you today?

Pump 6 said to see the cashier, he sputtered. Yep. He was mad.

Were you trying to use [the card we didn’t accept]? I asked him.

No!  he barked. I was trying to use this, he said and showed me a credit card we did accept.

I know I made a face before I said, That’s strange. I can run it in here for you, I told the already angry man. How much do you want to put on pump 6?

I want to fill it up! the angry man said as if I should have already known that.

I’m sorry, I told him. I can’t do an open ended transaction here.

Grayscale Photo of Explosion on the Beach

I thought the old guy’s head was going to explode. Trying to avoid a meltdown, I said, I can come outside and help you if you like. He gave me a brief nod and stomped off. I took that as a yes.

When I got out to pump 6, I saw the white-haired man was accompanied by a middle age fellow—his son perhaps or his much younger lover. The middle age guy exercised his right to remain silent.

Let’s see if I can help! I said brightly.

The older man tried to jam his card into the reader, but I stopped him. We have to follow the steps on the screen or the computer will get all confused, I said to him. His head was definitely going to explode if he got any angrier. 

Do you have a rewards card? I read from the screen.

No, he answered through gritted teeth.

Then we’ve got to push the “no” button on the PIN pad, I said, reaching over to push the “no” button.

The next screen came up saying it was time to insert his credit card. I told him to insert his card now. As he did so, I told him to push it all the way in, then pull it out fast. If looks could kill, I would have been so dead.

The next screen asked the customer to enter his zip code. The customer did

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

so. Much to my relief and pleasure, the next screen instructed him to lift the nozzle and choose the grade of gasoline he wanted. I was tickled pink. I had saved the day!

The angry man was even angrier it seemed, although he didn’t voice his rage. Again, I could tell by the look on his face and his body language. Apparently, he’d become so invested in his belief that his credit card wasn’t going to work (and I bet he thought it was all the fault of the company I worked for!) that he got even madder when I got the card to work. Of course, he couldn’t complain because his card had worked, so his anger seethed inside of him. I figured I’d better get out of there before his head exploded and splattered me with brain matter.

As I headed toward the kiosk, I saw that the angry man’s younger companion had already wandered that way. When I caught up with him, I smiled and said, I guess I have the magic touch. The younger man smiled back.

I was glad I’d thought of something nice to say instead of Your friend is really pissed off or I hope your friend doesn’t have a heart attack or Your friend sure is an asshat. Sometimes when I open my mouth, the right words do come out.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sailboat-sailing-on-water-near-island-1482193/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-explosion-on-the-beach-73909/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Trainer

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John, the guy who trained me for my job at the supermarket fuel center, was not someone I would choose to spend time with. He was pleasant enough to me, but he talked a lot of shit on the customers.

He had much to say about women and their looks. That one was too fat and obviously lazy; she should go to the gym and work out. The one walking up to the counter had been attractive before she had kids. He’d thought about getting with her but decided against it because she was married to his friend. He was not at all attracted to the woman with the really short hair walking across the parking lot. He’d just never been attracted to women with boy cuts. It was a good thing there was glass between us and the woman paying for gas because she stunk! He’s smelled her once at the laundromat, and she needed to learn to wear deodorants.

I don’t know why he thought I was interested in his taste in women. I didn’t care who he was or was not attracted to, but I didn’t much want to hear his opinions about women’s bodies. I knew he was allowed to think whatever he wanted, but I certainly didn’t want to hear about it.

John didn’t talk about men’s bodies, but he did have preconceived notions about which ones were assholes. Often some man who John said was going to be grumpy was neutral or even pleasant to me. Perhaps the fellow in question was pleasant because I was pleasant to him.

You seem more suited to this job than I do, John told me after observing my interactions with customers for a couple of days. I thought he was probably right.

John was great at cleaning and completing the daily paperwork. When we arrived at 5:45 each morning, he counted the money in the cash register drawer, prepared the paperwork, then set out to clean and shine all ten gas pumps. When that task was finished, he pulled out the leaf blower and used it to remove dirt and small trash from the fuel center pavement.

When a customer had a problem paying at the pump, John would go outside to find the solution. It wasn’t that he refused to help. He did help, just not very cheerfully. While he wasn’t outright rude to customers, he wasn’t really friendly either.

I’m sure part of John’s problem was his dissatisfaction with the job. He’d been working in the fuel center for two years without a raise. He wanted to “move up,” but there was nowhere to go as long as management kept him out of the actual supermarket. He opened every single day he worked, clocking in around 5:40 in the morning. I think management was hoping he’d quit, but he’d stuck it out for a couple of years. John had finally given his notice two weeks prior, and his last four days on the job were spent training me.

I think another part of John’s problem was his negative attitude. I think it’s difficult to be of service to people when one feels superior to everyone who crosses his path. John certainly acted as if he felt superior to most folks who approached the kiosk. What John said aloud was bad enough. I fear what might have been going on in his head. Perhaps he was keeping the worst of it to himself.

I had to laugh to myself when John told me about the three young men who would be my fuel center coworkers.  They’re nice guys, he said, but they’re not the brightest tools in the shed.

Maybe I should have told him that he who makes disparaging remarks about the intelligence of others should not mix his metaphors, but I didn’t say anything at all. I stayed quiet and was glad I’d soon be working in the fuel center kiosk alone.  

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.

Flex Fuel

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I could tell the woman was mad by the way she approached the kiosk. She was short—probably not even 5 feet tall—but she swaggered like a football player taking the field.

Her hair was totally white and cut short. She wore glasses and a black t-shirt with chile peppers screen printed on it. (When she turned around, I saw the back of the shirt read “Some like it hot.”)

She never smiled when I asked how I could help her this morning.

Only the light for the flex fuel comes on! she complained.

I found out what pump she was on and said I’d come out and try to help. Was the flex fuel going to give us problems now? Two diesel pumps were out of order already. I didn’t really need another problem so early in the morning.

I left the kiosk and found the woman waiting for me. I followed her to the pump where her car was parked. As soon as she got there, she grabbed the yellow handle of the flex fuel nozzle from under the yellow sign that read “flex fuel this nozzle only.” When she lifted the nozzle, the light on the flex fuel selector button lit up.

Only the light for flex fuel comes on! she said as if she hated me, my ancestors, and my descendants.

I was trying really hard to understand what was going on. It seemed to me that if one lifted the flex fuel handle, one should expect the light for flex fuel to come on.

Do you want flex fuel? I asked.

Noooooooo!  she wailed as if I were the dumbest dummy she’d ever encountered. She was exceptionally frustrated.

Oh. Well, go ahead and hang up the flex fuel nozzle, I told her.

She hung it up, and I grabbed the handle to the gasoline nozzle. As soon as I lifted the gasoline handle, the lights on the selectors for regular, midgrade, and premium lit up.

Oh, the woman said flatly. I’m sorry.

She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded still pissed, but also embarrassed.

Don’t worry about, I told her. It happens all the time, I said, even though it hadn’t happened even once before in the month I’d worked at the fuel center. 

Drive Off

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It was Saturday afternoon and life at the fuel center was humming along. We were fairly busy, but I had things under control.

I’d left the kiosk to condition the merchandise in the outdoor display cases. “Conditioning” means making sure the shelves are stocked and all items are pulled to the front with the brand name facing forward. The fuel center sells mostly cold drinks and a small selection of snacks along with motor oil, fuel additives, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. It didn’t take long to get everything looking good.

While I was outside, a woman approached me with a question about using her credit card. While trying to answer her question, I heard shouting, honking, and whistling. I looked toward the source of the commotion and saw a small white car trailing a gas pump handle, nozzle, and hose! Oh no! Someone had driven off with the nozzle still in the tank.

I could see the driver was a woman, so I started shouting Ma’am! Ma’am! while waving my arms. Due to my efforts or maybe those of the bystanders, the driver stopped the car. After quickly excusing myself from my current conversation, I hustled toward the small white car.

You left with the nozzle still in your tank, I explained to the driver. She looked shocked. I don’t think she quite believed me.

I went around to the passenger side of the car and retrieved the nozzle, handle, and hose. You can bet she believed me then. I told her I needed to get her license plate number and call a manager.

You are in trouble, I thought but did not say out loud.

I asked her to pull around and park near the fuel center, and she said she would. I ran into the kiosk and paged a manager. The manager called back immediately, and I explained the situation. He told me to call the company that services the pumps, and then he hung up.

I ran back out to find the driver had parked her car right back at the scene of her big mistake. She was out of the car waiting for me. She must have been in her 60s although her hair was dark black and she didn’t seem feeble of body or mind. 

I wrote down her license plate number. When I asked for her name and phone number, she gave them without hesitation.

I ran back into the kiosk to help the people who had accumulated in a line while I was outside. The next thing I knew, the driver of the white car was back in line. When she reached the window, she said she hadn’t gotten all the gas for which she had paid. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, so I told her I’d meet her outside where the intercom and bulletproof glass would not hinder our communication.

When I got outside, I found her sitting in the driver’s seat of her car. She explained she always puts $10 worth of gas in her car, and $10 worth of gas always fills the tank. Since her tank was not currently full, she was sure she had not gotten her full $10 worth of gas. She pointed to her gas gauge several times, as if I only needed to look at the gauge to understand the problem.

I was incredulous. She’d just damaged the gas pump, yet she was quibbling over (at most) a couple of bucks. Didn’t she know she was in a lot of trouble? Apparently she did not.

I told her I didn’t really know what to do in this situation and asked if she wanted me to call a manager. She said she did.

If I had just ripped the hose and handle and nozzle from a gas pump, I would have slunk away in shame and hoped I wouldn’t be charged for the damage I’d done. Not this lady. She wanted every bit of gas to which she thought she was entitled.

I went back to the kiosk and again paged a manager. Again a manager called immediately.

I explained the lady who’d driven off with the nozzle and hose thought we owed her more gas. I don’t know what to do, I told the manager.

The manager chuckled and said he’d come out and talk to her. Surely she’d realize she was in trouble when the manager arrived. Surely he’d set her straight.

In a few minutes the manager used his key to enter the kiosk. I almost shit my pants. It was the big boss, the store manager himself. Up until that moment, I had not met him; I only knew who he was because I read his name tag.

I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then I briefly went over the situation with the driver of the white car. He said he’d go out and talk to her.I stayed in the kiosk and continued to help customers. I couldn’t hear how the conversation between the driver of the white car and the manager went, but I was convinced the woman was in trouble now.

The manager was out there for at least 10 minutes. When he came back in, he looked defeated.

I couldn’t make her understand, he said. He told me the driver was going to pull the white car to pump 9. He said I should authorize the pump for $10. You register is going to be short.

I guess the driver of the white car wasn’t in any trouble after all.

I found out later that the hose is constructed to detach the way it did if a driver pulls off with the nozzle still in the tank. However, there was a problem with the separation point on this one and it leaked gas. Instead of being able to simply click the two connectors back into place like it was designed to do, a repair person had to come out on Monday to fix the problem. A coworker told me the repair cost the company I work for $500. No one ever asked me for the culprit’s name, phone number, or license plate number, so I suspect she’s not going to have to pay for her mistake.