Oh my God, what if someone from high school sees me working here?
April 7, 2015 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I was hoping for so much more from that article. I'm glad you posted it, mind you. It's just that I was hoping he'd discuss his actual experiences.

I worked one winter at a gas station on the edge of town, the last one leaving Ann Arbor before you got on the highway. And what I remember was how every non-working class customer treated us like shit. From yuppies to leftists (they were easy to spot, what with their cars covered with peace and love and Grateful Dead bumper stickers) - across the board, we were constantly reminded that we were somehow less, that the basic niceties of social interaction didn't need to be applied to us. It was a stunning, eye-opening experience about working life in America.
posted by kanewai at 2:54 PM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

As someone who once worked at a gas station, I can tell you what to do if someone from school sees you there. You sell them the blunt they came for and chit chat about how their night is going.
posted by foobaz at 3:16 PM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]

I work right down the street from the exact station that he works at but I never go there anymore because I stopped shopping at the supermarket that it's associated with and the only reason to fight the mobs of cars there is to get the frequent shopper discount.
posted by octothorpe at 3:20 PM on April 7, 2015

I worked one winter at a gas station on the edge of town, the last one leaving Ann Arbor before you got on the highway. And what I remember was how every non-working class customer treated us like shit.

Fuckin' Ann Arbor, man. That town's superiority complex is a wonder to behold.

I have a friend who is a minister, and when her congregation found themselves unable to pay her full salary, she got a second job behind the counter at a liquor store. I'll have to send her this; I think she'll find it interesting. She felt like she got a lot of insight into her community during the time she worked at the party store, and she used to blog about it too.

When I was in my mid-20s and in a time of transition, I found myself living with my parents, in the small Michigan town I'd grown up in. My parents didn't charge rent, and they fed me, but I had some bills left to pay from my old apartment in another state, and I was responsible for my own gas money and spending money and so on.

While I was looking for something more permanent, I went to work nights in the drive-thru at the Burger King in town.

The parents of people I went to high school with—where I was an honor student and had a reputation as an intellectual—came through all the time as I did my burger-slinging in a polyester uniform and stupid hat. I remember one time the mom of a girl I'd been on ski team with came through. We chatted a bit, and she said, "I'll have to tell Barb I ran into you. She's in Vienna, doing a master's degree in architecture."

When I told my mom about things like this, she said that she was actually proud of me for working at the Burger King (I had a master's degree myself at this point). "Some people are too proud to do what needs to be done," she said. That was far and away the nicest thing my mom ever said to me.
posted by not that girl at 3:48 PM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]

And what I remember was how every non-working class customer treated us like shit.

my experience wasn't every one was like that, but an annoying percentage of them were - this was back in the early 90s and we had prepay on night shift - the number of people who took this as a personal affront was legion

i don't know if i'd get hired in a place like that these days - for one thing, my interview was with the co-owner, a 60 something lady with a brusque personality who didn't have any damn interview script or checkoff sheet - they'd been running that place for 20 years in one form or another and they knew what they wanted; they did it their way

20 minutes and i must have said and acted the right way, because i was hired in - 6 days a week on an 8 hour night shift and if you called in, you'd better be in a hospital - i worked there for something like 8 or so years - she was hard but she was fair and decent

one thing she kept saying was "i swore when i worked for hudson's in downtown detroit that i would never get another job working with the public ... but here i am"

that and frequent calls for st anthony to help her find something

i really wonder if places and owners like that exist anymore
posted by pyramid termite at 4:10 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm in a decent-paying field, but the opportunities are starting to dry up (age-ism). Out of interest, I've been periodically working or apprenticing in a trade that interests me (boat maintenance). Obviously the pay's lower and the conditions are a bit rougher, but when I learned enough to be useful, it was good, healthy, interesting work.

Two things keep me from taking this up full-time:
1) The lower $$$ would require better planning and a few small sacrifices
2) There is significantly lower status to manual work

And goddammit, I don't know which in my heart is the bigger impediment for me.

Why does this society no longer value WORK? Why can't we give dignity, respect and a livable wage to everyone who contributes?
posted by Artful Codger at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

not that girl, I would love to read your friend's blog.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Why does this society no longer value WORK?

because it's easier and more lucrative (or at least less stressful) to bullshit - working is for chumps, losers and people who don't have a life

meaning people like me, i guess
posted by pyramid termite at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2015

The gas station is basically the default community center in my neighborhood.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 4:25 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I worked at a gas station my senior year in college, in the small town just up the road from the university. It was near but not *on* a major highway, so the customers were mostly locals along with some folks that wandered into town from the interstate. It was a good gig, for the most part. The work was straightforward, the owner was fair, and the hours were reasonable. It didn't pay very well, but I was 22 or 23 and didn't have a lot of expenses, and it fit my needs at a time when it was hard for an out of state student in Washington state to find a part time job. On the whole it was a pretty good experience and I never felt embarrassed about working there.

Funny story: My first day, the owner is showing me around the pumps and explaining what's expected. This was in the mid-80's, and this station had both self- and full-service pumps. At his station, full service customers got their gas pumped, their window's washed, and an offer to check their oil. If they wanted their tire pressure checked, we'd do that, too. So the owner demonstrates a few full service fill ups, and then has me take the next one. I'm not nervous -- I took auto shop in high school and although I wasn't hired to be a mechanic I knew my way around motors and cars and worked on each of the cars I had owned. And I had previous retail experience. So s classic "little old lady" pulls up to the full service pump, and I am being super nice and super thorough, checking her oil, washing her windows, counting out her change. All good. But before she pulled away, I forgot to do the most important thing: I forgot to take the fucking pump nozzle out of her car's fill spout! She drove about 6 feet past the pump with it attached, at which point the pump nozzle separated from the hose (as it is supposed to do), and gas started pumping EVERYWHERE! I was stunned at my stupidity. The owner rushed over to shut off the pump, and simultaneously began laughing deliriously -- big, chest-heaving peals of laughter. I wanted to die. We each apologized to the customer and made sure she and her car were OK. I apologized to the owner and figured that was it, I'd get my things and leave. But he was having none of that, and between laughs he had me put absorbent clay on the spilled gas and showed me how to fix the hose and reattach the pump head. He said everyone here had done that at least once, and he was glad I got mine out of the way on the first day, though he certainly didn't expect me to do it with my first full service customer. He then proceeded to rib me about it for the rest of my shift and announce it as part of my introduction to the other workers there, which seemed appropriate, but thankfully that was it, and it wasn't mentioned again after the first day. Needless to say, he was a cool dude and knew how to run his business in a way that kept both customers and employees happy.

Like I said, I never felt embarrassed working there, and I got to see quite a mix of people. The worst, IMO, were the folks who bought gas with gov't credit cards: they always pulled up to the full service pumps and never missed an opportunity to be arrogant assholes and boss the attendants around. This was true for military, blue collar, and white collar federal employees. They acted as if that federal credit card made them landed gentry, and they exulted in treating the attendees as if we were peasants. But pretty much everyone else I encountered while working there was pretty cool. Absolutely NOT the worst job I ever had, not by a long shot.
posted by mosk at 4:44 PM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

I worked at a gas station just outside Ann Arbor. The customers were fine, and my immediate manager was fine, but management above her was shitty. The station was owned by a local company that also sold fuel oil. They made us buy our own uniforms even though they paid minimum wage, and I didn't know then that this was illegal. Probably just as well, since what could I have done? I'd have just gotten angry for nothing. They "shopped" us by sending secret shoppers through, and would write us up for bogus things. I got fired, and my manager was mad since I was a reliable employee, but I got shopped and they found me sitting on a milk crate - oh noes!

Two years later she hired me again at another store in the chain. They'd all been sold to a new owner that offered profit sharing to store managers, and she'd gotten herself transferred to the most profitable store in the chain. That store was the only one without gas pumps - it had a liquor license instead. It was very busy. It was in a good neighborhood on the west side of Ann Arbor.

I didn't have any complaints about the way the customers treated me in either store. Sure, you get the occasional goofball, but I didn't feel like they looked down at me or anything. The gas station, well, those were the days before pay-at-pump, so people of all social classes came through. I saw people from high school, and I saw their parents and grandparents. I saw people fill up nice cars and I saw people who would put $5 in a junker, and then come back later that night for another $5. They were generally polite and gracious. I saw the cops regularly enough to be on first name basis, but never for anything except handing out free donuts and coffee. At the liquor store, you see mostly people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, because more of them buy liquor, lotto tickets, and cigarettes. They are also the ones with disorganized lives, weird schedules, and fewer transportation options, so they are the ones who pay the higher convenience store pricing for the small, shopworn grocery items.

I worked at a picture framing store. That's probably a minimum wage job where you'd be most likely to meet the classic Ann Arbor snooty artist lefty types. I had no bad experiences there either. I worked at McDonalds and the customers were much nicer than the managers. I worked at K-Mart and there the customers were pretty awful, but that's because I was in the toy department and people treated us as babysitters. The kids were apeshit at all times and the parents were entitled. I wouldn't work in childcare for anything.
posted by elizilla at 4:46 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

My good friend's husband manages a gas station/ convenience store. He doesn't love the job, mostly because the hours really suck, but I don't at all get the impression that he's embarrassed when people from high school come in. I sort of cringe when I read this kind of thing, I guess because it reads so much like middle-class people playing tourist in a working-class world, and I feel sort of gross when I think about how my friend or her husband would read it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends is a former minister who, until 18 months ago, worked at a gas station/bait shop/c-store. He made good coffee, stocked the NYT (hard to find in our small rural town) and turned it into a salon where the crusty old-time farmers, the tourists and seasonal folk, the fishermen, the artists, and a smattering of randoms like me all hung out and helped when necessary, e.g., restocking shelves. He also organized stuff like helping pay for Ugandan girls' tuition, hooking people up with the appropriate social service agency, etc. Basically it was his new ministry. Now he's working at the liquor store across town and the ratio of counseling to cashier activities has reached new heights. I miss the old days.
posted by carmicha at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Some people are too proud to do what needs to be done," she said.

That is a great observation, and oh so true. You see it in the way some people look down on service and manual labor jobs, and you also encounter it within a workplace where some people only want to do the fun and more prestigious tasks, even though the shittier work is just as important to having the entire enterprise succeed.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:52 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was going to post this to Metafilter. Then I realized I found this via Metafilter. D'oh!
posted by rankfreudlite at 9:29 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Way back when my second kid was born and we realized it made no sense for my wife to work 40 hours a week to net about $100 after daycare expenses, I picked up a second job delivering pizza for Papa John's. One night I delivered to a home flying the flag of my alma mater, and in my usual attempt at small talk to up my tip, I mentioned I was a fellow graduate. I'll never forget the look of disgust and pity the guy gave me, and the way he said "good luck with things" after he paid. I'm sure he thought I was some drag addled loser.

In an odd twist of irony, I passed on the full time job they offered me because I thought I was above running a pizza shop. Had I taken that job (pre-IPO) the stock options would have made me rich.
posted by COD at 5:21 AM on April 8, 2015

You oughta know now all your education
Won't help you nohow, you're gonna
Wind up workin' in a gas station
Wind up workin' in a gas station
Wind up workin' in a gas station
Wind up workin' in a gas station
Wind up workin' in a gas station

In Ann Arbor? Zut alors!
posted by Herodios at 8:38 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I worked one winter at a gas station on the edge of town, the last one leaving Ann Arbor before you got on the highway. And what I remember was how every non-working class customer treated us like shit."

Which one?

(The wild thing about two people with Ann Arbor gas station experience already posting here is that I know there's at least one more member who worked at the one on Main and William.)

It's my firm belief that everyone should be required to have a shit job for at least a year in order to instill some fucking humility into them. I remember a stint when I was night manager at the PFC, and had this slightly older grad student (probably 26 or so when I was 20) who had deigned to take a cashier's job and was full of suggestions about the way everyone else should be doing their jobs, but didn't know how to mop a fucking floor and endlessly dicked around at closing time until someone else basically came and bailed her out because they didn't want to stay an extra hour. Nobody wanted her on their shift, and I remember yelling at her that she could tell me how to mop a floor once she fucking learned to mop a floor herself. But hey, she was still working there and fucking up after I got fired for insubordination on the day before Thanksgiving (about a month before the woman who fired me got fired herself for being incompetent).

I swear, working those jobs has made me so much more polite and considerate as a customer — always having to think, "Does some poor hourly schlub deserve to have to clean up after this?" helped me avoid a lot of vandalism that my friends got into.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have to admit, my prurient nature gets a kick out of Sheetz. My dad, brother and I once took a weekend road trip from brewery to brewery through Pittsburgh, up to Syracuse, then back through Buffalo to Michigan, and during that time there was some sort of E. Coli or salmonella outbreak that resulted in violent diarrhea that was ultimately traced back to, like, contaminated lettuce in Sheetz sandwiches, which we found hilarious. "Sheetz! They warned you! It's right in the name!"
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on April 8, 2015

The next in the series.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:54 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

And the next.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:16 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's the Get-Go that he works at. I'm over in that area pretty often, I really should go in and try to figure out which employee is the author.
posted by octothorpe at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2015

« Older It Won't Be a Green Chri$tma$   |   "tell that I was loved by the Muses and that the... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments