By Savannah Elliott
“High school is the best time of your life. Cherish it, because once it’s gone, you’ll miss it and you can never get it back.” Hearing this every hour at work gets old, exceedingly fast.
The people who tell me this don’t realize that the little gas station I am stuck in for eight or more hours on weekends is very similar to the prison I’m trapped in for another eight hours during weekdays. If you walk into a school lunchroom, you can instantly identify all the cliques—the band geeks, the nerds, the jocks, the prima donnas, and the techies. You can also see people from all walks of life in the station. They are pretty easy to classify, just like high school kids are. You have your regulars, your creeps, the ignorant city people, the big and bad bikers, and the grouchy old ladies with their sweet old husbands. As frustrating and uncomfortable as some of these customers make me, they make my job interesting. They bring a little action to what would otherwise be a monotonous day of cooking, cleaning, and running the cash register.
Before I can make it to the door to start my shift, I almost always run into one of our “regulars.” Regulars are the people who find nothing wrong with stopping by 10 or more times per day, even if it’s just to get a cup of coffee or to ask how I did in my latest race. Being the only teenage employee, I get the blunt of the mockery from these regulars. I like to think it’s because most of the old men that tease me know that I will tease them right back about having nothing better to do than to hang around the station to annoy me all day. Not only do they tease me, but almost every one of them has their own nickname for me. I can always count on ole’ Mick Collins’ eyes to brighten as soon as he walks through the door as he yells, “Ayyy, it’s my Squawberry!” or Jim Sevier’s almost permanent frown to curl at the ends to see “Smiley” for a few minutes while he gets his Bud Light.
Some of these regulars aren’t always the regulars that I look forward to seeing. They are the creeps. When Ralph comes in to get his Arizona Peach Tea, there is no getting rid of him for at least three hours, making them the most uncomfortable hours of my life. The constant stares, invites to take me to places like Omaha and Sturgis, and the highly inappropriate jokes make for a teenage girl’s worst nightmare, especially if I’m working alone.
“Those tight pants look great on you,” he’ll say with wandering eyes.
“You need to leave. You need to leave right now.”
“What? Why? Then we wouldn’t be able to screw around in the back.”
“Ralph, I’m about to call the sheriff. Get out of this building.”
Sometimes I wish it were socially acceptable for me to take a picture of some peoples’ faces—not in a creepy way like you may think! The reaction on the travelers’ faces when they realize how small our tiny town really is, is absolutely hysterical. These travelers’ that come from the far off lands of New York City and California are very curious about our culture “out yonder in the stix.”
“How many people live here? A couple thousand?”
“No, about 180.”
“No, only 180 people.”
“So, do you see a lot of famous people in here?”
“Honey, you are in the middle of the Sandhills. The only famous person around here is the star high school football player.”
All these city slickers get a kick out of the cowboys that come in. They won’t leave until they have taken a picture with them and successfully sent it to all of their friends back in the city along with posting it to all social media, bragging that they saw a “genuine cowboy.” They are constantly asking questions about the town, how it is to go to a small school, and what we do for fun.
Sturgis week is the biggest week of the year for gas stations. Thousands of bikers roar in on their Harleys on their way to South Dakota for the week long rally. During Sturgis, we often set up a map of the Unites States so people can mark where they are from. Unfortunately, this board isn’t large enough. Bikers come from everywhere—from New Zealand to North Africa, we get them all. Out of all these bikers that come through, we are bound to see at least one or two from one of the more notorious biker gangs in the country. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen the One Percenter’s emblem on the black leather shoulder of a biker. Not all these bikers are known for their good deeds. A lot of them come from gangs like Hell’s Angels and The Bandidos that are on the run for crimes such as assault, theft, and murder. This is never very nerve racking for me as some people may think. I didn’t feel intimidated at all when a Hell’s Angel came in with narrowed eyes, looking like he was ready to take someone’s head off. Most of the time there is always someone working with me, especially during Sturgis. Sometimes the boss has no choice but to leave me to fend for myself, but I don’t mind. After all, if something bad did happen, how many people could say they went up against Hell’s Angels all by themselves?
The most frequent travelers that seem to pass by are elderly folks. Some of these people can be the sweetest that you will ever meet. Others are not so sweet. Some will come in screaming because they can’t figure out how to run the gas pumps, some will give me a $20 tip just for making them a pot of coffee, but my favorite type of elderly customers are the veterans. As soon as I catch glimpse of a cap with their unit name and the words “Vietnam War” I thank them for their service. I’m sure they get thanked all the time when they wear those caps but something as simple as a thank you can spark a flame in their eye about their past. The next hour or so is often spent intently listening to all the gruesome, inspirational, and awing stories of their time spent overseas.
All the biographies in our library and all of the stories in history books cannot amount to any of the stories I have heard about the struggles of these former soldiers. Sure, I may not get any cleaning or bookwork done while I’m listening to their war stories, but these stories have helped shaped my appreciation for those who sacrifice everything to keep others safe.
All the people that I interact with on a daily basis have a story to tell. When life gets to moving too fast, you often forget that all these people have their own troubles and heartaches, prides and joys, just like you do. Working as a cashier at Hodges Cenex is more than just helping travelers keep moving down the highway, selling them combos and ice cream, and cleaning up after them once they leave. It’s a way to connect with people from all walks of life.