Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Importance of Mistake Avoidance

I don't like making mistakes.  I work very hard to not make them.  The only thing I can be grateful for is that most of the mistakes I make won't cause someone to get shot or arrested.  
That's only happened once in my life.  
As I've mentioned before, my first job I had when I came back to California after my very weird and difficult road trip was working in a 7-11.  The store is at the corner of Shoup and Fallbrook in Woodland Hills.  I worked the graveyard shift, from 11 PM to 7 AM.  
It happened fairly soon after I started working there.  A carnival had moved in up the street, creating a couple of unusual late-night surges of customers.  One when the carnival closed and the carnival-goers would stop on their way home, and another when the carnival people would come in after shutting down their rides and booths to buy drinks and snacks.
On the second day of the carnival, I was told a new bulletin had come in.  Bulletins were flyers with alerts for our area.  I ducked into the back real quick and saw it posted on the wall just inside.  In the bulletin was an item about  a couple of guys robbing 7-11's in the west San Fernando Valley.  I skimmed it real quick.  This is what I remembered: 
Two guys.  Black.  Baseball caps.  Hitting stores on Venture.  The last one hit was two nights ago at Shoup, the next 7-11 east of us.
The evening guy left right after we closed out his register.  I did my usual stuff.  Cleaned the store.  Restocked the shelves.  Filled the drink cases.  A couple hours into my routine the people leaving the carnival came in, picking up the milk and peanut butter they needed for tomorrow.  Forty minutes later, the carnival people arrived.  There were a lot of them.  They grabbed handfuls of stuff to eat and drink and formed a line that stretched to the back of the store and curved toward the drink coolers.  Almost as long as the morning rush crowd.  
I had taken care of about a third of them, with more coming in, when I looked up and saw this guy at the back of the line.  He was a tall, broad shouldered black guy.  He was wearing a blue baseball cap.  
Huh.  Ok.  Lots of black guys in the valley.  Lots of them wearing baseball caps.  I finished helping the girl in front of me, a skinny girl with scraggly hair.  
"Oh!  Shoot."  She clutched the bag I'd packed her items in and looked at me almost desperately.  "I forgot something.  Can I leave this here?"  
"Sure."  She was already trotting down the aisle.  I moved her bag to the side.  The next person started piling their items on the counter.  
I looked back toward the end of the line.  The tall, broad shouldered black guy was still there.  And another guy was with him.  Also black.  Shorter and more chubby looking.  Also wearing a baseball cap.  And they were both standing at the end of the line.  Why hadn't they moved up?  
As I watched, some more people from the carnival I recognized from the night before joined the line.  The big broad shouldered guy with the blue baseball cap nodded for them to go before them.  They smiled and moved up.  The scraggily haired girl got in line behind them.  They waved her ahead as well.  
I think I started shaking at this time.  Why would you wave everyone ahead of you in line in a convenience store late at night?  Because you wanted everyone else to be gone before you got what you came to the convenience store to get.  Like all the money in the register.  
"Excuse me."  
"Huh."  I jumped.  The guy at the counter opened his hands before over his stuff and raised his eyebrows at me.  I rang it up as fast as I could.  While doing so I saw another person I recognized from the carnival come in.  He trotted in and grabbed a bag of chips from the rack and got in line behind the two black men.  
They waved him ahead of them.  He gave them a smile and a wave and joined the scraggly haired woman.  
I dropped the change I was trying to hand the guy to the counter.  
After sweeping the coins into my hand and putting them in his, I turned to the woman behind him.  "Just a minute."  I dashed from behind the register and into the back room.  I wanted to make sure I had it right.  Maybe I was mistaken.  Hopefully.  
I read the bulletin again while the people in line waited.  I kept losing my place in the paragraph.  I tried to run my finger across the page under the words.  
"Two Males...  Black...  Baseball caps...  Two days ago...  Shoup."  That's all I could find.  But it was enough.  
"Just another moment."  I raised my hands to the lady waiting next in line.  Just like I thought I might in a few moments to the two guys at the end of the line.  I got on the phone and dialed 911.
"911 Operator, what's the nature of your emergency."  
"I think I'm gonna be robbed."  
After some back and forth, I was able to tell the lady where I was and about the bulletin I had read, and that the two guys kept waving everyone ahead of them.  She told me she would have police dispatched.  
I got behind the cash register.  The line still stretched to the ice cream cooler.  The two guys were still at the end.  It seemed to me like they were watching me.  I tried not to look at them.  
One by one, I got through the customers.  I kept glancing outside.  I'd heard no sirens.  I didn't see any patrol cars pull into the parking lot.  What was taking them so long?  
Finally, as a pair of carnival people left, I saw one of them, a girl with blond hair, look to her right past the door.  An arm snaked in and grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her along.  I got a glimpse of sergeant stripes on a blue short sleeve shirt.  I heaved a shuddering breath.  They were there.  
I just finished helping the girl with scraggly hair.  I took her money and stuck her item, I think it was a tub of ice cream or something like it, into her bag with her other stuff.  I handed her bag to her.  She turned to leave.
At the door, she turned around.  "Donny?  You comin' right away?"  
I looked at the guy who came trotting in for the chips.  He wasn't looking at her though.  
"Yeah," the tall black guy with the blue cap answered.  "Right after I get my stuff."  
"I'll wait for you then.  You can walk me back."  She backed out of the door.  Just as Donny looked toward me, I saw the policeman's arm pull her out of harm's way.  
They were carnival people.  Just like the others. 
"My chips?"  
The guy that should have been Donny gave me his money.  The guy that was Donny was now standing before me.  As the guy with the chips opened the door to exit, I could hear the scraggily haired girl's voice.  
"Did Randy and Donny do something...?"  
The closing door cut her off.  Donny hadn't heard her.  Neither had the other guy, who I took to be Randy.  
"I'm paying for this too."  This was from the black baseball cap guy.  He showed me an empty Slim-Jim package.  He was opening another one to take a bite.  
I nodded.  I rang them up.  I took money.  I handed them change.  I put stuff into bags, including the empty Slim-Jim package.  I handed bags fto them.  I watched them head toward the front door.  
It was at this point that the thought came to me that I should say something.  "Don't go out there," or "Wait, I'll tell them I made a mistake."  
"Uh..."  Came out before they opened the door and stepped out on to the store's sidewalk.  
Suddenly, the front of the store was filled with lights.  I guess the police cars pulled in with their lights off.  I saw Donny and Randy raise their hands.  I saw them kneel.  I saw Randy throw his half eaten Slim Jim to the ground at some command.  I bowed my head, stared at the counter and waited.  
A police man came in.  Young cop.  Still fit.  I think it was his hand pulling customers out of the way.  He spoke like he was auditioning for the role of Sgt. Friday in a remake of Dragnet.  
"We've determined that they individuals in question are associated with the entertainment venue currently operating up the street.  You mentioned in your 911 call a bulletin from your company?"  
I lead him to where the bulletin was posted.  He read it.  I read it with him.  Reading it this time, I could see differences that I hadn't spotted reading it before.  The two suspects wore hooded sweatsuit jackets with the hoods over the caps.  They were red, the baseball caps, with the logos of a specific sports team.  
"Hmm."  The policeman seemed to be expressing a negative opinion about my observation skills with that grunt.  "One of the individuals had a snack product that was contaminated when he complied with our instruction to release it.  I suggest that you might want to replace it as a good faith gesture."  
Sure.  Of course.  No problem.  
Donny and Randy came back inside.  I replaced the Slim-Jims and other stuff that had been ruined when the police tore open the bags they were holding.  They said nothing to me.  I said nothing to them.  
The carnival was still there the next night.  The people that visited the carnival came in to buy the toothpaste and deodorant that they needed the next day.  About a forty-five minutes later the carnival people arrived.  
Donny came in again.  As before, he got to the end of the line.  He waved all of his friends and co-workers ahead of him.  I helped everyone as they came through.  I tried not to look at Donny.  
The scraggily haired girl was right ahead of him in line.  She gave me a nasty, hateful look as I handed her bag to her.  Donny was next.  I didn't look up at him as I rang up his purchase.  It was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life.  
I braced myself for a tirade that put into words what Scraggily haired girl had said with her look. 
"Buddy.  Shit happens, ya know.  But we can at least try to be friends, can't we?"  
"I'msosorryaboutwhathappenedtheygaveusthisbulletinIthoughtitwasyouandyourfriendbutIknowitwasn'tandI'mreallyreallysorryIfIhadreaditmorecarefullyIwouldhaveknownitwasn'tyoutwoguysbutyoukeptlettingpeoplegoaheadofyouandIthoughtyouwantedwitnessesoutofthewaybeforeyourobbed..."  The words poured out of my mouth nonstop.  
Only when Donny raised his hands, as if I was holding a gun on him to take his money, and said, "Hey, hey...  It's Ok!" was I able to stop.  
The carnival left a couple of days after that.  I left that 7-11 a couple of years after that.  I didn't see Donny again, either that year or the next couple of years the carnival came returned.  
Since then, I make a practice of reading the instructions I'm given for a job or project before starting it.  I do this because I don't like making mistakes.  


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