Nfld. & Labrador

Life lessons from a former teenage gas jockey

My first job didn't pay much, and was probably under the table, but it taught me a good few lessons about the working world, writes Jonathan Crowe.
One of the skills Jonathan Crowe picked up as an attendant at a filling station: How to actually fill a tank. (CBC)

No job is too big, and no job is too small. No experience is ever wasted.

You students out there: I'm talking to you.

University is nearly out and the promise of summer employment beckons. I'm sure you're all dreaming big, but fair warning — there's a better-than-even chance that you may end up with a job that falls far short of your expectations.

But take heart, we've all been there. Take the job and approach it as part of your education, one of the building blocks of your character. If you're lucky, you'll have a little money in your pocket for tuition and you'll have a few stories to tell.

My first real part-time job was at the neighbourhood gas station in the small town of Otterburn Park, Que. It was so long ago that the job is now virtually extinct.

For those of you born after 1980, service stations used to actually have these people who ran out and put the gas in the car for you. That was my job.

On my first day, I ran into my first workplace issue. I didn't have the first clue how to pump gas! Luckily, the first customer on that first Saturday morning was my best friend's dad. Mr. Cardella gave me a quick lesson as he filled up his own car, out of view of my boss.

So, what did I learn?

Looking back, I realize I was working under the table. At the end of each Saturday, after working 10 hours, the boss would reach into the till and hand me a $20 bill.

The workforce at the gas station consisted of me and the boss's brother. A nice man, but eccentric. He weighed about 300 pounds, kept his false teeth in his back pocket and in his spare time rode a kid's bike around our small community.

At lunchtime, he'd pluck the teeth out of his back pocket, pick the lint out of them and chaw down on his bologna sandwich. His big brother, the boss, had served in the Canadian navy during the war and he wasn't to be messed with.

His garage was the cleanest I've ever been in and his manners were impeccable, at least to the female customers. But once the customers were out of earshot, there was hell to pay if the floors weren't swept properly and if the bills weren't facing the same way in the cash register.

So what did my first job teach me? First of all, focus. On my first day, I left five gas caps off customers' cars. This was before automakers saw the light and attached the caps to the side of the car.

By lunchtime on my first day, I was summoned by the boss for a little heart-to-heart. No passive-aggressive meeting with human resources here, no letter in the file. The boss was HR. And he let me have it in no uncertain terms, using some very colourful language that I'm sure he picked up in the war.

I never forgot another gas cap.

There's a right way … and the lazy way

Another thing I learned? The importance of being polite to the customers ... especially when they came back looking for their lost gas cap. The customer is indeed always right.

Third, there's a right way and a wrong way to do everything. And the lazy way is always the wrong way! 

Another thing I learned? The working world can be brutal. I had to leave my job for six weeks while I had surgery. My best friend Vince took my job over. When I got back, the boss fired us together!

Sweeping the garage floor wasn't Vince's thing. And I wasn't much use to anyone, since I was still recovering from major surgery. Maybe that was the last lesson: search out an employer with a medical plan. 

Vince now runs his own successful financial planning firm in Vancouver. I carved out my career on the other side of the country.

I'm sure we'd both agree that a stint at the gas station did neither of us any harm at all. 

Good luck with the summer job hunt!

About the Author

Jonathan Crowe cohosts Here & Now for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. He has previously worked as a reporter, producer and videojournalist.

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