Revisited: Taking a second job at the convenience store (a satire)

I’ve been thinking about taking on a second job robbing convenience stores.

I make a decent living in my first job as a financial document analyst. It’s the kind of reputable office work you’d expect a 56-year-old middle-class college-educated man to be doing. Nothing more exciting than performance reviews and the possibility of an annual bonus, and certainly not on par with the thrill of confronting a hapless store clerk with a weapon and demanding cash.

I wouldn’t be doing it for the excitement, though. I’m just trying to bring in a little extra income so my family and I might be able to afford a nice vacation this summer. (We’ve been looking at some very affordable package deals online in the Canadian maritime provinces.) I need a part-time position with flexible hours, something that might take advantage of my people skills. I don’t need any benefits — I already have a nice insurance and pension package at my current job, and I imagine that if I’m shot in self-defense during the felony that the criminal justice system will cover my major medical anyway. I just need a couple thousand dollars in non-taxable income. My wife has volunteered to do some babysitting around our subdivision to help out, but this is something I want to earn myself.

I’ve been beating the pavement for a couple of days now, “casing” a few possible “joints.” There’s an Exxon not far from my home that would allow me to walk to work. However, it’s a little rundown and the sign on the door warns I shouldn’t expect more than a $50 “take.” Besides, it doubles as a car wash, and I’d have to be concerned about those dozen or so workers getting in the way. Not that this ragtag crew would rush to the defense of the clerk; they’re more likely to chase me down so they can get a “cut.”

Another possibility was the Metro Express just down the street from my office. I could duck out during my half-hour lunch break, eat a sandwich in the car, pull off the “heist” and return in time for my daily 1 p.m. network conference call. There’s even a bank branch on the way back that I could rob if I find myself with a few extra minutes (those conference calls almost never start till ten after anyway, with so many people from the West Coast hopping on late). I better think twice about the “bank job” though, since it’s a federal crime and I hate to get the “freds” involved (I hope I’m getting all these industry terms right). Besides, I think the wife of one of my co-workers is a teller there, and it’d be really embarrassing if she recognized me.

I checked out another place after work yesterday that may be exactly what I’m looking for. It’s about halfway between my work and home, across the street from an upscale development and just off the interstate. It’s a recently built Circle J franchise, very modern with a polished concrete floor and high ceilings. It even has a small seating area near the self-serve soft drink machines, with a few tables and surprisingly comfortable chairs where I could sit and hatch my plot.

I parked right outside the front door to facilitate a quicker getaway, and walked in through the automatic doors. I wasn’t sure at first if this was simply a planning run or the real deal, but soon came to realize that early rush hour produced a lot of foot traffic that might yield some would-be heroes. I’d be better off simply taking a few notes now and coming back later, perhaps during the middle of the night.

As I entered the store, I was greeted by the clerk on duty. She used such a friendly tone that I thought at first she was talking to someone she knew, so I didn’t respond. I hope she didn’t think I was rude, though I discovered later during my stay that almost no one else returned her cheery greeting either. I circled around the counter and headed for the Froster dispenser (it’s sort of like an Icee or Slushee) and poured myself a small Pepsi-flavored drink. The $1.39 price seemed expensive for a small, but I guess you have to spend money to make money and considered it a worthwhile investment. I paid for my purchase, keeping my head down as much as possible, then took a seat in the lounge off to the side.

It was a great position to watch the comings and goings of the business and get a sense of how I might pull off my first major crime. I read a newspaper and nursed my drink as I made my observations. There were several “No Loitering Thank You Circle J Management” signs (I wish these people would learn to use proper punctuation!) but I didn’t figure they applied to me since I had made a purchase.  There were several overhead security cameras that I’d have to take into consideration. There was another doorway not far from the one I had come through, providing me with another option once I began my getaway. Both doors had height charts affixed to their frames, so witnesses could get a good reading on an identification feature of the assailant as he fled. This didn’t concern me too much, since I have a slightly stooped posture that makes me look shorter than I am.

As for the personnel I’d have to deal with, there were two female clerks on duty: Melissa, the younger of the two who had greeted me, and an older lady whose name I didn’t catch who was doing something in the back near the restrooms — I only knew that it wasn’t cleaning, if the strong urine smell coming from the men’s room was any indication. I decided I could beat either one of them up, if that’s what it came down to. When I saw each of them take a smoke break during my 30-minute stake-out, I figured I could outrun them too.

As I blended into the background of a typical busy afternoon, I was able to pick up on a few more details of the setting. They had one of those walk-in refrigerated “beer caves,” which would be a lot more humane than locking my victims in the freezer, as I hear is usually standard practice in the C-store robbery biz. The high ceilings would probably muffle the sound of any gunshots that were fired. There was a beep tone that signaled every time the automatic doors opened. Hot dogs and Mexican egg rolls were on sale two for $2, and you could mix and match.

I probably saw close to 50 patrons during my visit, and every one of them was greeted by the clerks. I’m guessing that this is something they’re taught at cashier school, as a security measure to make eye contact and deter any potential hold-up men. I hadn’t yet considered the issue of a disguise, counting instead on the likelihood that my everyday dress — business casual — would puzzle them enough.

A lot of the customers spent virtually their entire time in the store chatting on their cellphones, and soon a scheme developed in my mind. I’d keep my head down as I arrived for the robbery, pretending to enter a text message on my BlackBerry, then would flip the phone up to my ear and start chattering away as I approached the counter and confronted the clerk with my demands. This would give me an “out” if I got cold feet at the last moment. I could claim “gimme all your money and don’t try anything funny if you don’t want to get hurt” was just my way of joking around with a friend on the other end of the line.

I gathered up my Froster cup and exited the store. “Have a nice day,” called out Melissa. I steeled myself not to be weak and respond in kind. She seemed like a nice girl and I was glad she likely wouldn’t be working the night shift that evening, when I returned to carry out my rookie robbery.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll tell you how it all “came down” and how close the “loot” got me toward that six-night, seven-day stay in a quaint bungalow on the cool shores of windswept Newfoundland.

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