He had a swagger to his walk and his face was bright red. There was something about him that I couldn’t put my finger on and I hadn’t even started a conversation yet. He walked up to the cash register, pounded his fist on the counter and yelled, “You people are ripping me off! I can’t believe gas is $1.50 a gallon! You’ve got to be kidding me!” (The customer threw in a few expletives too, but I’ll spare you the vulgar words.)
Then he threw down some cash to pay for his gas, walked out of the station, and pealed out of the parking lot in his blue Toyota truck. My 17 year old eyes were wide with surprise. The way this customer carried himself freaked me out and I was thrilled to see him leave.
For over four decades, my dad worked for Chevron. He started out as an attendant washing windows and by the end of his career he owned a service station. As soon as I turned 16, I started working for him as a cashier. I worked for him throughout high school and when I headed off to college I landed a job at a Chevron station in Chico, CA. I even spent a summer working at a station in Truckee too. It was one of my favorite summers because I escaped the Chico heat and explored Truckee and Lake Tahoe on my own.
My career as a gas station attendant and cashier spanned about 8 years and the experience taught me a lot of lessons, including . . .
Don’t be an asshole. When I worked at the Chevron station in Chico, my morning shift started at 5.30. I loved it because the shift ended in the early afternoon. So I had plenty of time to do homework, attend classes and hang out with friends.
However, the problem with that shift was that I frequently encountered assholes. A stream of people always came into the station running low on gas and caffeine. In a lot of ways I felt like a drug dealer. I wasn’t handing out weed. But I was dealing coffee and fuel - two valuable commodities with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Not all of my morning customers were assholes, yet the mean people seem to stand out in my memory. Probably because getting berated for high fuel prices and bad coffee was a bit traumatic. Since I encountered a lot of mean people during my cashiering days, I always try to be extra nice to cashiers and customer service representatives because working with the public can be difficult.
Second, always practice patience, even when you’re dealing with an asshole. Getting into a yelling match isn’t the solution. For example, every time I was yelled at for high gas prices I tried to kill the customer with kindness and make their experience at the station stellar. Why? Because I found a lot of satisfaction in doing the best job possible.
Third, have fun! I’ve been working since I was 16 and I’ve had a variety of jobs. Every job has it’s downside, especially if you’re known as “the gas station girl.” Of course if you feel like “screaming or shouting because of job stress,” figure out how you can escape to pursue work you enjoy.
But no matter what you do, it’s still possible to have fun at work. For example, when I worked in Truckee my co-workers and I would time how fast we could do things like taking out the garbage or cleaning the bathrooms. You couldn’t skimp on your task or cut corners. The work had to be high quality. We’d give each other little evaluations and laugh about the mundane nature of our tasks, which made the work a whole lot more enjoyable. The personal exchanges infused with creativity was fun! As Todd Kashdan says in Curious?, “Research has shown that a small shift in attitude can energize us and change how we evaluate activities we previously viewed as silly, stupid, or unsatisfying.”
Don't let angry assholes ruin your day. Whether you’re a gas station girl or a cashier at Macys, infuse whatever you’re doing with creativity and your own curious nature. Remember, be kind, be patient, and have fun!