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October 25th, 2013

Observations From A Convenience Store

This past Summer I had a second job which helped make ends meet or almost (I've seen what an actual economic recovery looks like; A real recovery looks like 1983, not like 2013). This was opening at a small convenience store (once upon a time such things were merely "gas stations") every Sunday. I had this job before, where I'd opened Saturday and Sunday every other weekend for a couple years, and had left it (on good terms) a year or two ago. This Spring things didn't go quite as I had hoped and when I stopped for something or other, I was asked, "You wouldn't, by chance, be looking for a few more hours, would you?" And I stunned the asker with a reply that started, "Funny you should ask that..." Thus this Summer I had that job. And having had it before, I noticed something. Well, most things were simply repeats of the earlier experience. One was not, and it's not a good sign of things. The standard things first...

* A convenience store is NOT a gas station first. Sure, that might be some of the draw, but that's not the big deal. Fuel is more a headache as folks complain about prices we have no real control over. At best the manager will try to delay a price increase to outlast the other places at the old, lower price and try to lower it first. A convenience store is really a Cigarette Stand that happens to sell motorfuel and a few other things on the side.

* If you hear, "Ready on pump no. 3" or similar, you need to come inside to pay. If your card had read properly at the pump, you would not hear that announcement.

* If you get back in your vehicle to write a check or sort your cash after hanging up the pump nozzle, I will take down your license plate number because you are looking like a potential drive off. If that offends you, too bad, don't give me reason to suspect you. Actually, if you go to the far side of the farthest pump(s) in an empty station, you're suspicious right there. Guess where most drive-offs take place from? Some seem to think they are "clever" when what they really are is "obvious."

* The owners might prefer you come inside even after paying at the pump, or buy stuff after using the restroom. The cashier is quite happy for you fill your tank (paying at the pump) and/or empty your bladder and leave. The feeling isn't one of annoyance at a potential lost sale, it's one of relief of one less thing to have to deal with.

* The Star Tribune has an "Early Sunday Edition" which is really their standard Saturday edition, though they add (standard, it seems) the Sunday comics. No big deal, now. But a couple years ago they didn't explain or claim what it was. That made it seem like a special Sunday Morning thing - which is odd when it has no Evening edition. Indeed, are their any genuine evening papers left? They've fixed that now, so at least there is one thing the (Red) Star Tribune isn't lying about.

* Smokers are either getting used to the "new" (now a few years old) names since Light, Ultralight, Medium, and Mild are no longer permitted or else I was simply seeing the new generation of smokers who had not learned the old names. Soft-packs are usually only bought by rather older folks. Minnesota's new, higher, tobacco tax might be driving some to quit, but it's also getting folks to drive out of state for cigarettes, or getting people to go the roll-your-own way or at least try the e-cigarettes.

* There is a form used to keep track of scratch-off lottery tickets (by the brick or bundle - these need to be activated, so if someone were to swipe a brick of them it would do them no good: none of the tickets would be considered "in play" - and even if they swiped one after activation, they can be deactivated - try to cash a stolen ticket in and the machine will pop up a message: CALL POLICE - STOLEN TICKET) which is, at the place I worked, filled out by hand. I took to writing the game names in cursive and often that stuck and I'd next see the form (changed at least daily, if not per-shift) still in cursive. Well, almost. Some shorthand would happen such as 'crossword' becoming 'X-word' and 'star' being replaced with a five-pointed star. Also the letters, especially capitals, would revert to printed for Q, Z, and curiously often for G as well. Q and Z make sense - they are fairly rare and the capital cursive isn't seen much. But G is quite common and yet reverted nearly as often.

* Machine tickets (Powerball, Mega Millions, etc.) are easily printed by the machine as separate tickets or five-to-a-ticket. Anything else on the same ticket is a pain as the machine is not fast even when the everything should be local - it needs to communicate for the actual ticket generation, but even the setup is slow and each screen-switch is a delay. Buying tickets and want to get out faster? Don't ask for a single ticket for a couple plays. It's actually faster to print two tickets. Print-n-Play stuff takes the longest.

* The lottery, especially the scratch-off stuff, is set up like B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning. If a pigeon pecks a button and gets a food pellet every time, when it stops delivering, the pigeon will give up on the button after a short time. If the system gives pellets after varying tries, when the system stops delivering, the pigeon keeps at at it pretty much forever. "Just one more..." Actually, all gambling is generally this way, pigeon. It's meant to be addictive and for you to lose money.

* Some lines are tired and reveal the speaker to be an idiot. "Pick me a winner." is one of them. If I could do that, would I be working at a convenience store? Even if I couldn't do that for myself, I'd at least have a 900-number. Another is "Busy is good." which has never been said to me by anybody who was actually busy themselves. It's said by folks who are very clearly not working.

* Some bad lines aren't standard, but for a single person. The same (unfunny even when first heard) joke does not get funnier with each telling. Even if said every week, all Summer long.

* Just because, supposedly, someplace somewhere else will take an EBT (foodstamps) card, does not mean this place, here will. And somehow these poor folks can travel from there to here, whine about not being able to use EBT here, and yet still manage to have cash for beer, cigarettes, or lottery tickets. There's good reason I believe some folks on EBT should have it cut back if not off. Anyone who can buy beer, tobacco, or lottery tickets does NOT need my (or your) money to subsidize their lifestyle.

* Despite that commercial (of a few years ago - maybe a variant still airs, I don't know) paying cash is generally faster than paying by credit card. But the only thing slower than paying by check is paying in all coin for a non-trivial purchase. Oh, if you dump it all on the counter and don't help at all, I will be in no great hurry either. Too bad if you're desperate for that nic-fix.

* Exact change sounds nice, but it's easier and faster to go to the next dollar amount up (especially if the system use an automated coin dispenser) or with a standard bill ($5, $10, $20, maybe $50). The cashier has things set up for him (or her) to make change faster and more easily than you can fish it out and sort it. If there's no rush (and that includes folks behind you and whatever else the cashier needs to get done) then go ahead and get rid of your change. Want speed? Break a 20. Or better, pay in $10 bills. Those run out most often, if they're even there at all.

* Paying by check and want to write it to the next dollar up, or a few? Fine. Want $50 back in cash? Nope. "The manager lets me do it all he time." is utter bilge. I know, because I know the manager. Someone once tried using that line on her and got a shock when called on that BS. No pity for them at all. There is one possible exception (It likely varies place to place, so I won't go into specifics) and it's Not You. Really.

* Maybe you don't know when the shifts change, but you probably know when a place opens. Right then or just after is a Bad Time to break a large ($50, $100) bill or try to cash in a similarly large winning lottery ticket. You're emptying the fresh cash drawer that can't be simply restocked - where it is stocked from has to remain balanced and no, you are NOT a special exemption to that. Right after opening, if you buy $30+ worth of stuff and pay with a $50, that's fine. If you want to buy a $0.79 item and pay with a $100, you're an asshole. Actually, even well into the shift that second one indicates a failure on your part.

* Sundays are generally the slowest day, depending on what's going on in the area and the weather. The one exception is Easter Sunday which, being Day 3 of a three-day weekend is a travel day for many, therefore traffic is up. Generally, nobody is added to the schedule for this. Expect delays. The delays are not there just to annoy you - the cashier generally wants folks out as fast as possible as then they (you) are one less thing to worry about.

* Regarding weather: Rain is good, snow is bad. Not for business, but for avoiding being harried. The folks who don't go out or don't make any unnecessary stops in the rain (what, they'll melt?) all seem to have to show they can drive in snow - or forgot to fill the gas can for the snowblower before they needed it.

* Cashiers or clerks suspect that ESP is real, but useless except to annoy and the Universe conspires to make things irksome. Want someone to show up at the register? Step away from it. Want a steady parade of customers? Have a full bladder. If a few folks come in over several minutes, they'll all mysteriously decide to check out at once. The little old lady who is paying by check will somehow get to the register first.

* Most people are fine, but there are plenty who are either just plain stupid or have a "That doesn't apply to ME" entitlement mentality. I have seen people remove the "Out of Order" glove over a pump nozzle and attempt to use the pump. I've heard stories of worse (Guy crashes into pump, knocks it off-kilter to 30 degrees. Lady drives up and tries to use that leaning pump and comes in to complain that it doesn't work. Evidently the off-base, leaning pump, severed from the pipes and the marked squad car wasn't enough of a hint that things weren't quite right.) Sadly, this sort of thing is anything but rare.

* And the big change from even a couple years ago: More people are paying in change (coins). A few years ago it was only younger kids who scraped up what they could to get some treat and the occasional guy desperate for cigarettes and willing to get the cheapest, nastiest things just to get his nic-fix. Now it's all ages - and not just the extra quarters left over from a laundromat visit, or just the very rare person spending the collected change rather than having their bank sort it. This wasn't just my observation, but that of others as well. There might not be any formal tracking of such things, but I can't see it being an economic indicator of anything good.

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