I call it my social job. It being a part-time sales associate at the local Mobil station.
My main job does not afford me very much contact with others. I am, for the most part, isolated from the patients, which is a good thing. My main job is working at a cancer center as a medical coder. In a nutshell, I translate doctor lingo into cold hard insurance company numbers. I try very much to disassociate myself from the emotional aspect of working in such a field. My heart would break. It is a high mortality area. And so, I isolate myself.
The gas station job affords me the chance to socialize however briefly with a high quantity of people. We are daytime's bartender, if we choose to be. I see all kinds of people.
Some I see only once. For them, I become a random stranger who smiled and wished them a nice day. For them, I am the keeper of one of the cleanest restrooms across the country. I am the maker of one of the best damn cups of coffee when they are at their most weary. I am the giver of directions to late night food , to the closest clean bed or even to the nearest large parking lot that an 18-wheeler can fit on. Or sometimes, for some, I become the focal point of pent up frustration over the ever escalating price of gas. I am the symbol of corporate greed. For most, I will let the words rain down upon my shoulders to form droplets upon my back that roll off to become a puddle on the floor. Usually the anger is spent, and the chance of road rage is dissipated. This is why I allow it.
I have walked out of the station exactly once because I could not reason with a reasonless man who would not leave once he finished his diatribe. For him, I was corporate greed incarnate. I was all gas stations. He had gotten gas elsewhere, was so enraged by the price of gas and had noticed that our price was 2 cents above what he had just paid, that he stopped in to tell me exactly what he thought of me. Ten minutes later, his fists clenched at his sides and his face beet red, I apologized for all dealers everywhere with no excuses and no explanations. I simply said "I'm sorry". I thought he was going to strangle me when he said that I'm sorry wasn't good enough and I needed to do something about it. I accepted at that moment that I could not diffuse helpless frustration. I accepted that my presence was making his rage ten times worse. I walked out. Sometimes walking away is the only option. Use it judiciously.
Many people I see every day. These are the regulars. These are the ones I learn about, sometimes more than I would like to know. Occasionally, I feel the underbelly scraping the pavement. It stings. I hear cell phone conversations about whose daughter just got pregnant and is considering an abortion, about who this guy is going to make the move on as he's buying the magnum condoms, about which stock deal this one is going to jump upon because of an insider tip. I hear the cheaters, the drug dealers, and the pimps. I see the face of addiction on a daily basis. I deal with the gamblers and the smokers and the donut junkies. I am aware on the periphery that I am selling to those face to face, what may very well put their names on paper in front of me at my other job. It is disquieting at best. I have held a drunken stranger sobbing because her boyfriend had just thrown her out and she had no place to go. She had a bruise on her left cheek. I have watched a man break down in tears because $500 later, scratch ticket after scratch ticket scratched away his illusion of hitting it big. I almost quit that night.
I could become cynical but I don't. More often I am afforded with the warm embrace of fellowship. I have seen this child move from the car carrier to the hip to the floor to grasping her first lollipop, eyes big and round, from my fingers. I have heard the pride in a father's voice over his daughter's impending marriage and the surprise he's planned for her. I have been privy to the trials and tribulations of a new restaraunt owner. I have watched a dewey eyed teenager buy a plastic rose for his equally dewey eyed girlfriend. I have seen smiles from the weekly van trip of the handicapped for soda and snacks. I am a constant that they recognize. I call them by name, ask them about their week, count out their change. I hear about their girlfriends and boyfriends, about a show they just watched, about how pretty the sky is. I am gifted with their perception.
Our station is one of the top ones in the country. I am told our station is successful because of the people. There is a certain amount of pride involved in being the best you can be in even the most seemingly insignificant task. The regulars feel that there is a strong friendly work ethic. They feel like they matter. I would suggest to you, that it is a two way street. They come back again and again because of the employees. I come back again and again because of the customers. They are my connection to that pulse of humanity, in all its gloriousness and seedy aspects, that I knowingly wall off for self preservation in other areas of my life. This is not just a paycheck. I am not just a clerk. They are not just customers. This is my social job and I am lucky for it.