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.
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
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.