Tuesday, May 01, 2007
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.”
“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.