Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fill 'er Up

Way back when, I had a job at a gas station. It was a self-serve joint with no repair facilities, no air pump, not even a water hose. It was just four gas pumps and a box-like shed for me to sit in while I waited for customers to drive up. It was open 24-hours-a-day and I worked the midnight-to-eight shift.

“Worked” is a bit of a stretch, really. I sat there for eight hours a night. The most strenuous thing I did on any given shift was to take this very long measuring-stick thing we had, for finding out how much gas was left in the large in-ground tanks and... well, finding out how much gas was left in the large in-ground tanks. That took three or four minutes and then I’d go back into my little shed, write down the figures, and sit again.

The shed was a metal and glass affair, probably 6 feet by 8 feet. There was a door that we were instructed to lock whenever we went inside and (believe it or not) two “rooms” in that little space. In the back half there was a toilet and sink. I sat in the front, where there was a cash drawer and a sliding tray that I pushed out towards the customer when I needed to get his or her money. If they got change, I put it into the tray and slid it back out to them. I had no physical contact with the customers.

The gas station was on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, at the far end of a strip mall. None of the other shops in the mall were open while I was working. And there were no residences anywhere within sight. However, it was diagonally across the street from a place called Boston Bowl and that’s where most of our late-night customers came from.

Boston Bowl was (and is, so far as I know) the only 24-hour bowling alley in Massachusetts. If you got a sudden urge to bowl a few strings at 3am, Boston Bowl was the place to go. Fifty lanes, no waiting. The place also had 10 or 12 pool tables, a selection of video games, and a sort of supermarket of bad drug dealers in the parking lot.

(When I say “bad drug dealers,” I don’t mean BAAAAAAAAAD. I mean they sold bad drugs. Only the very desperate and the extremely stupid made drug deals in the parking lot of Boston Bowl.)

At the time, I was in a band called Live Wire. I was the bass player. We’d rehearse most nights from about 7pm until we got sick of each other (unless we had a gig, in which case we'd play from about 7pm until the audience got sick of us) and then I’d grab a bite to eat at some sub shop or burger place and head on over to my job at the gas station. Since I had little better to do between midnight and eight, I used to cart along an amplifier and a six-string, set them up with me in the little shed, and make rude loud noises all night. What the hell. Nobody was within earshot except for a bunch of junkies and rip-off pushers. Who was going to call the cops if I disturbed the peace?

One Friday night, I’m sitting in the shed torturing the guitar. It’s about 2am, I guess. In pulls this dented monkey-shit brown Olds 88. I stop playing and wait for the driver to get out, come up to the window and tell me how much gas he wants. Nobody gets out immediately and I start to worry that this is some dim bulb expecting curb service. I really don’t want to leave the shed just to have to tell some drunk that it’s self-service and he has to pump the gas. If he was a nasty drunk – and the chances were about 50/50, in that area, that he would be – I really had no desire to argue with him.

So, I’m sitting there in the shed and I notice that there are four people in the car – three guys and a girl. I figure at least one of them must have sense enough to tell the driver that he has to go up to the window and pay me, then pump the gas himself.

Finally, after about 45 seconds of wondering if I was going to have to talk to a whole carload of drunks, the driver gets out and so does the one who had been sitting on the passenger side. The guy who had been riding shotgun goes over to the pump, takes the hose off and sticks the nozzle in the gas tank. The driver comes up to the window and says, “Fill’er up.”

I slide the tray out and say, “You have to pay first, and then I turn on the pump. Sorry.”

He smiles and says, “Sorry? How sorry would you be if I told you I had a gun?”

“Not as sorry as if you showed me you had one.”

He reaches into his jacket and pulls one out. He lifts his hand and, from behind the glass, I’m looking down the barrel of what appeared to be a cannon.

(It might have been a .22, but at that moment it sure looked like heavy artillery to me.)

I say, “Fill ‘er up?”


I turn on the pump.

Having never been robbed at gunpoint before, I’m not sure of the correct etiquette. I start making small talk.

“You know, you can put the gun away, chief. I’ve seen it now. This isn’t my gas. Take as much as you want.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re the boss.”

“Shut the fuck up!”

I shut the fuck up.

His buddy pulls the nozzle from the tank and puts it back onto the pump. I suppose he could have just dropped it. At least they’re neat thieves. He tells the driver that the tank is full, and he screws the gas cap on. I wait for further instructions. I assume that now is when I’ll be asked for the money.

He puts the gun away, walks back to the car, gets in and peels rubber taking off.

I sat there stunned. I was truly expecting, at the very least, to have to hand over the cash. I had considered the possibility that this guy might ask me to step outside. I’m not sure exactly what I would have done if he had ordered me out of the shed. I suppose I would have had no sane choice but to have stepped outside. However, the door was locked and it was pretty thick glass. I might have just ducked under the counter or something. I assumed if I had to step outside, I was probably a dead man. Perhaps, if I ducked, he wouldn’t have wanted to start kicking the door down or shooting and then have the possibility of someone else pulling into the station.

I lit a smoke and pondered what had just happened. I was surprisingly calm, all things considered. I knew that I was obliged to call the police, as well as my boss, but I started thinking.

Was there any way to turn this thing to my advantage?

Yes, there was.

They hadn’t asked for the money, the stupid shits. They just risked a major league jail term – armed robbery - for a tank of cheap gasoline. I had to report this, but what was stopping me from making a profit out of it? What if I took the money and said that they took it?

I attempted to rationalize it. I wasn’t getting paid enough to risk my life, so why not make it worth my while? I assumed that the gas station was insured for such things. If the police somehow caught the bum that pulled a gun on me, what would it matter if I accused him of taking the money as well as the gas? Fuck him and the monkey-shit brown Olds he rode in on.

Oh, for goodness' sakes, stop looking at me like that. I might not be a saint, but I'm not that much of a jerk, either. Well, at least not now.

OK, let me put it this way: What would you have done?

Whatever you would have done, that’s what I did.


Soon, with more better stuff.


Johnny C. said...

Please tell me you took the money..haha

endangered coffee said...

I would have found a job where there was less of a chance of a gun being waved in my face.

Melinda said...

Great story Sully

(I'm pretty sure I know what I would have done...)

David Sullivan said...

I had someone threaten me with a gun on a golf course. He didn't pull it on me, but opened his jacket to make it obvious he had one. I wondered how he swung without blowing his ass off.

Mushy said...

Interesting story and even more interesting alternatives...not sure what I would have done, besides wipe my ass!

Peter N said...

Any other moves by you, well, you might not be here for us. Hi to you...it's been too long for me to have been able to visit! I'mmmmm baaack! Peter

Suldog said...

OK, since I've had a couple of private e-mails asking me what happened, I'll spill the beans.

I called the cops and I called my boss. I quit the job, but the boss talked me into working a couple of more shifts, at least until he could find a replacement. I end up being honest.

Now, having found this out, you must understand that the story works better with the moral dillemma. If I just ended it with me calling the cops and my boss, and without going through the evil thought process - which I most definitely had, at the time - it's a pretty damned flat ending.

I have to say that I find it very interesting that folks can't live without knowing. I mean, if YOU would have taken the money, then assuming that I did won't hurt my feelings. I've done enough bad things in my life that being tarred unfairly for another one wouldn't be without some justice. And if you WOULDN'T have taken the money, why do you doubt MY honesty?

(For that matter, if you doubt my honesty, what's to say I'm not lying here? Sheesh.)

Rebecca said...

You can always tell a true Bostonian. Someone pulls a gun or threatens to use one - and we chit chat. :)

Truthfully, I've not been in that situation. But my store was robbed a few years back (it was all over the news, the guy was quite friendly), and when he told the clerk that he had a gun, the kid believed him. Me on the other hand, truthfully - would've been like "Um, are you serious? Can you show me the gun, because I don't know that I believe you". Seriously. Our hold up was THAT friendly that I would've said that for sure.

I think it all depends on the scenario. If someone is aggressive and violent in their approach, small talk won't happen. Take what you want and move on....But if they're seemingly benign, I have to tell you, I think I might've either made small talk, or dropped a few "f" bombs.

As far as telling the owner or not...listen, so not for me to pass judgement. As a business owner, yeah - sure you probably should've given him a heads up incase the drawer/tanks were off - however that all reconciles. But as a person....I certainly don't think its that big of a deal that you didn't. It's almost no harm no foul - it wasn't cash from the drawer and truthfully, I'm sure the owner would've been more concerned with your well being than anything else.

Until one has walked in another shoes....opinions mean nothing. :)

Stu said...

Wow, that is heavy. You handled yourself with great dignity. A gun to the head changes things, and to have held up under the pressure is amazing.

Thimbelle said...

Back in the late 70's during the oil embargo, I was working at a self-serve station. I was in college, and it was a fairly easy job, and the family that owned the station was nice.

We sold gas, pop, candy bars, milk, and bread. Oh, and *cans* of oil; it didn't come in handy-dandy screw top bottles back then. I didn't get to use the long stick - no, lucky me - I got count the cans of pop on my shift.

Where we lived at the time, there was a simple rationing system - if your license plate ended in an odd number, then you could fill your gas tank on odd numbered days, even numbers filled on even numbered days.

One very memorable afternoon, I was waiting for the owner to arrive so that I could go to class, when a guy came in who [a] obviously was violating the rationing rule by trying to fill an odd-numbered car on an even-numbered day [b] was clearly quite drunk, and [c] was extremely belligerent.

When I told him that I couldn't turn on the pump for him, because *tomorrow* was his day for gas, and could he please move his car, thankyouverymuch, he reached down into the corner by the door, and picked up the oil spout that we kept in a little tin bucket next to the door. Every week or so, the owner would stuff a red garage rag into the bottom of the little bucket to help soak up the oil.

Leaning across the counter, he grabbed the neck of my "uniform" shirt (a t-shirt with the logo of the gas company) and pressed the shiny, oily point of the oil spout into the base of my neck. He indicated that I should not worry so much about whether he was odd or even, and that I should worry a whole lot more about whether I wanted a big hole in my neck.

I turned on the pump, and turned in my resignation later that same day.

I hadn't thought about that incident in years until I read this entry...

Suldog said...

Thank you, all, for your comments.

Thim - That's quite a story. Thanks for sharing it here. I'm glad you turned on the pumps!