Currently at my job I am inspecting filling stations, which means that I am conducting a fire inspection and an environmental inspection of the premises. I can honestly say that I never planned, ever, in my life to be doing this- who says when they grow up that they want to spend time in rough neighborhoods looking at gas stations?
This is a relatively dangerous part of my job. It also puts me in a bad mood every day. Right now I am assigned to the north/northwest side of Milwaukee, which has a real gang/drug problem, as well as a high truancy rate. And all of the unsavory characters that participate in these activities seem to hang out at gas stations. I go early, mind my business, watch my back, and get out as soon as possible. The earlier in the day that I can get into these neighborhoods, the better- the drunks, druggies and troublemakers tend to be late sleepers. But anyways… back to what I wanted to talk about.
As a result, I spend a lot of time locked in the little glass enclosures with the cashier, explaining the corrections that they need to make in order to be in compliance with the regulations. Our discussion is always permutated by the customers making their purchases. Here’s where my first life lesson begins- if you want to know why you pay so much for health insurance, spend a half hour in a gas station in a low income neighborhood and observe what the people purchase.
I am absolutely amazed at the amount of crap people put into their bodies. Here is a typical purchase: 3 bags of chips, 2 packs of muffins, cupcakes, etc, a couple of sodas, a black and mild (little cigar-type thing) or pack of cigarettes, and a flavored blunt wrap (to roll a tobacco “blunt”-yeah right). They can get all of this for about $5.00, and it’s evident that this is their diet for the day. It’s sickening. I can’t help but wonder how many of these people have health insurance. If they don’t, you can be sure you and I are subsidizing their bad habits.
My second life lesson is just a general observation about people and their behavior. The gas station workers commonly complain to me about the behavior of their patrons. They are verbally abused by people daily, their property is vandalized weekly if not daily, kids overwhelm the stores and shoplift all the time, and all the owners can share stories of when they were robbed, beaten, and almost everyone knows someone who was killed while working at a station in the city.
I feel sorry for these property owners on some level, yet I can’t help but wonder if they don’t bring it on themselves. Is it worth the danger and trouble these station owners face just to make money pennies at a time selling candy and chips? I can only assume that they knew the nature of the neighborhood before they opened their store- why choose that location? And why do many of these stations sell products that encourage troublemakers to patronize their store? Blunt wraps, chore boys, little glass tubes, and probably other drug paraphernalia that I’m not even aware of- why even sell it? And in case you were wondering, almost every gas station on the north side sells pornographic movies and magazines- who would have imagined? Is the money worth it? The answer, obviously, is yes. I can only assume that the owners are willing to deal with the trouble, and have chosen to sell the products that their customers want. I wonder what would happen if they stopped selling the junk- all of it. Would another business fill the void? Probably. Would the problems go away? Probably not.
All of this makes me so glad to return home to happy little Bay View at the end of the day.