When I turned sixteen I couldn’t wait to find a job. Luckily, a friend of the family owned a carwash/gas station. My job consisted of sending cars through the automated wash and hand drying them as they exited.
For my work, I was paid $3.35 or a dime more than minimum wage. I showed up each Saturday morning at 8 am sharp and helped prepare the station for the day.
I learned a number of skills at that job, some of which I still think back on today. We didn’t have digital cash registers that calculated the change for us so I learned to count change back to customers. I also became comfortable checking and adding oil to various makes of cars. I also learned how to handle customers who expected their Pontiac Fiero to come out of a four dollar carwash looking show floor new.
One learning experience stands out though.
After a warm summer day, my coworker and I were in a hurry to close the station and spend the evening chasing girls or trouble or both. We began cleaning the large brushes with a cleaning solution that’s probably illegal today. My job was to dip two rags into an oily solution, turn the brushes on full speed and then hug the brushes until they were fully covered. Of course, more solution ended up on my clothing and hair than the brushes.
Not smoking probably saved my life.
We followed standard closing procedure by cleaning and preparing areas customers could not see. We were not allowed to lock the gas pumps until the 7 pm closing time.
But business had been light for the past hour and we couldn’t wait to begin our evening. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to lock half the gas pumps 30 minutes early, would it? Locking the pumps was time consuming because a number of readings had to be taken including dipping a 20 foot wooden pole down into the underground fuel containers.
Between cleaning the brushes and dipping that wooden pole into the container, no job since has provided so much excitement and potential danger.
So we locked one island of pumps and waited the last half hour before locking the rest and hopefully getting out a bit earlier than usual.
As I pumped gas for one of our regular customers, the owner of the station pulled up to one of the locked pumps. He didn’t have to get out of his car to notice it was locked.
I finished helping customers, while he waited next to his car. To his credit he didn’t explode or lay into me, although he had every right to. I explained that we hoped to get out as close to 7 pm as possible.
At that point he said, “I’d like you to pump my gas from this pump”.
And that’s when he taught me something I’ve never forgotten. “We close when our last customer drives away.”
What if a customer had pulled up to a locked pump and driven away before I could direct them to the other island? Nobody wants to feel like they are being hurried out of a business they are willing to patronize. He reminded me there were two gas stations located less than block away.
I got the message. The owner gave me a mulligan. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
I thought about his words this weekend when we visited Qdoba thirty minutes before closing. All but two smaller tables had been pushed to one side of the business. Chairs were balanced on top of tables, and one man was moping the floors under our feet as we ordered.
I should have walked out at that point, but the kids were hungry and strapping them into the van isn’t a pleasant exercise as they tell us for the 100th time how hungry they are.
To make matters more dangerous, the only way to the soda dispenser was through the wet area he’d already mopped. Of course, it took less than a minute for Kai fall down in that area while running to help his sister.
The woman who took our order was friendly, although I wasn’t happy when she asked, “This is to go, right?” as she cut the kids cheese quesadilla.
I understand the workers at Qdoba probably felt the same way I did as I locked down the gas pumps so many years ago. But last night did not make us fans of Qdoba. And because there’s a Chipotle a block away, we’ll take our business there next time we’re in the mood for quasi-healthy Mexican food.