Working in a convenience store allows me to watch people behaving at their best, and sometimes at their worst, as they go about their day trying to get from point A to point B with as little hassle as possible. The mere fact that it is a convenience store means that customers are intent on getting in and out again with as little delay as possible; anything that delays a customer with this goal in mind can result in flared tempers and curt words. Most of the time this is accomplished without anything major upsetting the dynamics of a convenience store clerk/customer relationship, but now and then something happens which appears to reduce a once civilized thinking people into little more than the cave dwelling Neanderthals we sprung from. I realized yesterday that no matter how far we have come in progress, how high our skyscrapers, how far our space shuttles travel, or how complex our brain surgery gets, when the electricity goes out so does our critical thinking skills apparently.
When the electricity goes off completely we are faced with the sudden and shocking reality of just how dependent we are on it. It is then we realize that nearly everything we do is accomplished by the flick of a switch, the swipe of a card; the automatic responses that should be automatic without us even having to think of them. Electric doors opening or traffic signals operating properly and keeping traffic running smoothly happen “magically” and require no thought or action on our part. We expect these things to do what they were designed to do in order to make our lives easier, smoother, and convenient; and for the most part they do and we go about our day with nary a hiccup; it is when those SNAFU’s happen and the electricity goes out that we are pulled up sharp and thrust back into a century when the word “electricity” hadn’t even been thought up yet much less put into action.
On Saturday at least 1200 homes and businesses were affected when electricity was suddenly no longer under our control. A large scale blackout that not only affected every single thing that uses electricity to operate but also appeared to have adverse effects on people’s ability to think and workout complex problems for themselves; like how to open a door that has a CLOSED sign on it. I was forced to close the store because it simply cannot operate without electricity to run the gas pumps, registers, and security cameras. I placed two very large CLOSED signs on the doors and then spent over 2 hours watching people try and figure out why the doors would not open no matter how hard they pulled on them. Some would go from one door to the other, try that one, when that failed to open on command precede back to the first door and give that another try.
I watched as they placed hands up onto the glass and peered into the dark interior of the store trying to understand why the doors would not open and upon spotting me would play a game of charades indicating I should open the doors for them. No amount of explanation on my part that, due to the electricity being off, I could not accommodate them just now would convince them. I got pleas to just let them pay for gas, get some cigarettes, buy a pint etc. and despite me explaining again and again that there was NO electricity so the pumps would not work, the registers were little more than paperweights, and I could not let them in anyhow, seemed to not make the slightest impression on their once thinking brains. I was talking, explaining coherently and with simple words and yet the looks of confusion on each and every face clearly led me to believe I must be speaking in a tongue not previously known to man.
This confusion and inability to comprehend that, for the moment anyhow, their desires were not going to be met, led some to wander aimlessly back to their cars, obviously still trying to work things out while others decided anger was the best approach and belligerent demands and threats were what was needed at this point. Thankfully the door muffled much of what I’m positive I would not have wanted to hear clearly anyhow, but enough got through that made me glad the doors were locked and, unless body language indicated otherwise, I was safe inside the store as one after the other customers went into melt down mode.
I can only surmise, after yesterday’s adventure into the Twilight Zone, that our education system is failing our children in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend. After all, why would fully grown cognizant adults still expect doors to open that have CLOSED signs on them or electrical gas pumps to work when there is no electricity? Have they not been taught that electrical things require actual electricity to operate efficiently? These same teachers must be teaching gullible children that, despite all known laws of physics and nature, convenience store clerks have the power to make electrical things work even when there is no electricity and our refusal to do so is merely due to our selfish natures and desire to see your day interrupted and if we can get that vein pulsing on your forehead to eventually burst then all the better. In other words, you the customer, should take it very personal when we, the store clerk, are unable to give you gas on command or open a locked and CLOSED store merely because you ask us too.
Yes, it is a well-known fact that store clerks do have the power to do magic, but our menial salaries and the belief that we can be treated like mere beasts of burden by the local population; cause us to withhold said powers from the underserving population. Plus, purposely ticking off otherwise civil mannerly customers is just one perk that comes with the job. It is what keeps us clocking in day after day despite the long hours, sore feet, and thankless attitude of many of our customers. We know you wish you were us and dream of having this job but it is only open to the few with the patience and fortitude to withstand the unrelenting stream of impatient demanding customers who, for whatever reason, seem to believe they are the ONLY customer in the store or that their needs take priority over anything else anywhere at any time. We have seemingly raised our children with a Me First Me Only mindset that, while it might raise its ugly head from time to time among the best of us, seems to come clawing to the surface in most of us at the mere flip of a switch, or lack thereof.
Just try and remember one thing the next time the electricity goes off on such a wide scale, if you are inconvenienced by the fact that electrical things are no longer doing what you want them to do, then chances are everyone else is having that same problem. After all, if merely shaking your fist, raising your voice, and showing your inner beast was enough to get things working properly, parents everywhere that have ever tried to put a toy together the night before Christmas would have figured out its power decade ago.