lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012

New Year’s Eve at the gas station

Jerry was the reason I was losing money at the gas station business, and it was driving my wife and me to despair. We put the gas station up for sale in The Miami Herald. We called Armando and asked him to send any potential buyers our way. About a week later, a man named Dave called and asked to see the gas station. My wife told me to be positive. “Don’t show any negativity in the meeting.” That was sound advice.

You can imagine how nervous I was, thinking about unloading the gas station and the terrible situation that we’d just gone through just two weeks earlier. This is what happened on New Year’s Eve, the biggest sales days of the year. Everyone was in a party mood buying beer, wine, and cigarettes. I instructed the cashiers in a firm voice, “Everyone stays inside the bullet-proof cage. No cashier is to venture outside the cage without first closing the two doors electronically and checking the isles via video screen. Make sure no thief is hiding there. Do you understand me?”

Three cashiers were working that New Years Eve: Joe, Colin, and Phyllis. Colin and Phyllis were from the local community. Joe was an older man and the most responsible cashier ever. He kept the station clean, the shelves stocked, the paperwork accurate, and he finished all tasks promptly. On New Year’s Eve, his responsible behavior was exactly what the thieves were counting on.

About 10:00 p.m., a customer went to the beer cooler. As he took out a six-pack, it dropped to the floor; two bottles broke, and beer spilled on the floor. Other customers stepped into the beer and tracked it all over the floor. What a sticky mess!

Joe decided that the broken bottles needed to be picked up and the spilled beer had to be mopped up. He left the cashiers cage, and the remaining cashiers were careful to lock the door after Joe exited. Joe got the mop and was cleaning up the broken glass and spilt beer when three thieves, dressed in black and with stocking masks over their faces, burst into the station. Guns were pointed at the two cashiers. The third thief rushed right over to Joe and struck him with his pistol. Joe fell to the floor still holding the mop. The thief pressed Joe’s face to the floor with his boot, while pointing a gun at his head. The two cashiers looked on from the glass cage in horror, too terrified to make a move.

“Open the door, you sons-a-bitches!” shouted the leader. “Open the door, or I will shoot your friend! Open the door!” The thief pressed his boot deeper into Joe’s face. He pulled the trigger, and a deafening shot rang out. The cashiers screamed, but Joe remained calm his face pressed firmly to the floor.  The thief had fired into the cooler glass window, and several beer cans were ruptured. Beer was now draining from the cooler onto the floor next to Joe’s face.

“Now will you open the door?” screamed the thief. Everyone could see that he was crazy with adrenalin. He pointed the gun straight at Joe. “Open the door, or I will shoot this mother fucker!”

The cashiers opened the glass cage door. The two thieves rushed in, knocking the cashiers to the floor. The cash register was opened in the wink of an eye and about $1,000 in cash scooped up by the thieves.  Then it was silent.  The thieves ran away into the night. 

The first to recover was Joe who got up from the floor and steadied himself on the cooler with the bullet hole. The other cashiers couldn’t move and were frozen with fear. Joe shut down the gas pumps and closed the station, called the police, and then called me. It was Joe who mustered the courage to go on that night. I got in my car and rushed to the station.  The police had not arrived even though Joe had called two more times. Obviously there were other robberies and shootings going on.  I was on my own with Joe and two petrified cashiers.

There was no way of keeping the station open, as the cashiers were too scared to go on. All three asked permission to close the station for the night and agreed to come to work at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. I was relieved to learn that the cashiers were staying with me in this dreadful business. I walked back to the beer cooler and examined the bullet hole. Because the glass had a protective plastic coating, it had not shattered. The bullet hole was visible only if you looked really hard.

Two weeks later, as Dave and I walked slowly around the convenience store, we stopped by the beer coolers. He looked directly at the cooler with the bullet hole. “What’s this hole in the door?” Dave asked.

My heart raced! What could I tell him? “Oh, that,” I said calmly. “I was sweeping the floor, and the broom handle hit the window.” I explained that delivery and installation of the new door was scheduled tomorrow.

Dave seemed to accept the explanation and went on to other questions. “I noticed from the sales records that beer sales are very high, more than 150 cases of Heineken a week.  That’s a lot of beer!”

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s about the normal beer sales every week.” This was a piece of information that even I had failed to notice.

A week later, I had a signed contract from Dave for the gas station franchise and the inventory of the C-Store. I ended up losing 50% from the price I had paid for the business only three months earlier. My wife and I signed the contract, and the transaction was almost finished. The beer cooler door arrived, and we quickly installed it. The terrifying New Years Eve was almost history.

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