Friday, January 22, 2010

#12 - What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Part 2

Needless to say, having a gun pointed at me was not one of the more calming and relaxing moments in my life. I’m sure my jaw hit the ground, because the whole scene came out of nowhere and caught me completely off guard. I may have even wet myself a little bit. Not sure.

Anyway, the kid with the gun. Once he saw the look on my face, he threw his head back and laughed. Then he just turned and walked away. Slowly. Like he was just out for a stroll and looking at the stars, might even stop by for an ice cream cone if Braum’s was still open.

I just stood there for a minute, with white noise flooding my brain instead of any useful electrical impulses that might help me process what had just happened. Then I realized I was still clutching the cigarette order in one sweaty hand. I snapped to and threw the damn thing down on the counter. There would be no more counting tonight.

But what should I do now? Do I need to call the police? Surely that was a crime, what just happened. It HAD to be a crime. Nobody should get away with something like that. Then again, this was Oklahoma, and some of these people have an inordinate amount of affection for their handguns. Pointing your gun at someone might not even be a misdemeanor, for all I knew. You might have to actually pull the trigger before you get your hand slapped.

Oddly enough, during the whole encounter, it never once crossed my mind to push the panic button near the cash register. That’s what the button was for, to notify the police if something serious was going down. We are fully schooled on the proper use of this button during training. Robbery? Gang violence? Crazed people with implements of death? Push the damn button!

I didn’t even think of it. Good to know that I had a completely level-head in a time of crisis and followed procedure, yes?

But could I push it now, after the fact and all? Maybe not. It wouldn’t be right for me to occupy some police officers when something much more serious might be going down somewhere else. Part of me was already convinced that the kid was just pissed at me because I wouldn’t sell him any beer, and all he wanted to do was scare me. (Mission accomplished.) I probably wouldn’t see him again.

Then again, we’re talking about a basically deranged kid who thought it was okay to wave a gun at me in the first place. What ELSE did he think would be okay? What if he’d only disappeared so he could find some of his little friends who also had access to weapons of mass destruction? I picked up the phone.

Just then, headlights bounced across the front of the store as a squad car pulled into the parking lot. Wow. Did I just make a telepathic 9-1-1 call? If so, I needed to figure out how to make some money off this newfound skill.

The squad car parked right at the front doors, and the headlights blinked off. I could now see that it was Justine, one of the officers who patrolled this area. She liked to get her coffee from our store, probably because I threw on a fresh pot every time I thought about it, unlike the slackers at some of the other stores who would let the coffee simmer down to nothing but black tar.

I patiently waited for Justine to do all her little sign off crap and get out of the car. It was always a mystery to me, this whole process that Justine would go through before exiting the vehicle. She would flip switches and turn dials and fiddle with this and that in a complex array of motions. It would not have surprised if the space shuttle had launched out of her trunk by the time she was done.

She finally wrapped it up, popped open the car door, hauled herself out and sauntered toward the store. (Justine, despite the pretty name, was not the most feminine creature on the planet. She’s one of those people who is fully comfortable with releasing an echoing belch regardless of where she might be.)

Justine opened the front door, took two steps in, glanced at my face, and screeched to a halt. “What happened?”

I was still a little rattled, so I’m sure I came out with something like “This kid… and he… and I didn’t… and the gun… and his tongue…and-”

She held up a hand. “It’s alright. Slow down. I got time. Let me grab some coffee while you start over.”

So Justine moseyed to the coffee area, quietly performing the intricate routine that some serious coffee drinkers have, where everything has to be done in a certain order, while I took a deep breath and babbled away about the beer-less bastard. She would nod every few words to indicate that my signal was being received and that I should keep going.

Then Justine calmly walked back to me at the counter, blew on her coffee, took a very tiny sip, grimaced slightly to indicate that it was still a little too warm, set the cup on the counter, and then looked at me. “He won’t be back. You’re good. But let’s do some paperwork anyway.”

She trotted back out to her car, where she grabbed up a clipboard and a folder and some other official looking things. Then she came back in the store, spread out her materials over one section of the counter, and uncapped a pen. “Tell me everything again.”

So I did. And she kept asking questions and wanting more information, pausing every now and then as I attended to other customers as they came into the store, to the point where I started wondering why she was being so thorough. Then it dawned on me. She was just trying to keep me company, staying with me until I quit worrying about being alone in the store and that jerk coming back.

Eventually, of course, she had to go. I tried to thank her, but of course she blew that off. Just doing her job. “But I’ll check back in later, in case you remember some more details or something.” And check back she did. The woman drank more coffee that shift than one would think is humanly possible.

And she was right. I never saw that kid again.

But I definitely saw more of Justine. Mostly coffee runs. You see, it was an understood policy with Quik Trip that any police officer was welcome to free beverages and, well, basically anything they wanted. It was a discreet thank you, but it also kept them coming in the store, and that’s always a good thing. Especially in the high-risk stores. You WANT officers to just show up with some degree of regularity. I was fully prepared to cook them a five-course meal if necessary

Sadly, Justine had to make quite a few “official” visits as well. That store had a lot of “runners”. These are the folks that just walk in the store, grab whatever they wanted (usually beer) and then run out the door without paying for it. There was a dividing line we had to follow: Less than twenty dollars in merchandise, you could just write it off. Over twenty? It was technically a felony, and you had to make a police report.

It got to the point where Justine always brought her clipboard every time she came in, just in case. Generally, somebody ran every night. There was nothing you could do to stop them, especially if the store was busy.

Well, there was ONE thing you could do. After 11pm, we were allowed to lock one of the double doors at the entrance. I usually locked the door people typically considered the “out” door, so the runners wouldn’t notice this road hazard on the way in.

I have to say, I did find this locked door to be quite entertaining when it came to the runners. There was something very satisfying about it when some stoner would slink in the store, grab two 12-packs of beer, haul ass to the front of the store, and then slam face-first into immovable glass. It was a crunching sound that I greatly enjoyed.

Anyway, Justine and I became buddies. And one of the things that greatly amused her was being able to subtly torture me whenever possible. Her favorite thing to ask me when she made her first appearance on any given evening? “You gotta stick the tanks tonight?”

Ah yes, the sticking of the tanks. As in the huge, underground receptacles that held the fuel that fed the gas pumps. “Sticking the tanks” meant measuring how much gasoline was left. And this was an activity that no one who actually worked in the stores wanted to do. Ever. We hated it.

Remember, it’s 1986. Things just weren’t as high-tech as they are now. In fact, in comparison, some things were pretty primitive. And this, ladies and gentleman, is how one sticks the tanks:

Each store had been furnished with this incredibly long wooden stick, maybe fifteen feet long, with inches marked off all down one side. It was like a yardstick intended for Godzilla. Because this thing was so long, we had to keep it outside. Because our store was in a crappy part of town where people will steal ANYTHING, the stick often went missing.

I actually appreciated thievery when it came to the stick, because it meant I didn’t have to stick the damn tanks until somebody ordered another one, and that was not my job. On the flip side, there was always a tiny moment of sadness when I arrived for work each evening and the stick WAS there, lying along the front of the store, waiting smugly for sticking time.

When you stick a tank, you snatch up Godzilla’s yardstick, hoist it over your should like those poles that high-jumpers use, trudge out to the various tanks, open the access cover, twist open the cap on the tank (and these caps were ALWAYS rusted shut, even if you had just opened them the night before), stand the stick on its end so that it is reaching for the stars, then gently lower the stick into the tank (you can’t just drop it in, because the stick could snap in two, and then you’re screwed).

Once the stick hits the bottom of the tank, you pull the thing back out, locate where on the stick that the wetness stops, find the corresponding inch marker, and note this figure on the official sticking report.

Now, this might sound rather simple, but it’s not. There are a number of factors that can get mixed into the process that can gum things up and cause heartache. Some of these factors are just innocent little glitches that are mainly irritating without causing too much of a problem. Other factors are downright evil and can only be due to the work of the devil.

First off, you are not allowed to stick the tanks if any customer is pumping gas at the same time. I was never made privy to the reasoning behind this protocol, but the impression was given that someone could feasibly perish if you dare to stick while pumping is taking place. So you had to wait until the wee hours of the morning, when the roads were relatively quiet and chances were slim that someone would require a petroleum product from your establishment.

Unfortunately, the only people who ARE on the road in the wee hours tend to be drunken people with focus issues. The entire parking lot could be vacant, not a soul in sight, when suddenly there’s a roar and some crazed redneck could come barreling out of the night.

Why is this critical?

Well. Each gas pump had its own tank. This store had four pumps, ergo four tanks. You would think all of the tank access points would be in a central area. They are not. They are scattered all over the parking lot. Sometimes they are in incredibly stupid places, like smack in the middle of the parking lot entrance. (You’ve seen these things and may not have realized it. You know those metal plates in the asphalt that you sometimes drive over, and they make that horrendous noise like you’ve just lost your transmission? Bingo.)


So you have to be very careful when you are sticking the tanks, because you’re right in the traffic zone, but because you’re bent over screwing around with the rusty cap or the wooden stick, people don’t necessarily see you, especially if they’ve had 14 margaritas over at Sally’s Pool Hall. They might see the STICK, because it’s taller than the store, but drunken people don’t take heed of a flimsy stick. Such a thing is not going to slow them down in their quest for some Doritos and a pack of beef jerky.

End result, you need to be very quick when you stick, and if you even THINK you hear tires squealing on pavement, you drop the stick and run like hell.

Trouble is, there are challenges that might impede you from making a hasty job of things. For one, it’s often pitch black around the tank openings. You can’t see the damn numbers. So you have to wiggle the stick around, trying to catch a glimmer of reflective light from the stars or maybe a passing plane. Or you have to drag the stick over to a better light source, which means the tank access pit is wide open while you do so, and Aunt Effie, who just needs a few eggs for the church breakfast, might break an axle when she pulls in.

Wait, there’s more. Because there are multiple tanks that need sticking, you have to DRY OFF the stick between tanks. Otherwise, you can’t tell where the new “wet line” is. So there you are, with an oily rag, rubbing away on this enormous stick, trying to hurry and creating enough friction that there could feasibly be a flash fire. As you stand over hundreds of gallons of gasoline.

Meanwhile, Justine is inside the store, sipping her coffee and laughing her ass off as I race madly around the parking lot, twisting, sticking, reading, and rubbing, not to mention running for the hills every five seconds when I hear a car coming.

And what makes Justine laugh even MORE? Fuel delivery night.

Because on those nights, there’s an additional tank to stick. This one is on wheels. And the access point is two stories off the ground. Yes, boys and girls, we actually have to climb ON TOP of the tanker truck that rolls up with fresh fuel.

Picture it. I’m clutching that humongous stick, trying not to whip it around too much and possibly decapitate the tanker driver. I have to climb up this ladder on the side of the tanker, using only one hand, of course, and this ladder has very thin rungs spaced widely apart. It’s like a demented jungle gym designed by twisted and bored sadists.

Once I’m on top of the tanker? Well, I’m sure you’ve seen these things. The tank is round, one long tube full of sloshing liquid. Meaning the top of the tanker is not flat. It curves downward to both sides. One misstep and I could be sliding and tumbling to my death. So it’s all about taking slow, baby steps, inching my way to the access cap. Twist the thing open, shove in the stick, write down the number, slap the cap back on, slip-slide my way back to the jungle gym, and try not to poke anybody with the stick before I’m back on solid ground.

And hey, I get to do this whole routine TWICE. We measure before they unload the fuel, and after they unload the fuel, so we then know how much our bill should be. (I told you this was primitive.)

So on delivery nights, after sticking four tanks and the tanker, drying off the stick every time I turn around, running from drunken motorists, cussing the laughing Justine as she pops out in the parking lot and yells at me on the tanker “Hey, you’re out of sugar! Hurry up!”, I’m usually completely exhausted by 3am. I’m covered in dried sweat, reeking of gasoline, and I just want to go home.

It was the morning after one of these delivery nights that I had another thrill-filled adventure at this evil store. Because of the delivery, I had been behind on all my other duties, just barely finishing up when the next shift arrived. I staggered out the door, filled up my car with some of the fresh gasoline (might as well), and started to drive away.

Then I realized that I had forgotten to finish out my shift report. It would only take a second to do, so I left the car running while I dashed inside, added a few figures, signed the thing and shoved it in the appropriate slot, then raced back to my car.

The door was locked. What the hell? Did I do that? WHY would I do that? The car was running, so obviously the keys were inside, but I peeked in the window anyway to confirm. Yep. There they were, dangling away and teasing me. Out of desperation, I checked the passenger door and the hatchback. Of course they were locked.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

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