As I've noted before, I work at a convenience store that sells, for the most part, gasoline, cigarettes, beer, and ice cream. That means that every once in a while, we're the victim of a crime we call a drive-off: Somebody decides the gas prices are too high, and simply drives away without paying.
In my approximately four weeks on the job, five people have done this while I was at the register. The work shift before this one, two people did it in one night. My manager reviewed the video and saw that I had not been watching the pumps at the time; I had been making milkshakes and facing into the store, rather than out the windows.
When I was trained, I was taught that when someone pulled up to a pump, you used an intercom to acknowledge their presence, and then used a computer touch-screen to authorize the sale. Nobody told me to memorize the way the car and its driver looked; so, the first time I had someone drive off, I didn't know what the car or driver looked like. A fellow employee told me to just make something up for the police report; I refused; the report remained mostly blank; and it looked bad on my record.
The second drive-off, I was able to provide a description. Same for two of the other three. The fifth wasn't actually mine; but when the manager's daughter insists that it was yours, even though she authorized it, because you were running the register at the time, you can't argue. That's why I couldn't provide a description--I wasn't the one who authorized the sale, so I never looked at and memorized the car.
So now I discover something else: Not only do I have to authorize the sale, and memorize the description of the car, but I have to be turned towards the window so that the driver can see I am watching them. That's what caused my manager to write me up this time: I was watching the customers in the store, rather than the customers at the gas pumps. Nobody ever told me that I had to not only watch the customers at the pumps, but do so in a way that made it obvious that I was watching them. In hindsight, it's obvious; but those aren't the kinds of things I think about. When I think about doing my job, I think about accuracy and efficiency--not manipulating the minds of potential thieves.
And what do you do when you have one customer at the pump, and another wanting a milkshake?
I also got in trouble for kneeling down on the floor for a few seconds, to try to take weight off my feet temporarily. I was caught on video doing that, too. I couldn't help it. It just hurt. (And it really was seconds. Like ten seconds, not like sixty.)
The upshot of all this was that I got a written warning, and my hours were cut in half. I now work only part-time, rather than full-time. My manager says that she thinks I can't handle full-time work. I agree with her; but I also know that I can't really survive on part-time wages, so I had to try.
Her advice, to prevent further drive-offs: Keep a pad of paper. Write down the description of each car as it pulls up to the gas pump. And, if anyone is at the pumps, face the window and look out at them.
By the end of the conversation with the manager, I was crying. I felt humiliated, because it meant that I hadn't done my job well; and I so very badly want to do my job well. It's easier for me to take a calculus final than to work a shift at the convenience store; but I know I'll be working at places like this for a while yet, so that I can afford to take those calculus finals. I think she must have felt bad, too; she seemed to be blaming herself for my distress because she kept saying things like, "I don't mean to make you feel bad." I told her that I knew she didn't, and that I just cry easily. (In situations like this--when personal failure is involved--I do. I'm crying as I type this, believe it or not.)
Well, I finally cleaned myself up and finished the conversation. She promised me that if she needed to fire me, she would give me the opportunity to quit first, so that it wouldn't be on my record as a dismissal. At least I have that much.
At that point I went back out front to do my job. I was very careful to write down every vehicle that pumped gas, and cross them off when their owners paid. One of the first vehicles to pull up was a black SUV (a co-worker later told me it was a Ford Explorer, but I don't know cars that well). I noted that it had a yellow number "24" (a very nice number) in the back window. After pumping his gas, the owner pulled up to the store and sat in the car for a while. Generally, when they do this they are counting out their money or going into the store to buy things, so I wasn't very worried. I rang up a few sales, and when I looked up, that black SUV was at the traffic light near the store, with stolen gas in his tank.
I know it's not a good idea to cry in front of customers. This is the first time I've ever done it. It took me half an hour to calm down, and I only really managed it because I went into the bathroom and scratched my leg. (Superficially--don't worry about that. I don't regret that decision, either; sometimes there's just no faster way, and I needed to calm down fast.)
The girl working with me at the time, a very neurotypical, very nice person, took over and did everything for that half hour; and told me repeatedly I couldn't have prevented the drive-off, that it wasn't my fault, that I was one of the best workers there, and she was going to tell our manager it wasn't my fault... I couldn't have prevented it; she's right; I couldn't have, though I still kick myself for not going out and getting the license plate number, just in case; but then, I would have had to leave the customers at the register to do so.
If you drive that black SUV, and your tank is filled with my gas, I hope you total that fancy car, and I hope you do it without a scrap of insurance. You are a thoughtless excuse for a human being.
I get so annoyed with upper management sometimes. It seems to be the same everywhere: They care much more about making money than they care about the employees or their immediate managers. My company, for example, could prevent drive-offs simply by getting people to pre-pay for their gas. But they don't do this because we are also an ice-cream store, and when people pre-pay, they aren't as tempted to go in and buy ice cream after they have gotten their gas. So the company probably thinks that it gains in ice-cream sales what it loses in drive-offs.
But--as I pointed out to the manager--they could also easily identify (and probably deter) most drive-offs by getting outdoor cameras installed and aimed at license-plate level. But they don't do this, either--despite that a camera would pay for itself in less than a month, with the average drive-off about a $25 loss. Why not? Because they don't financially suffer from drive-offs; that burden falls on my manager, who pays for drive-offs out of her Christmas bonus (which, naturally, is usually nonexistent), and on the employees, who can easily lose their jobs because they had too many drive-offs.
If you've ever gotten gas and not paid for it, thinking you were just taking a comparatively minute amount of money out of the pockets of the big oil tycoons, you were wrong. You were taking that money from employees paid at minimum wage or little better, and from their managers, who aren't paid much more than the people they supervise (especially when you consider they are paid for 40 hours and may work many more than that). You may, in fact, have taken that money from an autistic person desperately struggling to stay off the streets and out of a group home, her mom's basement, or a mental institution--and I'm not the only one who qualifies for that description, either. Thanks a lot, guys. Hope you total your cars, too, whether or not you drive black SUVs.
So now I'm waiting to see what happens. Less than fifteen minutes after having been given a warning for having too many drive-offs, yet another happens on my watch. I'm not sure whether, the next time I go into the store, I'll still have a job. What a come-down... I was so proud of myself for doing so well; but I guess I'm not doing so well after all.