I had just finished my second set of errands Saturday when I pulled into a gas station near home. After several stops at the grocery store, post office, optometrist, etc., I was more than ready to be done. I figured I’d be in and out in 5 to 10 minutes.
I hadn’t realized this location rented U-Haul trucks. There in front of me at the pumps was an empty truck.
A woman in her 20s, wearing jeans, a zip-up hoodie and a gray T-shirt with the words “LAS VEGAS” in bright red letters across her chest, said to me: “I’ll be right with you, sir. I have to finish helping this customer.”
“That’s fine,” I said, and stepped out of my car.
The attendant and a male customer walked around the truck, looking here, looking there, going through a checklist on her clipboard. They went inside the convenience store that’s part of the business, presumably to close the transaction.
“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I should drive around to the pumps on the other side of the lot?”
The attendant and customer emerged. They peered inside the cab, looked inside the back of the truck, checked out the tires. They went back inside and talked some more.
“Geez,” I thought. “Maybe I should go across the street to the other station. Make a silent statement about customer service.”
Finally, the attendant came outside again.
“I’m really sorry, sir,” the attendant said with a smile. “It’s only my second day on the job and I want to make sure I do everything right.”
She hustled over and placed the nozzle in the fuel tank, just as another car pulled in.
“Go ahead and wait on that guy if you need to,” I told her. “I’m fine here.”
As the tank filled, my thoughts went to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” (2001) a book about America’s working poor that I read a couple years ago. I wrote about it in a 2011 blog post:
“Who among us hasn’t made silent judgments about the people at the bottom of the economic ladder? What assumptions do we make about their intelligence and their work ethic? Do we imagine they are capable of taking pride in their work, of picking up the slack to support an absent or ailing co-worker?”
Why was I being so impatient? My errands were done. It was Saturday afternoon. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. What difference did it make if I’d been waited on 3 minutes or 5 minutes earlier? None. None whatsoever.
The tank finished filling. “Thanks for being so patient,” the attendant said as she handed me the receipt. “I really appreciate it.”
I knew nothing about this dark-haired woman, other than she was scrambling to do her best. For all I knew, she had just moved here from Vegas and took this job to get a foothold. Was she married? Did she have a kid? Who knew?
No, I thought to myself. I’m the one who should thanking her. Had I driven off in a huff, I would have been “that guy” she told others about later — the jerk who was too busy to wait a few extra minutes for service. Instead, I had shown patience.
I drove away feeling better about myself, grateful for the reminder to chill. Show a little kindness and respect for those in low-status jobs. I vowed to return when I’m in need of another fill-up. If the attendant happens to be working, I think I’ll share this little story with her.