Friday, October 12, 2012

The Guy with Three Stones

About an hour after the bars close, this guy walks up to the store.  On the window sill outside, he carefully lays down three hand-sized rounded stones that he probably took from some landscaping at a business somewhere down the street.  It always makes me a little nervous when someone arrives at the door with potential weapons.

I notice the slight reek of alcohol as I walk past him to my station behind the counter.

Using his best manners, he asks "hey, could I get three bags?  It would make my life a whole lot easier."

There is a pause as I am thinking about the universe of possibilities concerning what exactly a guy under the influence of alcohol with three stones would want with three plastic bags.

Sensing hesitation, he remarks "like, what are you gonna care about three bags?"

I hand them over.  My main concern is to get this guy walking away from my store's glass windows with his three stones and three bags as soon as possible.

I am curious, but dare not ask, because I do not relish the idea of being a prosecution witness in a court trial testifying to whatever he would say to me.  I would hope the surveillance video of him leaving the store with three bags printed with the store's logo would be enough to connect him to whatever potential crime he plans on committing.

"I'm going to use those rocks to make Clovis stone-age tools." he says, unprompted.

"Um, o-o-o kay?"  I respond.  I give him a polite smile, hoping that he will get on his way sooner than later.

He leaves, walks out the door, then suddenly stops and turns around.   I feel a slight concern.

He peeks his head inside the door.

"Oh, if the cops ask, I was never here. OK?"  he says waiting for acknowledgment.

"OK, dude."

He bags his stones then disappears into the darkness.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Frat Boy

It is 5:30 on Saturday Morning.   It is the quietest part of my shift, and I'm getting the store mopped.

An SUV full of young fraternity boys rolls up to the store.

The group of five gets out and invades my store.  It is obvious that they have been up all night after a night of partying.   The driver, and apparently the drunkest and most arrogant, heads straight to the beer cooler to grab a huge can of Fosters.

I politely inform him: "Hey dude, you got thirty minutes until you can buy that."

"Fuck!" he says as he storms up to the counter.  "Why is that?"

"State Law. You're going to have to contact your state legislators to have that changed."

"Who's gonna know?"

"Maybe the time coded recordings from eight cameras watching the store?  Maybe the cash register that records the time when I sold you that beer.   I'm not committing a crime for you on camera, dude."  His buddies start laughing at him for being a jackass.  I'm sort of insulted that he didn't offer a bribe, not that I would have taken it, since getting caught could bar me forever from the convenience store clerking trade.

"Gimme a blunt stick." he demands. 

"See your ID?"  I ask.   He hands over an out-of-state ID which I immediately detect as a fake because of the lack of holograms on the laminate.  "So what is your zip code in Jackson, Mississippi?"  I ask.

"Fuck if I know!" he says, obviously frustrated.  He gets an F for being prepared.

"Well, you're gonna need a real ID from a real DMV, if you want to buy tobacco." as I unceremoniously toss it back at him.   His friends start guffawing like donkeys.

He finally pulls out his real ID.   It turns out he just turned 18.   I complete the transaction and get back to mopping the store.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I'm pretty sure that marijuana prohibition is not working.  If you read the convenience store magazines, you would notice that they have all kinds of ads about the fastest growing sector in the tobacco retail business, the cigarillo.  On the street, it is referred to as the "stick".

For those of you that are not familiar with the primary use of the stick, it is used in making a small blunt. A marijuana user makes a blunt by slitting open a cigarillo and replacing the tobacco inside with loose marijuana and resealing it. Using a blunt is a method of smoking marijuana that is much more potent than smoking a joint in a cigarette paper.  At least that is what I've been told.

I'm pretty sure the convenience store industry knows for what purpose these things are used.   In the case of cigarette papers, there is really no point to selling them separately.  In every pouch and can of loose tobacco sold in the retail market, there are more than enough papers provided.   In my store, we went for two years without offering any loose tobacco for sale, but the store has always done a good business in cigarette papers.  The store devotes about twice the amount of space to cigarillos, blunt wraps and cigarette papers as it does to chewing tobacco.

From my perspective as a convenience store clerk,  I have a very clear insight on who is smoking bluntirillos.  I really don't think that there are many people buying cigarillos for all that tobacco goodness inside.  I love messing with people that buy sticks, and say something like "Oh, you must have gotten the fat-sack tonight..."  after the purchase (since a blunt requires an unusually large amount of marijuana).   Most of the time I'll get a smirk out of them. Very rarely I get the "I have no idea what you're talking about", and even more rarely, that said convincingly.

One of my annoying customer types is the stick snob.  This customer always pinches the stick and says "you got anything fresher?"  Now when they do this with fresh cigarillos, I sometimes get annoyed and say "dude, those came off the truck two days ago.  If you want fresher, you're just gonna have to hijack a truck coming out of the Swisher factory."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Public Payphone R.I.P.

It is the end of an era.

The other night, someone asks to use the store phone.  Company policy and my personal safety dictates that customers are not allowed to use the store phone, because a would be robber will cut off your access to the phone to prevent you from calling 911 before they rob you.

"There's a payphone out there on the corner," I say, pointing to the general direction.  It's a frequently asked question.  To prevent the inevitable followup question, I give the preemptive answer: "I can't let you use the store phone, it's against company policy.  All I can do is dial 911 for you."

The guy heads out the door and returns moments later.  "Where is it again?" he asks.

I start pointing out the window.  "It's right over..."  I say as I actually look and notice it is completely gone.


Now comes the begging to use my personal cell phone.  I'm sure I'm not alone in refusing to let strangers use my cell phone, because the result is nearly always the same:  The borrower gets no answer because the person on the other end sees the caller ID and ignores it because they don't recognize the number.  The borrower goes on his way, and then minutes later, the callee calls back with "Who's this? Why did you call my number?"  Then you might get the bonus call days later from the callee's significant other:  "Who is this?  Why did you call this number?"

I find out later that earlier that day, some guy in a flatbed truck unbolted it and loaded it up with the other payphones marked for death.

Public payphone. R.I.P.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stray Dog

The evening of Saint Patrick's day brought more than its fair share of inebriated customers on graveyard shift.

About 3:30 in the morning, a guy comes up to the store, dressed in a green Saint Patrick's Day shirt, searching the butt cans outside for snipes. He finally comes into the store.

He's very intoxicated to the point of slurring his words. He tells me his story about how his now ex-girlfriend kicked him out, and drove him to my town, on the south side of the metro area from a suburb on the north side of the metro area about 45 miles away. He said that he didn't know anybody in town. He also had "found" a bike, and asked which way the interstate was, because he planned to ride the bike all the way back to his no-longer home.

He was dumped off like an unwanted stray dog, too far away to make his way back home.

"Hey, will you look the other way while I steal a beer?"

I look at him incredulously. "No way, dude!"

He asks again, in the way that drunks annoy me, by repeating themselves.

"I really need a beer!" he says, growing agitated.

"Look dude, it past time for beer. Right now, it's prohibition like it's 1933. You can't buy beer legally anywhere in this state."

He goes outside to harass some customers getting gas. He set off a red flag for me, because I realize I'm the only one standing between him and all the ice cold beer in the beer cave, and he's really not all that rational.

It's time to have this stray go to the dog pound. I call the cops on the non-emergency line. I get put on hold. He comes back in the store.

"Who are you calling?" he demands. "None of your goddamn business" I reply, quite annoyed by now. "I thought you were going to ride your bike home on the interstate."

He goes outside to ride his "found" bike in circles in the parking lot.

10 minutes after calling, I finally get helped. The dispatcher sends an officer over.

The stray dog is still riding his bike around in circles when two cops show up. He finally gets cuffed and hauled away on public intox. At least he has a place to sleep for the night.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

At War

**Warning** Some very explicit language in this post.

Yes, there is some danger associated with working graveyard shift.

The store has been having a problem with a serial shoplifter over the last month. He wasn't caught in the act, but he was caught shoplifting on surveillance video.

Near the end of one of my shifts last week, the assistant manager, while doing the morning audit on the lottery scratch tickets, asked me to explain why there was a ticket ripped in half attached to a roll. Since I had sold some of those tickets earlier, I know that something nefarious must have happened. We went and watched video, and sure enough, we found our shoplifter helping himself to about 10 scratch tickets while I had my back turned. I had just rung him up, and he left the counter, and I returned to sweeping the floor. He had returned to the counter as soon as I had my back turned.

I was quite upset with myself, because I pride myself on being aware of what all the shady looking individuals in my store are doing while I'm in charge. This one slipped under my radar. White male in his early twenties, shaved head, cocked baseball hat and hoodie, I should have known better, but he had a deceptively honest face. He always bought something when he came in, so I never suspected him of taking five-finger discounts.

So, while I had my nights off for the next two days, he struck again. He was again caught on video. While the evening clerk was busy with a long line of customers, he stood at the edge of the cigarette rack helping himself to several packs of cigarettes. He then went into the back office area, unnoticed by the clerk, and he stole her wallet with $60, her pay debit card, and her ID that she had left laying out. Everyone that saw the video was flabbergasted, not one of the customers in line pointed out to the clerk that someone was helping themselves to a whole lot of cigarettes.

So with the shoplifter and thief identified from video, the next day, he came back in the store while the manager was on duty. The manager informed him that he was no longer allowed in the store, which allows the store to press criminal trespass charges if he ever comes back. He tried to claim it wasn't him to the manager until the manager pointed out that he was wearing the exact same clothes that he did in the video.

So, apparently he didn't get the message. He shows up on my shift about 2:30 in the morning, while no one else is there. He slipped in quite quickly and made it to the pastry aisle before I saw and recognized him.

With my stern voice: "Hey, you know you not supposed to be in here!"

"What are you talking about?" he says trying to play ignorant.

"You fucking dumb-ass thief, you're on video stealing. Get the hell out of the store."

"Can't I pay for my stuff?"

"Get the fuck out, now!"

He then starts picking up pastries and throws them at me as hard as he can. I lose it, and start screaming at him. With aggressors, I go on the offensive. You cannot show weakness to a wolf. He heads out the door. I start following, to see which way he is going as I'm dialing 911. He returns to the door, and starts throwing the pastries that he had stolen and stuffed in his hoodie.

He makes a lunge towards me to see if he can get a fear reaction. He's about my same height, but admittedly, I'm a bit scrawnier.

"Just try it motherfucker, you'll get 20 years in prison for robbery!" I scream back at him.

The cops come, I make a report, and they go out looking for him.

About half an hour later, the store phone rings. I answer.

"Why did you call the cops? I know what car you drive, and I know when you get off. I'm going to fuck you up."

Add witness intimidation to his list of charges.

"You dumb motherfucker. You fucked up by threatening me..."

"Why didn't fight me when I was..."

"Look, asshole. You fuck with me, I WILL get you, and you will NOT see it coming. It will NOT be fair. You will be DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. You will be catfish food at the bottom of the god-damned lake. Fuck you asshole!" Counter-threat delivered, click -- I hang up.

I call 911 again, the cops come out and take a threat report.

Now the thing is, I don't drive to work. There has been a car that's been sitting in the parking lot of the business behind my store. It's been there for probably a week.

About 5 in the morning, I'm right outside the front door having a smoke. I hear some loud crashes and glass breaking. I shake my head. I look around the corner, and sure enough, that car has three of its windows smashed out.

I call the cops again, and report it.

Before the cops get there, he calls the store phone again.

"How do like what I did to your car?"

"You dumb, stupid motherfucker. That wasn't my car. Now, thanks to you, they will know exactly who did it."

"No they won't. No one saw me."

"You just called me and told me you did it, you dumb-fuck asshole." click -- I hang up.

I now bring my 4 D-Cell, metal-cased, made-in-Ontario-California Mag-Lite to work, just in case the power goes out, because I find the store's cheap plastic flashlight behind the counter totally inadequate.

This criminal is not in custody yet, but I will keep you updated.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Old Walker Lady

Old Walker Lady is an elderly, overweight black woman that comes into the store occasionally on graveyard shift.  Her eyes are starting to cloud from cataracts, and she's got a few gray whiskers on her chin, that she doesn't care enough about to remove.  She walks from her nearby apartment with her racing-red walker.  When she gets inside the store, she plops herself down on the seat of her walker, out of breath, huffing and puffing.  She can garner a lot of sympathy from customers that come through the store while she's there; they'll open the door for her and I've even seen her get offered and take a ride home from another customer that didn't know her.

The first time I really had to interact with Old Walker Lady is when something went wrong with her cable box and remote.  She calls the store and tells me her cable remote doesn't work, and asks if we have batteries.  I tell her she can bring her remote, and I can help her select the batteries she needs.  She comes to the store, buys the batteries, and I install them in her remote and she ambles off towards home.  The job is done, or so I think.   About an hour later, she's calling me up, telling me that her remote doesn't work.  She's asking me for technical assistance on fixing her cable box.   I tell her to call her cable company, and that's that, or so I think.

After my shift is over and I'm ready to leave for home, the assistant manager gets a call from her.  She's asking for me by name, and she's demanding insistently that I come over and fix her cable box.   "Tell her she needs to call her cable company"  I say, shaking my head.  I go home.

A few weeks later, she comes to the store, and she's looking at the prepaid phones that we have.   She broke her own phone, and she wants to replace it.   I ask her if her old phone is a prepaid phone, and she says no, it's on an AT&T plan.  I explain to her that these phones are prepaid, and they won't work to replace her phone on her plan.  I tell her she needs to go to the AT&T store to have her phone replaced.   She doesn't believe me.  I try explaining again how these phones are locked such that they only work as prepaid phones, but she doesn't believe me.  She's driven by the belief that replacing the SIM card will work.   She buys a prepaid AT&T phone, and ambles off.   

She comes back about hour later with the phone.  The battery is damaged, the screen is scratched, and the SIM card is missing.  She wants a refund.   I refuse.   I tell her again she needs to buy a phone at the AT&T store.  Apparently she comes in later while I wasn't working and got a refund from another employee.

Now, I didn't think much about her when she was in the store.  She would walk around, then sit on her walker and slowly "shop".   I happen to be making some fresh coffee after I rang her up, and I looked out the window and see that she loaded a 20 pack of water bottles that sit out in front of the store onto the seat of her walker.   These are the the same water bottle packs that Finger like to burn with his cigarettes.

I run out out there while she's walking off with the loot.

"Hey!" I yell.

"Oh, It fell off the stack, and I was gonna put it back" she says as she's been caught red-handed.

I couldn't say anything else, because company policy prohibits me from accusing anyone of shoplifting. 

Trying to be as sincere as possible, she says "You don't think I was trying to steal that?" as I grab the pack of water bottles from the walker and return them to the stack.   I give her fuming silence.  "Well, walking away from the store with stolen product..." is what I think as I shake my head.

Old Walker Lady ambles off into the darkness with her racing-red walker, not to be seen again for months.

She comes in not that long ago.   Huffing and puffing, she plops herself down on the walker, in front of the Rack of Crap, and starts handling the crystal blocks.   Normally, I kick out known shoplifters from the store, telling them if they come back again, it will be criminal trespass.   My innate sense of sympathy for the elderly and infirm kept me from doing this, but she's got cable and cell phone plan, so she can't be doing all that bad.

Suspected shoplifters on my shift always get the glare.  Most shoplifters you can tell by their body language.  Tweakers doing little tweaker dances and tweaker struts always get scrutiny.  Inexperienced shoplifters are always looking back towards me to see if I'm watching, which does nothing for them except send up a red flag for more scrutiny.

Old Walker Lady fumbles with the crap on the rack of crap for while under my watchful eye.  She moves on to the medicine, picks up and looks at several rolls of anti-acid, looking back at me after handling each item. She goes to the candy aisle and starts picking up, looking back at me, and putting down several different types of candy before settling on some M&Ms.  By now, I'm standing at the end of each aisle as she visits them, making her feel very uncomfortable.  She finally goes to the register and and I ring her up.   She says I can keep her six cents in change, and I promptly put it in the donation box for sick children that's next to the register.  "See, I'm nice to you" she says as she ambles off.