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So I’d imagine that this account – to whatever capacity – is more about getting me back into the habit of writing regularly than anything else.  I can’t say that there’s really a rhyme or reason why I’m up at 6:16 a.m. remembering a time when I was working at QuikTrip and almost saw a man get killed, yet, here I am.

I recently got to interview prospective student staff applicants at Oklahoma State University, and one of the questions I asked them, during the interview, was, “Describe a time when there was a conflict in your life and how you resolved it.”  It was a question that I remembered being asked when I applied to be a Residential Advisor here at the university, but I was shocked to find that it was one of the more difficult questions to answer for this years wave of hopeful interviewee’s.  Some of them were so completely stumped that my co-interviewer had to step in and recommend answers, like brother/sister fights, or a fast food employee messing up their order.  What seemed like a relatively simple question ended up being quite the bombshell for many of these poor chaps.  

But while they were fumbling through generalities, basically BS’ing an answer so that they didn’t seem inept or incapable of handling a little conflict, I couldn’t help thinking about the answer that I gave nearly a year ago.  In many ways, I’d like to imagine that it was a determining factor in why I got hired.

Perhaps you’ve heard of QuikTrip?  If you haven’t, my hope is that you’re one day traveling through a city that does have this stellar gas station that aspires to be a restaurant, coffee shop, convenience store, and a provider of happiness, all whilst allowing you to fill up your vehicle.  That’s the 5-year-employee in me speaking.  The simple truth:  QuikTrip is a gas station.  In Tulsa, QT is everywhere.  In fact, you’ll probably find yourself at an intersection wondering which QT you want to fill up at; the one to your immediate left that has 24 pumps, or the one a mile down the road that offers pizzas and pretzels and always seems to be busy.  

But the point is, QT has stores all across Tulsa County – some of which are located in the ghetto.  Now, my job title is ER Clerk.  That stands for Emergency Relief Clerk, meaning that if someone calls in sick, I’m the one who drives out to that store to fill in for them.  This, as one could imagine, means that I ended up seeing all the different locations and what kind of people went into them.  The specific store that is the housing element of this recount, is famous for being robbed at any and every hour of the day.  To say that this location saw a pretty rough clientele would be an understatement.  You practically needed a briefing in how-to-handle-a-robbery.  Unfortunately, I saw a lot of this store.  So I became pretty accustomed to fearing for my life while getting paid.

Now along comes our regular.  I didn’t even know his name, but let me tell you, he looked like rock bottom.  This is a guy who would come in with the breath of an alcoholic and the attire of a homeless person.  The first time I met him, I nearly offered up my wallet cause I was so sure that he could only be there to rob me.  But the employees who were actually stationed at that store told me he was a frequenter, who they had come to name the Hemingway Regular.  A few seconds of conversation and I knew why.

“I drink to make other people more interesting.” 

It took me a while to even notice, but eventually, I figured out that this guy plugged Hemingway quotes wherever he could.  To this day, I still haven’t figured out what his obsession was with Hemingway, but this regular’s ability to cite him was insane.  It actually made him seem wise beyond all measure; I fancied that I was talking to some kind of modern day Buddha.  Imagine, an old drunk guy coming up to you and saying, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty.  Human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”  W-T-F to that, I’d think.

But I came to like the guy.  He could really brighten up a morning.

Now, to the conflict that I referred to:

One fine morning, when I had been assigned at the To Die or Not to Die store, the Hemingway Regular comes in, obviously distraught.  He tells me that there’s a guy who owes him a good deal of money, and that when he finds him, bad things are going to happen.  I think this is a good time to say that at QT, I hear a whole lot of nonsense.  During the course of an average shift, the store runs about 1,500 transactions, meaning that about 1,500 people are telling you 1,500 different things.  You learn to block it all out while pretending to listen, using words like really? and that’s crazy! to make customers think that you’re concerned.

I remember finding it odd that the regular hadn’t quoted Hemingway, but I was fairly busy with tasks on this specific morning so I just went on about my business, paying little heed to his mood.  Then the guy he was looking for came in.  I was in the checkstand, where customers pay for their goods, when I hear “The fuck is my money!?” yelled across the store.  

Next, the Hemingway regular and this random bloke have crashed into the honey buns and are fighting, savagely, in the store.  The acting manager runs back to where the altercation is taking place and starts yelling for them to stop.  Customers migrate to the front of the store where I was and look on as Hemingway began to take the decisive advantage in the fight.  I say decisive advantage, but what I really mean is he was beating the hell out of this guy, while the manager was basically praying to the only God she has that the two would listen to her and break it up. 

Hemingway does eventually get off of him, but it’s not to disengage from the confrontation, but instead to pull out a knife.  By this point, a fellow co-worker and I had abandoned the checkstand and moved closer to the fight.  Upon seeing the knife, we knew one of two things were going to happen: either we were going to break policy and involve ourselves to stop this fight, or this unknown debtor was going to get stabbed right there in front of us.  The manager was still screaming, to no avail, when my coworker and I looked at each other and understood that we didn’t want to see a murder today.  

I’d seen my dad use a full-nelson to break up a fight before, the only problem here was, my dad is 230 pounds and professionally body built, and I am neither of those.  I latched on to Hemingway as best I could, while my coworker went for the knife, and through some tangle of hands, legs, bodies, and feet, we managed to disarm this regular with no one sustaining any stab wounds.  Our manager even got involved, unwillingly, when we were rolling around and she tripped over us and fell into the pile.  Strangely, I think her falling into the cluster of bodies, actually help us get the knife away from him.  

The unknown ran out of the store, to whatever end, and we eventually calmed Hemingway down.  

My coworker and I were sure we’d be fired for stepping into the fight, but in a strange turn of events, corporate QuikTrip decided that this was a case where human life dictated that we act against policy, and seeing as how no one was hurt, we could keep our jobs.  Sometimes, you have to forfeit doing things right in order to do the right thing, I suppose.

After the fight, the Hemingway Regular told us that he was extremely disappointed in himself for letting money get him to that point, and that money was the worst kind of provocation, but what’s more was that it brought out the worst in him.   

I was lucky to have a conflict so cool to tell about, but honestly, it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had happen to me.  Next to some of the other QuikTrip experiences, that is.  Maybe I’ll blog about some of those later?  

But I got the job and the opportunity to experience some pretty asinine conflicts as a residential advisor.  

I guess the moral here, can be summed up in a Hemingway quote, in the spirit of this account:

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

– Ernest Hemingway

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