I wrote this for the alternative weekly Grapevine about my adventures as a Night Manager in a Fayetteville 7-Eleven - which is now the convenience store across from Fiesta Square. It was a fun job for the time that I had it, but it got pretty old after a while.
I don’t think I have ever written about this before, but one Sunday morning when all the employees got together to drink coffee and pick up paychecks, we designed a new uniform/smock for ourselves.
It would be black, with a white clenched fist over one aside of the chest. “7-Eleven” would be printed across the wrist. We thought it was the perfect uniform for those who had to deal not only with rude members of the public, but also upper management who had no respect for hourly workers.
Our manager, on the other hand, didn’t think it was very funny. If you want to use the idea for your store, go right ahead. Solidarity, baby.
Creatures of the Night
“I live among the creatures of the night.” So goes the song by Laura Brannigan, and it is the theme of so many who work nights in tiny markets across the country. Though the song came out some years after I served my time as a 7-Eleven night manager, I salute the sentiment.
So there I was, in the late 1970s, making $3.10 an hour as a night manager, and waiting for adventure. I may not have gotten adventure, but I certainly was entertained.
Sometimes our customers were so distracted from late night partying that just wandering our aisles was like a trip through Fantasy Island. The simplest things would excite them. “Wow! Cod Liver Oil! I haven't had this since I was a kid!” If a swig of that didn’t sober them up, nothing would.
Or the drive-in movie theater located across the street would empty out and people would swarm in, looking for anything edible.
Since it was the late 1970s, a lot of young men came in looking like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Often, after the clubs would close, guys would end up taking their dates to the store, kind of like a ritual to finish a hot date. While the guys would huddle around the pinball machine (pre-video games), the girls would eat candy bars and thumb through magazines.
The pinball machines themselves were a major hassle as far as I was concerned. I never quite trusted the customers our store attracted at three in the morning, huge hulks in leather jackets, hovering over the machine, while others would wander the aisles, as I was busy cleaning up or taking care of customers. It was clear that major shoplifting was going on. I told the manager, but she was no help.
“You’ll just have to handle it the best you can.” Some advice. I figured the least she could do was give me a shotgun. Short of violence, there seemed to be little I could do to stop the spree.
I waited until the next weekend when my burly visitors came to visit again. Then, while their attention was riveted on the shiny little balls, I stole into the backroom. Once there, I went to the fuse box and cut the power to the pinball machine. Instant results.
“Hey! What’s going on?”
I rushed out, my face a mask of concern. “What’s the matter, guys?”
There was inarticulate waving, and then one managed to say, “Machine stopped dead in its tracks.”
“Is that right?” I grimaced. “Same thing happened last night. Tell you what,” and I opened the register drawer, “have a game on us.” I handed over a quarter.
“Hey, man, you’re a good dude.” And my two jewels went over and promptly dropped the quarter into a machine that was obviously as dead as their brain cells. They stared for a second at the blackness and then one wailed, “It’s still broken!”
“I’m sorry, guys,” I said. “I guess we’re both out some money.” In the morning, I turned the juice back on an hour before the manager arrived.
With a few variations, I played the same scenario many times that summer. It always worked like a charm.
Prices are usually higher (you noticed) at convenience store because you pay for the “convenience” of being in and out faster than a regular store. It has been estimated that the average customer spends only three minutes in and out. As a general rule, then, you don’t get to know many customers that well unless they are regulars and have time to waste.
Time to waste! I enjoyed most of my customers immensely, especially the delivery drivers and truckers coming in for a quick coffee. You can pick up lot from people who have been around in the world and kept their wits about them. In our bull sessions, which sometimes lasted for hours, I learned a great deal.
The best night I spent was New Year's Eve, 1980. Everybody felt so sorry for me, having to work, that most of my customers shared with me whatever booze they had. By morning, I was a giant mixed drink. I felt sloshy, but good.
The trouble came when they moved me to day shift. All of a sudden, there were different rules to play by. The creatures of the night had given way to the straight-laced zombies of the afternoon. I began to be bored with my job. Everything was rush, rush, rush and customers were discouraged from hanging around.
I couldn't hack it. My senses wore still attuned to the witching hour. I had trouble controlling my bad attitude on days. Finally, I had to leave. It had ceased to be fun. It had become just another job.
I still miss it, sometimes. The pay was lousy, I was occasionally afraid of being robbed, but the customers, my fellow creatures of the night, were wonderful.
Grapevine - July 13, 1990