I started work the usual way. Clocked in on the register, bid farewell to my co-worker who had just finished the previous shift and placed my belongings in the cupboard beneath me. How I started work is not significant. Just that I thought it would be another normal day.
Most of my customers were regulars. I did not know them by their names. I knew them by the brand of cigarettes they smoked, their favourite beer, the quick dinner they grabbed on their way to work, the candy bar they always got on their way home, all combined with their daily task of filling up their tanks. Yet they knew my name because I had to wear a name badge. Not everyone called me by name. I had nicknames, and this affection of having a nickname made me feel like we were not quite strangers but not quite friends either, somewhere in between. And although for a long time I only knew these people by their purchases and type of car, one night would change that. The night I learned so much more about them, not from what they said to me, but what they showed me.
The start of my shift began when the sun slowly tucked itself behind the horizon and one of my first regulars was on his way to work. He stood tall, not handsome as one would see in a magazine but still a pleasant face and very friendly. As he came inside the small kiosk he immediately began our conversation from two aisles away. The usual “how ya doin?” greeting. After he grabbed his juice and sandwich he came to the counter where I stood waiting.
“Number 3 and these please. Wait a minute, don’t tell me you’re here alone tonight are you? Haven’t you read the news? It was in the papers, look there! (he grabs the Beacon Journal) ‘A large armed man has been caught on camera robbing the gas stations around the Massillon/Canton area. Those working should be on high alert, especially around ten o’clock.’ And your manager left you all alone?”
I honestly never read the papers or watched the news so I had not heard about this potential danger. And there was 5 foot, 20 year old me in a small gas station working the night shift. My manager had said nothing to me but maybe she was not aware either?
This man never stayed long but tonight he kept talking to me. He told me of his wife and how much he appreciated her and how she had helped him battle through addiction and he was so happy and in love with her. In detail he described his work day as if I were in training. He explained the different purposes of his factory work suit and what he ate to stay healthy. Until another customer came in and the two quickly exchanged words and off the first man went, late for work.
This second customer was a lovely lady. I really enjoyed seeing her come in. She worked in an office and I genuinely did not understand what she did exactly but it seemed important the way she raised her eyebrows and slowed her sentences when she spoke about her tasks. That night she had just come from bowling with her co-workers and was on her way home. She expressed how tired she was but she was wanting to treat herself to some chocolate. She took a long time deciding. I watched the clock. She had stayed with me nearly an hour.
Soon the door jingled its bell to let us know someone else had just walked into the kiosk. An older man with grey hair but a youthful face had come in to pay for his gas. He was actually not a regular and had come straight to the counter so I knew he wanted to be on his way. The woman who had been with me quickly and quietly exchanged words with him, bid me good bye and left. The grey haired man suddenly held up his finger as if he had just remembered that he indeed wanted a cup of coffee. He analysed our coffee maker, our choices of sweeteners, he read every label on our cappuccino machine and seemed to memorise each flavour. He looked around the kiosk as if searching for something. Finally he came to the counter where I stood quite entertained by his many animated expressions. He started our conversation with, “Why are you working in a place like this?” He then told me that in his younger years he had gone to college, as if that was where I ought to be. He now owned a laundromat and dry cleaners down Cleveland Ave. In fact, he was looking for someone else to hire in case I was interested and gave me his business card. He did not have to stay long, another customer came in and they exchanged words before he walked out into the now very dark night.
And so it went all night. Customers who quickly spoke to each other and I was not left alone. Not for a moment. The armed man might have been a threat elsewhere, but because of the kindness of strangers, I knew I’d be okay.
As I reflect on that night I see it as a miracle. When it comes to helping others, it is easy to write a cheque and make a donation, not much time required. We can easily give away something we own but no longer want, not much time required. And then I have often heard excuses why someone cannot help someone else. Mainly due to inconvenience in their plans or schedules.
When these people gave their time to make a young girl feel safe and cared about, it really touches my heart, especially because that girl was me. Who was I to them? Just a girl behind a counter at a gas station. He made himself late to work. She was tired but stayed. They all stayed and gave me some of their time. They showed a young person how the world should be. Mindful of each other. Caring for each other. I witnessed good citizens of society watching out for each other.
God bless them.